The queen bee’s job is to lay fertilised eggs in cells specially constructed to raise worker bees, drones or virgin queen bees. Drone cells are bigger than workers, and queen cells hang perpendicularly, not horizontally as for the other bees. Queens are larger than other bees, due to them having a diet of pure royal jelly during all their larval stage This compares with the other bees who have royal jelly for only 2 days before transferring to a diet of pollen and honey.
A good queen will lay about 1,500 eggs per day, fertilised from up to 6 million sperm that she has accumulated from multiple matings with drones.
There is usually only one queen per colony (or hive). In nature, virgin queens will fight and kill each other until only one remains. (Queens do not die after stinging, as do worker bees.) If an old queen lives past her ‘use by’ date worker bees may kill it, and if there are no virgin queens in the hive to take her place, the workers will quickly breed new ones… when the killing process proceeds again until one high performing queen remains. Queens can live for six to eight years but are only effective for a maximum of 2 years.
Worker Bees are females without reproductive capacity. They have multiple responsibilities which include; making honey comb, keeping the hive at an even temperature, creating queen bees, nursing the queens and other bees during their larval stages, feeding the queens and drones when young and providing honey for food for themselves, keeping the hive clean (which includes removing dead bees and failed larvae), and more.
All of these tasks are in addition to those commonly understood by humans – collecting pollen to feed the developing brood, and collecting nectar where it is stored in honey combs and evaporated into honey.
Also of great importance is that in the process of collecting nectar and pollen for their hives, worker bees are pollenating (fertilising) flowers of the many plants that produce the vegetables that feed us, and the animals that we eat.
Worker bees provide some interesing statistics:
- They fly at about 15 to 20 miles per hour
- Their wings flap 12,000 to 15,000 times per minute
- A single worker bee produces only about 8% of a teaspoon of honey during its life time
- One bee may visit up to 2,000 flowers in a day
Worker bees are poorly rewarded for their responsibilities and hard work – they live for only about six weeks, dying from overwork – not old age.
Superficially drones have a comfortable life. They don’t do any work. They don’t collect nectar or pollen. They are fed, or have their food provided by worker bees. They don’t sting.
The only purpose of drones is to mate with queen bees, which they do in mid air. Unfortunately for them the ecstasy of mating is short lived. They deliver some 10,000 sperm cells in a few seconds, and with such force that it causes their endophallus to separate from their bodies, killing them as result – quite a price for the privilege of having sex with a queen.
Although only a few of the drones mate – the queen requires the services of only 12 to 15 drones – those that do live are eventually starved by the worker bees and kicked out of their hives and die. The life expectancy of a drone is 90 days.