Meet the Different Kinds of Bees in a Hive
People love to talk about honey bees. And, we beekeepers? Well, we are just nuts about bee-digging into all the honey bee facts we can find. You may think all honey bees are alike inside the hive – except for the queen bee. In truth, the individuality of each kind of honey bee in a hive is what makes the colony work.
Roles of Honey bees in Colony Varies
A honey bee colony is a well-defined super organism. It has a remarkable system for communication and division of the tasks for its work force.
Each type of bee found inside the hive has a primary role. The Queen bee and drones are responsible for reproduction.
And, we know that worker bees have a great variety of tasks to perform.
How they are able to communicate and know what needs done is still not completely understood.
How do the bees know when they need more nurse bees to make more royal jelly.
Or, when more undertaker bees are needed to remove dead bees from the hive.
No one tells them what to do – or do they? Some of these questions still puzzle researchers.
This is true even though we have studied honey bees for hundreds of years.
What are the Types of Bees in a Hive
A colony of honey bees will have this combination or types of bees in a hive during most of the year.
However, the number of each type of bee will vary with season and foraging conditions.
- hundreds of male Drone bees
- 1 female Queen Honey Bee
- thousands of female Worker Bees
How Many Bees Live in a Hive?
Honey bee colonies consist of thousands of individual bees. Why? This large population is necessary because a honey bee colony overwinters as a group.
Only a group of bees with a large work force would be able to store enough food to last through the cold months.
And, larger beehives in Winter have a better chance of survival.
The population of a honey bee colony does fluctuate. With the lowest population in early Spring, honey bee colonies build quickly.
Warm weather and available nectar cause the queen to increase egg laying. Colony strength usually reaches its peak in June-August.
This is of course, if the colony does not cast a swarm. When a large colony divides itself into 2 smaller families, this is called swarming. Bee swarms are a natural process for healthy honey bees.
Drone Honey Bees
Drones are the only male bees in a hive. We normally only see drone bees during the warm months.
They develop from unfertilized eggs! Yes, a queen does not have to be mated to produce drones.
It takes 24 days for the drone bee to develop from egg to adult. This is the longest development time of any of the bees.
The sole purpose for male Drone bees is reproduction. Upon maturity Drones leave the hive each day and fly around looking for virgin queens.
These mating flights take place on warm afternoons. The drones that are successful in mating with a queen will die shortly after.
The unsuccessful male bees (that’s most of them) return to the hive to eat and rest. They try again on another day.
This process continues all Summer if foraging conditions are good. When Fall arrives, the honey bee colony will force the male Drone bees out of the hive.
They don’t need them during the Winter when no new queens will need mating. So, why feed them? Very practical – our honey bees.
A Queen Bee – Mother of all the Bees in the Hive
In normal circumstances, there will only be 1 queen bee in a hive. The exception to this is when a mother/daughter queen will coexist for a short time.
The queen bee is the only reproductive female in the bee hive. She is the only bee who is able to mate and is capable of laying fertilized eggs.
In addition to egg laying, the queen bee also gives off pheromones. These external hormones (chemical messengers) are very important to the honey bee colony.
Pheromones serve as a communication system that governs colony activity. A queen bee with declining egg production or declining pheromone production is a bad sign.
This signals the colony to create a new queen bee. The old queen is replaced with a new monarch who will now fulfill the role of the queen bee in the beehive.
During the warm season, an aging queen bee may leave with hive with a bee swarm. Swarming is the honey bee way of reproducing on the colony level.
When ready to swarm, a queen and about 50% of the population will leave to form a new colony.
This leaves the original hive with queen cells to make a new queen bee.
If the old queen is really failing, the new swarm hive will replace her soon after establishing their new home.
The Queen develops from a fertilized egg into an adult in 16 days. That is the shortest development time of any bees in the hive.
Worker Bees Keep the Hive Buzzing Along
The worker bees are the most vital bees in a hive. Thousands of worker bees do the tasks that keep the colony fed and safe.
During Summer, a colony of bees can have up to 60,000 bees in the hive.
During Winter, the population of the colony will be much less. Exactly how big the Winter population will be depends in part on the genetics of the colony.
Honey bees from the Italian race of honey bee tend to have larger Winter populations.
Russian bees and Carniolans usually keep smaller populations over Winter.
The role of the worker bee is filled with variation. Different tasks are assigned to the bees depending on age of the bee and needs of the colony.
Worker bees are female and develop from fertilized eggs that have been laid by a queen. Their time from egg to adulthood is 21 days.
Upon emergence, the first 3 weeks of the worker bee’s life are spent working inside the hive. During the last 3 weeks, our worker bee becomes a forager.
Worker bees are aptly named because during the Summer they work themselves to death. Flying bees burn a lot of energy and experience a lot of wear and tear.
Gathering nectar from flowers and bringing in pollen on pollen baskets is hard work. After weeks of foraging, their bee wings and body parts begin to wear out.
Bee anatomy is designed to complete a special task. However, it does not allow for replacement of worn body parts. Once the wings are tattered and done – the bee is done.
She may die inside the hive and be removed by other workers – or simply not make it back to the hive.
Life Span of Honey Bees
Worker bees have the sole responsibility of preparing the colony for Winter.
Because the life span of a busy worker bee is only 6 weeks during Summer, a constant supply of new adults is required.
If a bee colony does not have a productive queen bee that is laying a lot of eggs, population starts to drop.
This is why beekeepers must manage their bee colonies to ensure that all is well.
Otherwise, Fall arrives and the colony may not be ready for cold weather. Honey bees survive Winter because they store food for the cold months.
Unhealthy colonies may fail to be ready for cold weather. This leads to death for all the bees in the hive.
Each kind of bee in a hive has a role to fill. The combined efforts of all members of the bee colony make sustainable life possible.