Drones, Workers and the Queen

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Everyone's heard of the Queen Bee. She is powerful, fearless and rules the land.

But what we must remember, like all royalty, the queen is nothing without her devoted subjects. This week we are delving into the roles these honey bees play in creating an amazing self-sustaining colony.

There are three "sexes" of honey bees. A drone (male), a worker (infertile female) and a queen (fertile female). Each of these bees has individual roles and are all vital for the colony to thrive.

Let's first look at the drones.

The men take a back seat when it comes the workload in the hive. That being said, they are also outnumbered by about 100 to 1. Noticeably different from the females is their size and shape, much bigger and plumper looking. Their sole purpose in life is to mate with a virgin queen. Though that sounds like paradise to some, drones don't live the most glamorous life.

They do not have a stinger, are incapable of foraging or feeding themselves and rely on their sisters to live. Once the winter comes and the queen is not mating; out of the hive they go! Thrown out to starve in the cold. If the males do succeed in fulfilling their life's purpose, immediately after mating they abruptly fall to their death. A life of living fast and dying fast.

The next type of bee is by far the most important; our lovely worker ladies!

The entire hive is filled with tens of thousands of infertile female worker bees. The workload of the hive falls onto these girls fuzzy little shoulders. Every job in the hive is to be done by the worker bee, excluding reproduction.

There are many jobs in which the worker bees rotate. Designated by age, the girls work through the order of jobs in the hive beginning with a housekeeper and eventually graduating to the final position of foraging outside the hive. Some jobs they rotate through in their life are nurse bees, guard bees and repair bees!

The worker usually lives about 5 weeks, working nonstop. When they do die, they fly outside of the hive so that her fellow workers do not have to waste time disposing of her body. These ladies really deserve all the praise and appreciation for all they do to support their colony. 

The last, but most definitely not least, is the Queen Bee. 

The matriarch, the head honcho, the... queen, if you will. The mother of all the honey bees in the colony. She is almost double the size of regular worker bees and usually can be easily identified in a hive. Some beekeepers mark their queens with colours corresponding to the year of birth, so they are quickly recognizable and they can keep track of how old they are.

She is the sole bee in charge of reproduction and does this at an astounding rate. Only needing a mating flight once, she then has everything she needs to lay up to 2,000 eggs a day for the rest of her life. Queens usually live about 3-4 years. When a new queen may be needed, the workers decide what to feed certain eggs to start rearing a new queen. 

These three different types of honey bees are all crucial for a functional and thriving hive.

The relationship between them is organic and seamless and one of the most awe-inspiring natural systems on the planet.