The Honey Bee

The honey bee colony

European bees Apis mellifera

The colony consists of around 40,000 to 60,000 or so worker bees depending on the time of the year and the strength of the hive. As well as one queen bee and a few hundred drones (male bees).

The brood box contains young bees at various stages of development. Together this makes up a colony of bees.

Italian Bee courtesy of
Carniolan Bee courtesy
Caucasian Bee courtesy of

Caucasian Bee courtesy of


Worker bees are all female and carry out a number of different jobs during their short life. They live for about 6 weeks or so in spring, summer and autumn as they wear their wings out fetching and carrying pollen, nectar and water to the hive. That’s why its important to have the hives close to these sources.

In winter they cluster together to keep warm and rarely fly, so they live a lot longer. It’s important to leave enough honey in the hive to last the bees through winter to mid spring, otherwise the bees could starve to death.

Facts: They have a memory of about 3 days so they won’t remember anything you did if its longer than 3 days ago. They fly at about 35 km an hour and beat their wings 11.400 times per minute making the ‘buzz’ sound.

They have been around for millions of years and are the only insect that produces food for human consumption. They have 170 odorant receptors and differentiate hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carries pollen or nectar from metres away. The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime and visits 50 to 100 flowers each time she flies out of the hive.

Although worker bees are female, they are infertile and cannot lay eggs. Worker bees have a sting, but once they have stung they die.

Although these are all European bees (Apis mellifera), there are a few different races as shown in the images. Not to be confused with wasps.

The Waggle dance: Worker bees have a special ‘dance’ they do that show other bees where to find pollen and nectar.

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live?"

The jobs worker bees do

  1. Younger bees tend to stay in the hive and do the hive tasks and as they get older they forage for pollen and nectar.
  2. Feeding the larvae (young bees)
    Cleaning the hive and cells so that the pollen and nectar can be stored in clean cells.
  3. Building new combs
  4. Making Royal Jelly
  5. Guarding the hive entrance against ants and other invaders.
  6. Collecting pollen, nectar and water, using their special dances to show other workers where to find food.
  7. Fanning the nectar to reduce the water content to take into the honey stomach to change nectar into honey.
  8. Cap the cells of cured honey so that it can be used at a later date.
  9. Look after the queen bee by cleaning her and feeding her.
    Feeding drone bees
  10. Keeping the temperature of the hive as consistent as possible.

The Queen Bee

There is only one queen bee in each colony. They can live to five years old, but only lay eggs really well for the first two years. That’s one of the reasons why beekeepers replace the queen at the latest after two years. Queen bees can sting but unlikely to.

The queen bee will lay up to 2,000, – 2,500 eggs a day when conditions are right. When the temperature is warm, when the worker bees are bringing in a lot of pollen and nectar.

The queen bee has a much larger abdomen than worker bees to accommodate her reproduction organs and the eggs she lays.

If the queen dies, workers will create a new queen by feeding one of the worker larvae a special diet of a food called “royal jelly.” This special diet enables the worker to develop ovaries to become a fertile queen. Queens also produce pheromones that guide the behaviour of the other bees in the hive.

An older queen is much more likely to lay drone eggs than a young queen.

The web site that provided the images has detailed and illustrated content on Queen Bees, Drones, and Hive Management.

Marked Queen Bee



Drones are male bees, and they are fat and lazy and don’t need to do much, including feeding themselves. They are purely there to mate with the queen to fertilize her eggs.

Each drone produces up to 10 million sperm cells which are all genetically identical with each other and are the same as the egg from which the drone developed. Readiness to lay drone eggs increases with age of the queen.

Drones can’t sting, and most of the drones are pushed out of the hive as the weather gets colder. Worker bees don’t want to have to feed them over the winter months, so they get rid of them.