The Biology of the Honey Bee
Updated: Jan 2
The Honey Bee - Queen, Female worker and Male Drone
In the hive there are three different types of bee - the Queen, the female Worker bee and the male Drone bee. The Queen is slightly longer than the female worker and drone, she moves differently to them around the hive and her colouring/marking can be darker or lighter than the other bees depending on the breed. Once the queen is mated, she stays within the hive and lays up to 2000 eggs a day, she gets fed, cleaned and looked after by the female workers for the duration of her life.
The male drone has one purpose within the colony and that is to attempt to mate a queen. The fastest male ‘wins’ as it is a race in the air against other drones as the bees mate in flight / on the wing, and once mated they die. When autumn / winter comes, the drones tend too ‘die off’ or the female workers nibble at their wing bases, chuck them out the hive and leave them to die, as they don’t want extra mouths to feed over winter unnecessarily. The Queen does not do any mating over the winter so the male drones aren't needed.
The female worker bee is the smallest of the three in the honey bee family, she has a life expectancy that varies dependent on what time of year they are born. If she is born in spring or mid summer, she tends to only survive for approximately 6 - 8 weeks, as they work so hard in the summer it wears them out and they die. If she is born at the end of the summer, approaching autumn, she will last throughout the whole of autumn and winter right up until spring begins. The female workers have many different jobs within the colony depending on their age, they can be nurse bees, worker bees, foragers, guard bees, wax builders and I am sure there is more!
All honey bees have 4 wings ( 2 small, 2 large), and abdomen, a thorax, a head and six legs. They vary in size depending on male, female or queen. It is quite incredible how strong bees wings are if you look at the scale of them against their body. They don’t only use their wings for flying, but also to fan the colony for temperature control, to fan out different scents / pheromones for warnings, and also to make different ‘buzz’ / vibrations to communicate with one another. The abdomen for the female worker bee contains 2 stomachs, one of which is colloquially called ‘the honey stomach’ for storing honey and nectar when needed. She also has a sting attached to a venom sac inside her abdomen, which is also attached to the majority of her internal organs. The male Drone does not have this, so they cannot sting.
The legs have quite a vital part for the female worker bee, her two hind legs have ‘pollen baskets’ on and are used to carry pollen when they are out foraging. All of the honey bees have tiny little hairs on their legs to help them grip to surfaces.
Below is a small, basic diagram of how long it takes for each bee (queen, female worker, male drone) to develop from egg to fully formed.
Female worker - 3 days as an egg - *hatch* unsealed larvae for 6 days - sealed pupa for 12 days - emerging as a fully formed bee at 21 days.
Male Drone - 3 days an egg - *hatch* unsealed larvae for 7 days - sealed pupa for 14 days - emerging as a fully formed bee at 24 days.
Queen Bee - 3 days an egg - *hatch* unsealed larvae for 5 days - sealed pupa for 8 days - emerging as a fully formed queen bee at 16 days.
Glands in the honey bee
Female worker honey bees have five important glands in their body - The Hypopharangeal Gland, The Mandibular Gland, The Nasanov Gland, The Wax Gland and The Sting Gland.
The Hypopharangeal Gland are glands paired along the sides of the honey bees head with ducts opening at the base of the hypopharynx. Hypo pharyngeal glands of the female workers secrete royal jelly that is fed to the larvae until they are 3 days old as a worker, or for the entire duration of a queen larvae making her turn into a Queen bee.
The Mandibular Gland is the gland located near the mouth of the the bee, and it gives off the ‘Alarm’ pheromone to warn other bees. The second stage of the ‘Alarm’ pheromone comes from the sting gland.
The Nasanov Gland is on the top of the honey bee on the abdomen, quite close to the stinger on the female worker bee. This gland gives off an ‘Attractant’ pheromone.
The Wax Glands are on the underneath of the female worker bees on the abdomen, and they secrete flakes of wax (almost like sweat!) but only during times when nectar is plentiful.