Bee biology 101

A hive is made up of both female and male bees. There is a queen bee (female), worker bees (female) and drones (male).

Can you pick out the queen and the 3 obvious drones from the sea of worker bees in the picture below?


There is normally only 1 queen in a hive. On rare occasions 2 queens can be found, perhaps they give off similar pheromones or they both just hatched. I have never seen more than one queen in my hives.

The queen is produced from a fertilized egg.  The cell in which the queen is raised is much larger than all other cells, for she needs the room to grow.  The purpose of the queen is to lay eggs, to produce more bees with the goal to increase the population of the hive so they can forage for food and nectar. The food and nectar is used to feed the larvae and to store for winter.

The queen lives 3-5 years and will only leave the hive during her mating flights, in the 1st 1-2 weeks of her life, and then again only if the hive decides to swarm.

Here’s the queen magnified and a few tips for identifying her:

  • Large thorax
  • Long pointed abdomen
  • Short wings compared to her size
  • Long legs


There are thousands, up to 10s of thousands of worker bees in a hive.  Since all worker bees are female, they are produced from fertilized eggs, like the queen.  What determines whether an egg develops into a queen vs a worker bee is the food that the nurse bees (worker bees of a certain age) feed them.  Queen bees are fed only royal jelly where worker bees are fed royal jelly during the early stages of development and then a watered down version for the remainder of the time. This change in quality of food causes the worker bees to develop sexually immature and they wont, most of the time, be able to lay eggs like the queen does.

Worker bees do all the work in the hive, they attend to the queen, they attend to the larvae, cleanout the cells in preparation for new eggs, and ultimately mature to the level where they become guard bees and then foragers.  A worker bee typically lives 40 plus days during the summer and lives for months over the winter.

Here’s some of the worker bees magnified and a few tips for identifying them:

  • Smallest of the 3
  • Thousands of them in a colony

Worker Bees

During the summer there can be 100s of drones in a hive, during the winter there is zero to a very few.  Drones have only one purpose, to mate with unfertilized queens.  Therefore they are not needed during the winter and the worker bees kick them out in the fall to die.

The drone is produced from an unfertilized egg.  He can drift from hive to hive, where he enters for food and warmth.

Drones live approximately 90 days, or until they mate with a queen. Once they mate with a queen they die.

Here is a drone magnified and a few tips for identifying them:

  • Bigger than a worker bee
  • Stout body
  • Very big eyes
  • Large head


Now let’s look back at that original picture… here the queen is circled in red, the drones circled in blue, and all around them are the worker bees.

Bee biology

The next time you enter your hives, I hope that this will help you to distinguish between the queen, drones and workers.

~ May all your wandering taking you to many wonderful places.

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