As the host of any get-together, it’s important to get to know one’s guests — and a backyard beekeeping shindig is no exception when it comes to types of bees.

A conscious awareness of who’s who in your new honey bee colony not only hones your beekeeping skills, but also ensures the health and productivity of your hive and its inhabitants.

So without further ado, on to the intros… tens of thousands of them….

Who’s who in the bee colony?


All Hail the Queen of the Bee Colony!

Ever wonder where the phrase “she’s a queen bee” originated? You needn’t look any further than your hive.

As far as types of honey bees go, the queen is the largest (physically) and most significant member of a bee colony. She keeps the hive in order with her mere presence, while also maintaining its population with her impressive egg-laying skills. A day in the life of the queen bee typically involves munching on the ‘royal jelly’ whipped up by her female worker bees, and laying eggs — sometimes as many as 2,000 per day!

And this is a job not to be taken lightly. Sometimes, potential new queens may evolve from the eggs laid by the original queen. Or a beekeeper may try to introduce a replacement honey bee queen to the hive for any number of reasons. When the possible overhaul of hive leadership arises, queens will literally fight to the death, until only one remains victorious, to begin or continue reigning over the bee colony.

And here’s a little medieval-meets-Hollywood plot twist for ya…honey bees are suckers for youthfulness. So if old age creeps up on a reigning queen, one of two things often happens. (Brace yourself—this situation is about to get surprisingly sticky!)

The first option is she elopes. She’ll round up about sixty percent of her current workers, then fly off to create a new hive. A daughter ‘appointed’ by the queen then takes over reign of the original hive.

And then there’s the unfortunate alternative: her bee colony may notice that she is exhibiting the effects of her ripe old age and/or not producing eggs of acceptable quality or quantity. Thus, they take it upon themselves to overthrow their ailing queen bee, stinging her to death. Later, a new lady-bee is uplifted to the ranks of the hive’s mighty throne.

Serious stuff, eh? So clearly, the queen is kind of a big deal when it comes to the bee colony… hence the power behind the infamous catch phrase.

“She Works Hard for the Honey

Your worker bees —the ones you see bustling about your hive, giving bragging rights to the also-popular phrase “busy as a bee”— are females.

And these females certainly work their lil’ stingers off. (Well, not literally, unless they’re putting on their she-warrior helmets and coming to the hive’s defense in the face of danger. But they master some pretty spectacular feats.)

In short, worker bees are responsible for all of the jobs around the hive… except reproduction. So life, as these little ladies know it, is basically all work and no fun. So they best love the heck out of their jobs.

Young workers (until they are a couple weeks old) help out inside the hive — cleaning, doting over the queen, patrolling their kingdom, tending to larvae, removing dead bees and debris from the humble abode, and eventually building honeycombs and storing food once their wax glands mature and kick into gear. They may also attempt some practice flights around the hive, acclimating themselves to the great outdoors bit by bit.

Meanwhile, the older/adult worker bees may also assist in the care of larvae. However, they are more apt to be found doing what honey bees are best known for: flower-hopping. Of course, this means they are tackling the ever-important task of foraging for pollen, nectar, and water for their bee colony.

Considering what all of this constant buzzin’ about means for an entire planet full of honey-lovers, that adds up to some seriously sweet girl-power.

Get it, girls!

Drones: Live Fast, Die Young

The part played by drones (male honey bees) in the story of a bee colony is short and sweet — much like their rather abbreviated lives.

Drones emerge from their larvae honey comb cells, and essentially start eating. For the first eight days of their lives, they feast on ‘royal jelly’ and honey. They then emerge from the hive as a group of guys, taking a maiden voyage, each in search of a virgin honey bee queen to mate with — which is their primary purpose in life. (All of this sounds far too familiar, doesn’t it? One could say this literally validates the term “wingman” – just sayin’.)

If a drone is lucky enough to find a gal buzzin’ about, and if this lucky discovery leads to a mating flight, the drone has done his duty. His mission in life complete, he dies shortly thereafter.

Should his flight remains lady-less, however, he returns to the bee colony’s hive to rest up, because when it comes to mating opportunities, the male motto to live by is “there’s always tomorrow” (at least until he does find his queen, anyway).

And that’s that. Well played, fellas.
If you’ve stuck with us throughout this beekeeping series, you should now be able to: