Honey Bee Social Structure

Honeybees enlist a caste system to accomplish the tasks that ensure survival of the colony. Each member of the community fulfils a need that serves the group.

The Worker

The workers are female bees who do not normally lay eggs. They are 13-17mm long and they live for about six weeks (during the peak of the season) and perform many tasks throughout their lives. Their first task is that of a hive nurse who cleans and caps cells, feeds the drones, queen and brood. Later they store and receive nectar from other workers, pack pollen, build honeycomb and clean the hive. Later in life they become honey ripeners and hive guards, preventing foreign insects from entering the hive.

Finally they become foragers. Foragers search for and collect nectar, pollen and water for the colony. They have a long mouthpiece, called a proboscis, for sipping the nectar and water that nourish the bees in the hive and provide us with honey.

The Queen

The queen is the largest bee and each colony has just one, whose sole purpose is to lay eggs – hence her large abdomen. The queen bee has one mating period in her life. During this time she leaves the hive and mates with seven to 10 drones, usually from other colonies. Over a period of three days the queen will make approximately seven mating flights. Within a short period of time she will begin to lay her eggs.

During this time she is cleaned and fed by the worker bees so she can spend all her time laying eggs. The queen lives for about two to four years, however, beekeepers like to replace them after a year as they tend to produce more eggs in the first year.

The Drone

The drones are stingless male bees that are shorter than the queen and twice as heavy as the worker, they also have larger eyes and antennae than the females. These help it succeed in its only task –locating and mating with the queen during flight.
The drones die instantly after they have mated with a queen. Usually there are only a few hundred drones in a hive and they may be evicted at the beginning of winter when breeding ceases.

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The Worker Bee Diagram

Source: Nicholls, C (1998) The Workboot Series: The Story of Producing Honey in Australia.

Kondinin Group Inc. p11.This publication is highly recommended and can be purchased from The Kondinin Group. Contact details are: PO Box 913, Cloverdale WA 6105. Telephone (08) 9478 3343. www.kondinin.com.au.