Honey bees are arguably one of the pillars of food on earth because human beings would not survive for long without them. It is bees that pollinate the majority of the human food plants around the world to the point that some farmers set up beehives near their farms to pollinate their crops for increased harvest. But in any hive, there are different classes of bees. A hive usually has a queen bee, worker bees, and drones, and all are of different genders and serve different roles.
In a hive, all the worker bees are females together with the queen, a specialized female worker bee. Also, some bees are drones which are males. Fertilized eggs hatch into female worker bees while drones hatch from unfertilized bees to become males.
Which Bee Is Not Female?
The hive operates by a caste system where there are different categories of bees, with each serving its unique role.
The most important member of the hive is the queen bee. She is responsible for ensuring the hive continues to grow and has the specific role of laying eggs. A queen lays both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. If the queen dies or stops laying eggs because of age, the colony would not survive for long because there would be no replacement for the dying worker bees that usually have a short lifespan.
Although a queen is the nucleus of the cell, without which a colony would die, she cannot sustain a colony alone. It takes the input and hard work of other bees designed differently.
In addition to the queen bee, a hive also has worker bees. They hatch from fertilized eggs. Worker bees are the lifeblood of the hive. They are responsible for all the tasks and do the heavy lifting. Even the queen is taken care of by the worker bees. She is fed, groomed, and protected by the worker bees. She does not remove her excretion for the worker bees handle it for her.
The fact that worker bees are females does not mean that they are weaker and cannot do much because they are not humans, where females are not as physically strong as males. Worker bees are the ones that forage for food for all inhabitants of the hive, moving from flower to flower the whole day, collecting nectar and pollen for making honey, and collecting water for drinking and temperature regulation within the hive.
The other category of bees within the hive and whose role can also not be downplayed are the drones. Drones grow from unfertilized eggs. Although a queen is mated early in her reign, she has thousands of eggs within her, and not all are fertilized. In case all the eggs a queen lays are fertilized ones, there would be no drones.
The males are the ones that have the important role of mating with a new virgin queen before she settles down to a life of laying eggs. Drones are usually lesser in number compared to the females within a hive because they are there for one job and one job only, after which they die immediately after; mating with a new queen.
Male bees are different in stature and structure; they have larger bodies than the workers, although not as large as the queen bee.
Although their life is less demanding for the most part because it entails just eating while waiting for a new queen to mate with, they are sometimes ejected by the worker bees, especially when the winter period sets in to reduce the demand for the little honey reserve. If ejected from the hive, they will barely survive a few days.
Another distinguishing feature of drones from the females, including the queen, is that they do not have stingers. The repercussion is that the drones are incapable of stinging anyone. Drones do not even need a stinger since they don’t serve any defensive role in the hive, neither do they need to eliminate any competitor. But worker bees and the queen bee have stingers, and they use them when necessary at various points in their lives.
Can A Worker Bee Become A Queen?
The queen bee is an adult female bee that was mated early in her life before she started laying eggs. She never leaves the hive unless the colony is migrating to a different location or during those times when a colony may exhibit swarming behavior because the population has grown too large.
The queen bee’s reproductive organs are fully grown to make her qualified to lay up to 2000 eggs in a day without having any issues. Most times in a hive, at any particular time, the queen bee is the mother of most of the bees, sometimes even all the bees.
However, not any female bee can become a queen. For a bee to become a queen, there is an entire process involved. It is not just a matter of any female worker bee deciding to take the place of the queen bee.
Although worker bees are females, the fact that they have matured into adults means they are incapable of becoming queen bees. By the time a worker bee has hatched, it is too late for her to turn into a queen.
The reason why a worker bee cannot become a queen bee is that a queen becomes a queen even before it hatches because of the kind of process a fertilized egg is taken through with the help of the worker bees.
For an egg to become a queen bee, the process starts right when it is still an egg. Not any egg can qualify for this special recruitment process, for it must be a fertilized egg. Only fertilized eggs can turn out to be females.
The egg is set apart for special treatment and attention by the worker bees. The larva is fed special food famously known as royal jelly, unlike the other larvae fed normal food. The royal jelly will empower it to grow the specialized features required by a queen and even be larger a size befitting a queen.
After a few days, the virgin queen emerges and takes her mating flight with several drones before returning to lay eggs for the rest of her life.
Before mating, the queen will eliminate any competition and kill any other unhatched queen bee while still in the cell or if they hatch at the same time, they will fight each other to the death, and the survivor takes the crown.
Although a queen bee is the one that lays eggs, all other worker bees can lay eggs because they also have a female reproductive organ. However, because they have never been mated, the eggs they will lay will all be unfertilized and hatch to become drones.
Worker bees start laying eggs when the queen dies or becomes too old, and her pheromones are not powerful enough to stop the worker bees from laying eggs. When this happens, the colony is on the path of destruction because the number of male bees will soon exceed the number of worker bees, and there will not be enough food for all the bees since males do not work or forage for food.
For this reason, worker bees cannot become queen bees, and the system is designed to hinder them from laying any eggs for normal functioning.
Do Male Bees Do Any Work?
Male bees are the lazy bunch in a hive; they do not do any work at all. The presence of male bees in a hive is for one purpose only: to mate with a queen, and even this role is done only by the select few who are fit for the task. The rest of the time, drones hang out in the hive doing nothing, awaiting a new queen to mate with.
It is the additional responsibility of the worker bees to take care even of the drones, foraging for food, and cleaning the hive for everyone else since the drones do nothing.
The luxury of sitting around doing nothing for the drones is only possible during summer. When the winter season comes, their luck runs out. The worker bees forcefully kick out most of the drones to reduce the dependents on the meager food supplies, which will help the colony survive the winter.
Even if the chased drones try to return to the hive because the harsh winter temperatures outside are unconducive for them, the guard worker bees will not allow them, and consequently, the drones die outside the hive.
Another way that drones die-off is after they have mated with the queen, but it is an honorable death because they would have fulfilled their purpose for being born by then.
Considering that both the drones and queen bees do zero work in the hive, it is the heavy responsibility of the worker bees to take care of the daily running of the hive activities. From the day a worker bee is born, it dedicates its entire life to serving its colony until it eventually dies from exhaustion, if not predatory attack when out minding the hive.
There are various categories and specializations of roles among worker bees based on a bee’s age. Roles range from guarding the hive to cleaning, feeding the bee brood, building honeycomb, foraging for nectar and pollen, or collecting water.
Younger worker bees do lighter duties within the hive, such as feeding the larvae and cleaning the hive. As they mature, they shoulder heavier duties, with the climax of their life being foraging for food because it is a very risky and highly demanding job. Foraging demands the worker bee to venture outside the hive and visit flowers or water sources and flying back with the heavy load of pollen and nectar. A young bee cannot carry out this job.
Worker bees are truly special; they even have their own way of passing information to their sisters on the best food sources and where to find water.
Water is required by the bees for the digestion of food and also for temperature regulation within the hive. The worker bees evaporate the water by buzzing their wings, which will cool down the temperatures in the hive during summer. In winter, the same worker bees have a mechanism of raising the temperatures and preserving heat. They produce wax that is used to seal openings to stop cold wafts of air from entering the hive, and they also pile around the queen bee to form an insulation layer and combine their body heat to survive the winter.
Guard worker bees are so keen that they can even identify stranger bees from other hives that have come to steal their reserve honey.
Worker bees do their role, including taking care of the lazy drones without complaining or going on leave. Such fascinating members of the colony.
What Gender Are Worker Bees?
All worker bees are female. The gender of a bee is determined by the nature of the egg from which it was hatched. If the egg was fertilized, it turns out to be a female, and if the egg was unfertilized, it turns out to be a male.
Worker bees only develop from ordinary fertilized eggs. To be a queen, the normal egg is treated differently and given special attention. It is placed into a different special cell that is larger and given special food known as royal jelly, and within six days, it will hatch and become a queen.
A colony can have up to 60,000 bees at a time, and most of these are female worker bees. A few are drones while there is one queen unless it those times when she gets too old, and a replacement is found. In such times, the old queen can be left to survive alongside the new queen, and it will die naturally due to age; at times, the worker bee can eliminate her.
Although worker bees are all female, they do not breed under normal circumstances. It is the queen bee who breeds unless during times of turmoil when the queen dies and the pheromones she was releasing that inhibited the worker bees from laying eggs wear off. In those instances, the worker bees go on a rampage and start laying unfertilized eggs, but this will stop when a new queen is reared or introduced by the farmer.