Honey Bee Colony Structure
Article by Nancy Ketner
There are several different bee types necessary to the survival of any colony. Bees are social insects. They live together in groups and work together for the good of the colony – taking care of young bees and cooperating in foraging for nectar and making honey. In bee “society” there are three distinct types of bees. There are the drone, the queen and the worker. As honey bee colonies live for years, all of the bees work together to survive the next winter and then the winter after that.
Worker bees are all females without developed reproductive organs. They do all of the work necessary to keep the colony going. A colony can have between 2,000 and 6,000 worker bees.
The Queen is a fertile female. Her job is to produce eggs for the colony. When a queen bee dies or leaves the colony, workers choose a small number of worker larvae. These larvae are fed “royal jelly.” The royal jelly causes the larvae to become queens. If not fed this diet, those same larvae would become workers. There is normally only one queen in a hive. She produces chemicals called pheromones that regulate the behaviour of all the other bee types in the hive.
Drones are male bees. During the spring and summer months, a colony may have no drones or it may have 500 drones. The job of the drone is to leave the hive and, while flying, mate with queens from other colonies.
Workers build hexagon shaped beeswax cells in which the queen lays her eggs. As the brood (young bees) develop, they go through four stages. These stages are the egg, larva, inactive pupa and young adult. Each stage takes different times to develop, depending on what type of bee the egg is to become.
As soon as the workers leave their cells they automatically begin cleaning. Their job is to clean cells, circulate air in the hive by beating their wings, feed larvae, practice flying until they are proficient, get the nectar and pollen from bees that have foraged for it, and guard the hive entrance as well as to forage. The different jobs the workers do depend on the workers ages.
During the winter months, honey bees cling together in a tight ball. The queen starts laying eggs in January in the middle of the nest. By the end of winter the stores of food in a colony will become low but in the early spring, when nectar flow begins, bee populations grow rapidly.
This is when swarming occurs. There will be several queens in a colony that’s crowded. The mother of the daughters will fly away, sometimes taking more than half of her workers with her. They will cling to a tree branch or wall while scouts find a good nest site. Within a day, a nest site will be found and one of the young queens will inherit the original colony. And so the cycle of the beehive begins again.
About the Author
My name is Nancy Ketner and I have been fascinated by Bees for as long as I can remember. Beekeeping can be a daunting hobby to start. Understanding Honeybee Colony Structure and the Bee Craft you need as a beginner can be difficult. I started Beekeeper Central as a free resource for others who wish to explore Beekeeping as a hobby or small business venture so people can get the most enjoyment they can from Honey Bees.