The Anatomy of Honey Bees and The Life Cycle
Since bees thrive in colonies consisting of about 60,000 to 80,000, it can be quite difficult
to identify the different types and functions. You can find out more about the bees by viewing some of the
anatomical structures as well as learning more about their specific roles, development and functions. The life
cycle of bees is usually dependent on their type and function. Some are meant to live longer, while others
immediately die after mating.
Queen Bee Anatomy
The abdomen of the queen bee is generally longer than other workers and drones. Since there are several
thousands of bees in a single colony, beekeepers usually mark some paint on the queen's thorax to identify her more
quickly. The color is usually selected at random, but queen breeders use a color that will identify the year when
the queen hatched. The color will help breeders decide if the queen is already old and needs to be replaced.
Several queens may be born in the same year, so breeders use small convex disks with identification numbers. Queens
have wings and fly from one hive to another to breed.
Drones can be identified by their huge eyes, generally twice the size of worker bees and queen bees. The body of
a drone is bigger compared to workers, but in most times, smaller compared to the queen's. The abdomen of drones is
stouter than a queen or worker bee. Their bodies may be heavy, but they can fly very fast to catch up with a queen
in flight. Drones are stingless.
Worker Bee Anatomy
Worker bees are generally female and genetically do not differ from a queen bee. These can even function as
laying worker bees, although most species can only product drone or male offspring. The sting of the worker bee is
a complex part that allows the bee to defend itself, as well as the hive from other animals. Bee stings usually
leave the stinger embedded in the victim because of the stinger's barbs and flesh structure. The venom bulb remains
with the stinger and pump nonstop. Worker bees eventually die once they lose the stinger because part of the
removed stinger bulb removes part of its internal structure.
Some workers may not have stingers. They are not completely defenceless, since they can still bite using their
mandibles. They let go of caustic secretions, similar to ants.
The Queen's Life
An old queen begins laying eggs into queen cups. The young queen larva pupates and eventually emerges. The old
queen will usually leave the hive before the new virgin queen emerges. Virgin queens look for other rivals and kill
these off until only one is left. The virgin queen continues to develop and communicates using vibration
The queen does not control the hive completely. The queen bee's only role is to reproduce. The average healthy
queen can lay around 2,000 eggs each day. The workers continually provide for her needs. Other workers give food,
dispose of the queen's waste and gather and distribute the queen mandibular pheromone which prevents workers from
creating queen cells. The queen fertilizes eggs too by releasing sperm via the spermatheca.
Worker Life Cycle
Worker bees have a variety of functions such as providing for the queen's every need, cleaning cells, nursing
larvae, producing wax, defending the hive, building honeycombs, removing dead bees in the hive, cooling or heating
the hive, carrying water, packing pollen, propolizing, sealing honey and scouting for more resources.
During the first 2 days, workers function by cleaning brood cells for their next use. The queen checks the cells
herself and does not use those that are unsatisfactory. During day 3 to 11, nurse bees function by feeding the
larvae worker jelly. Advanced nurse bees from day 6 to 11 feed royal jelly to queen larva. Drones get worker jelly
for 1 to 3 days. From day 12 to 17, workers start to build and repair old cells using wax. They have wax glands
found inside the abdomen that make wax to make honeycombs. Workers continue doing their roles until they die. In
some cases wherein their stingers are removed, they will die eventually.
The Drone's Life
Drones mainly function to catch up with a queen in flight to reproduce. They will eventually die after sexual
intercourse because of the caustic anatomical effects of mating. They start becoming fertile after 38 days.