Worker Bees and the Role of the Drone

Tuesday June 5, 2012
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Career Changes for the Honey Bee and the Role of the Drone

Bee on red apple ice plant

Good Morning Sunshine!

The Honey Bees Career Its a Wo-mans World

The honey bee changes her occupation numerous times during her short life span. Upon birth, the female bee enters the hive as a worker bee, then for a period of about 2 weeks her principal occupation is nursemaid to the queen, the drones (males) and larvae. It is a very demanding job since a single larva may eat up to 1,300 meals a day!

As the female bee gets older (by middle-age), the next job is in production — honeycomb assembly. The bee begins producing wax from glands on the underside of her belly which she uses for building honeycombs.

Close-up of Honey Bee

Close-up of Honey Bee on Ice Plant (Notice the soft fur above the wings)

Besides assembly, these female workers gain transferable skills in housekeeping and security because they also have the job of maintaining the honeycomb and guarding the entrance. Its these security guards who will sting when an intruder comes too close to the hive.

After 3 weeks from the pupal stage, the honey bee enters old age — the autumn of her life, and returns to the job of worker bee. During this time (a couple of weeks), she may go out and forage for nectar but it is a dangerous job for such an elderly bee.

Honey Bee with Pollen Basket

Honey Bee Filling Her Pollen Basket (The yellow on her hind leg)

This circle of life for the honey bee is a mere 6 weeks, however, If born during the late summer she may live 4 to 8 months throughout the winter until spring, then her job changes back to that of a nursemaid for the new spring brood.

Honey Bee's Pollen Basket

Close-up of Pollen Basket

Drones, Queens, and Worker Bees (Honey Bees)

Male bees are called Drones and sometimes they’re mistaken for queen bees because of their large bodies, however, their bodies are much thicker and stockier than a queens, plus drones have eyes so large they wrap around their heads (the better to see a virgin queen with while in flight).

Drone Honey Bee

Illustration of a Drone

Despite their job of continuous egg-laying, queen bees are delicate, (queens that they are), with body shapes that are long, thin, and tapered. The queen is literally treated just so with worker bees hand feeding her and guarding her hive.

Queen Bee

Illustration of a Queen Bee

Of all the bees, the queen lives the longest, up to 4 or 5 years! The female worker bees are the busy bees we see out pollinating the plants and crops, bringing home nectar to feed the queen, drones, and create that sticky, gooey, but sweet honey we all love.

Bee on yellow flower

Honey Bee on Sedum stahlii succulent ice plant

M and M (Males and Mating)

What exactly do male bees (drones) do besides lay in wait for the industrious females to bring home the nectar? The drone bee cant forage for food, he begs to be fed; he has no pollen baskets in which to fill; the drone is unable build honeycomb since he has no wax-producing glands; he cant even defend the hive because he has no stinger. His job is to mate with the queen, thats all he does — but woe to the drone!

Honey bee on flowering red apple ice plant

Honey bees (females) have smaller, round eyes in comparison to the drone (male).

♪♫♪ Where do broken Drones go..? ♪♫♪

Mating occurs in mid-flight 200 to 300 feet in the air and once the drone mates, a significant part of his inner and outer anatomy is torn away and he falls to his death! Once the weather cools and the mating season is over, the services of these poor drones are no longer required and they are banished from the hive. Needless to say, there are very few male bees in a colony.

Video of a Banished Drone

Notice how large the body and eyes are of the drone bee in comparison to the worker bees.

Su Casa es Mi Casa (Your House is My House)

So what happens when these hard-working honey bees decide to make your casa their casa? Unfortunately, hives and honeycomb are often built in unwanted places like attics, walls, sheds, even barbeques. Although one may not want to bother these industrious workers, safety of home and family come first and the hives will need to be removed.

Honeycomb in a shed, Ramona, CA

Honeycomb in a shed, Ramona, CA (The black honeycomb is old, the white has honey)

Flowering Plants that Do Not Attract Bees

There are ways of keeping worker bees from your home by planting vegetation with little or no flowers and choosing flowering plants that bees find less tasty or unable to pollinate. Honey bees can detect even the smallest difference in nectar quality, preferring flowers high in sugar. Tubular flowers like honeysuckle are difficult for a bee to forage nectar from and are usually pollinated by hummingbirds.

Honey bee on ice plant

Mmmm.Yummy! Bees love flowering ice plant.

Honey bees are attracted to long-living perennials making annuals or biennials another landscape choice for the home. Honey bees like flowers in colors of white, yellow, purple and blue that are highly fragrant. Red is favored by hummingbirds and generally less attractive to bees.

Honey Bee on leaf

Honey Bee on Leaf (Just look at that face!)

♪♫♪ All I Want is a Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T ♪♫♪

Next time you’re out for a walk or just passing along a row of flowers, take a moment to watch these multi-talented, busy bees, and remember the many occupations they perform within the course of their very amazing but short-lived lives.

Bee diving into flower

Bee End

Article, Photos, and Art by Donna Walker Hearts Pest Management

Worker Bee and Drone References

Blackiston, Howard, Beekeeping for Dummies 2nd Edition, Wiley Publishing Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2009.

Dandant & Sons, Inc., The Hive and the Honey Bee, Revised Edition, Publishers of the American Bee Journal, Bookcrafters, Chelsea, Michigan, 2000


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