The honeybee caste system
Not all bees are created the same. In this post I will address the differences occurring in the honeybee caste system.
If you are signed up for our newsletters, you know that we have been discussing what goes on in a hive. I try to hit the major points of the caste system without getting lost in the weeds, which happens to me often when talking about bees. The blog, however, allows me a little more room to go into detail about bees, their behavior, and why they’re is so interesting. So without further adieu:
In this first article I will be explaining the caste system of bees. It seems that the political realm has not affected the bees yet, so they are okay with fact that they are not all the same. In the bee caste system, there are three designations: queen, drone, and worker. Each with its own job and is specifically designed to perform it to near perfection.
The queen gets the bulk of attention. When we take an observation hive to shows, everybody’s first question is, “Where’s the queen?” She definitely is important to the hive and her characteristics are always under scrutiny by any good beekeeper. All bees receive royal jelly, but queens get such an abundance of it that their ovaries and spermatheca (sperm storage organ) become fully developed.
The queen, being fully developed, goes on mating flights and will become an egg laying machine until the day she dies a natural death or the workers feel there is a need to replace her. The queen will lay up to 1500 eggs a day during the peak of honey season.
She directs the temperament of the hive by the pheromones she produces and also the genetics she carries, since she is the mother of the hive. Under normal working conditions there is only one queen per hive, but sometimes during replacement or possible swarm you might find two.
The Worker Bee
The worker bees in a beehive are all females. They do all the work of the hive: cleaning, nursing young bees, defense, wax production, and lastly foraging and sweating down honey. The workers also determine where honey is stored, how many eggs should be laid, when to replace a queen, when to swarm, and a whole bevy of other things. During peak season there could be up to 60,000-70,000 workers in a hive. Workers will live only 6-8 weeks during the summer. They work themselves to death during the honey making season. The bees will hopefully survive through the cold winter months to be replaced in spring.
Drones get the worst press of any type of bee. They are the males of the hive, and their main job in life is to mate with the queen. They also play a role in regulating hive temperature.
Drones come from unfertilized eggs. They only have one set of genes and are sometimes referred to as flying gametes. Drones are much bigger than workers and often mistakenly thought of as the hive’s defense, but they have no stinger to defend with, they really only have one job.
Unmated or poorly mated Queens only lay drones, which causes the hive to eventually dwindle and die. Since they only have the one job and since queens don’t mate in winter, the drones get kicked out during fall so they do not consume precious hive resources. Only a small percentage of males get to complete their one and only task. Oh and by the way, after the drone completes his job he dies in the air by getting his penis ripped off!!! Not as much fun as it originally sounded, is it?