Western honeybee: Queen, her workers, and drones

·3 min read

Wild Files: It's our Nature

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Believe it or not, there are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide. Most are solitary, and don’t live in hives or make honey. There are eight recognized species that do.

Let’s look more at the bees most common to us and the species we see buzzing around the most in Canada and throughout the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis peoples of B.C.: the Western honeybe, or apis melifera which in Latin, translates as honey-bearing or “honey carrying” bee.

The western honeybee holds the title of one of the first domesticated insects. To this day this species is maintained by beekeepers for both its honey production and pollination activity. With the assistance of humans western honeybees now occupy every continent except Antarctica. Honeybees live in large groups which are known as colonies. When their growing season is at its peak in mid-summer colonies can contain up to 80,000 individual bees. Like other colonial insects such as wasps, ants and termites, a monarchy of sorts exist but there are no kings in this world - they are all ruled by a single queen.

Queen Swarm in

The queen holds a presence as she is the largest but more specifically, the longest bee in the hive. Unlike workers she has a fully reproductive organ and a lengthy abdomen that extends past her wings, making them appear shorter than they are. Developed from larvae, a future queen will be selected by the worker bees and is specially fed so that she becomes sexually mature. A hive will normally only have one adult mated queen that all bees will follow and fiercely protect. The queen will reign and live three to five years in nature but in some beekeeping scenarios, they have been known to live up to eight years. The queen is often the mother of most, if not all the bees in a hive as she reproduces the population in a mating process called swarming. Swarming takes place late spring to mid-summer when she will mate with five to 19 drones.

Busy bees

The workers are non-reproductive female bees and as their name suggests, do all the work in the hive and are the collectors of pollen and nectar. The rest of their list of chores includes making the wax for the hive and basic housekeeping including feeding the drones, the queen, and larvae. These busy bees aren’t here for a good time or a long time; their life span on average lasts from 30 to 60 days.

Flight of the Honeybee

Male honeybees, called drones, have no stinger, don’t gather nectar or pollen, and can’t even feed themselves without the assistance of worker bees. While drones are smaller in length than the queen, their body mass and eyes are bigger. A drone’s average flight time is 20 minutes in which they must keep up with the queen for mating purposes. A western honeybee can reach up to speeds of 32 km per bour. Mating is done when the drone’s endophallus is inserted into the queen and is designed to disperse a large quantity of seminal fluid and spermatozoa with great force and speed while in flight. After this flight of fancy that lasts less than five seconds, drones fly no more and die after mating.

Bee-lieve it:

Here are just a few fun facts and numbers about bees. The main duty of the highly-regarded queen is to lay 1,500 eggs per day. A honeybees’ wings strokes 11,400 times per minute and a single bee will produce only a half teaspoon of honey in their lifetime. Across many cultures in mythology the honeybee was believed to be a sacred insect that bridged the natural and underworld. They are seen as a symbol of sociability, diligence, purity, cleanliness and creativity.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer