Most people are aware that every beehive has a queen and a lot of other bees, all working harmoniously together to ensure the survival of the colony. But what is the difference between the queen bee and the worker bees?
What Does the Queen Bee Do?
It is probably best to take a look at the role of the queen first as this will help to give a better understanding of why there is only one in the hive and why she is so important.
The queen’s main role is to ensure that the colony survives, and she does so by laying eggs. She will mate with the male drones and when she is laying the eggs, she will decide on the sex of the future bee by choosing whether to fertilize them. Fertilized eggs become female bees while unfertilized eggs become male. The male bees are drones, and these are raised in larger cells than those used for the female worker bees. During her lifetime, a queen bee will lay hundreds of thousands of eggs. In her prime, she can lay up to two thousand eggs in a day.
How Are Queen Bees Chosen?
When necessary, bees will raise a queen within the hive. Any egg that has been fertilized can become a queen; it all depends on what the larva has been fed. All fertilized eggs are fed royal jelly in the early days of development. However, while workers are then moved on to a mixture of pollen and nectar (known as bee bread), potential queens are fed exclusively on royal jelly throughout their lives.
Royal jelly is secreted from glands on the heads of young worker bees. It is rich in protein, and it is this diet that means queens become sexually mature females (worker bees do not become sexually mature).
What is the Difference Between Queen Bees and Worker Bees?
While worker bees and queen bees are both female, this is where that particular similarity ends. Below are some of the main differences:
|Queen Bee||Worker Bee|
|Appearance||Largest bee in the hive||Smallest of the adult bees|
|Job||To reproduce||To collect nectar and make honey. To feed the queen and clean up after her.|
|Stinger||Stinger not barbed. Can repeatedly sting without dying.||Barbed stinger. Will die after stinging.|
|Diet||Royal Jelly||Nectar, pollen, and honey|
|Lifespan||2-7 years||22-42 days|
Can a Worker Bee Become a Queen?
A worker bee cannot become queen as only larvae exclusively fed on royal jelly can fulfill this role; worker bees feed on a mixture of pollen and nectar. There may be times when a colony will need to raise a new queen because their own queen has died or has swarmed.
When a hive loses its queen, the worker bees will find larvae that are less than three days old and place them in specially made ‘queen cells’. The eggs will hatch after about three days and the larvae will feed on royal jelly. About a week later, the new virgin queens will emerge from their cells and will take flight. They will mate with the drones and then they will all try to kill each other. The one remaining queen will then take over and will begin laying eggs.
The entire process – from the loss of the original queen to the new queen laying eggs – takes just under a month. It is vital that the worker bees raise a new queen as soon as possible as a colony without a queen will not survive for long.
The queen emits pheromones that helps to keep the other bees calm while preventing the worker bees from laying eggs. Without the queen, the workers will begin laying eggs but because they are not sexually mature, the workers cannot mate with drones and cannot fertilize the eggs they lay. This means that all eggs will hatch into male drones. As the worker bees die off, there will be no new worker bees to replace them. The role of the drone is simply to mate with the queen; they do not go out to collect food, so the entire colony will eventually disappear.
If a hive is left without a queen for too long, it will become vulnerable to disease and pests. Unless the colony manages to raise a new queen, it will be necessary for a beekeeper to introduce a new queen.
While queen bees and worker bees are all female, they are quite different in terms of their appearance and what they do for the colony. The queen is the only sexually mature bee, and it is her job to populate the hive by mating with the male drones and laying eggs. The queen decides on the sex of the larvae when laying the eggs by fertilizing the ones that she wants to become workers and leaving those to be drones unfertilized. Worker bees are responsible for collecting nectar and pollen and making honey to feed the colony.
The queen bee is the largest of the adult bees, while the worker bees are the smallest. Queens can live for a number of years, but worker bees only live for between 22 and 42 days.