Queen Bee vs Worker Bee: What You Need to Know

queen bee vs worker bee

Queen bees and worker bees represent two distinct roles within a honeybee colony, each with unique characteristics and functions. The queen bee, typically the only breeding female in the hive, is larger and has a longer abdomen compared to workers. Her primary role is to lay eggs, ensuring the colony’s growth and survival. Worker bees, on the other hand, are non-reproductive females that perform various tasks vital for the hive’s functioning. These tasks include foraging for nectar and pollen, producing honey, feeding the larvae, building and repairing the hive, and protecting the colony. While the queen can live for several years, worker bees have shorter lifespans of a few weeks to months, depending on their role and the season. This division of labor exemplifies the highly organized social structure of honeybee colonies, where each bee contributes to the colony’s overall health and sustainability.

In the below paragraphs, we will take a more detailed look at this topic.

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.

queen bee vs worker bee

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. Here’s a detailed table outlining the key differences between a queen bee and a worker bee:

AspectQueen BeeWorker Bee
Physical AppearanceLarger size with a long abdomen; visibly distinct from workers.Smaller than the queen; similar in size and appearance to each other.
Reproductive RoleThe only egg-laying female in the colony; can lay up to 2000 eggs per day.Non-reproductive; possess ovaries but do not normally lay eggs.
LifespanCan live for 2-5 years, sometimes longer.Lives for 6 weeks during active summer months; may live longer (several months) during less active winter periods.
FunctionSolely to lay eggs and produce pheromones that help regulate colony dynamics.Perform all other colony tasks: foraging, feeding larvae, hive maintenance, honey production, and colony defense.
DevelopmentHatches from a fertilized egg and is fed royal jelly throughout her larval stage.Hatches from fertilized eggs but fed a diet of royal jelly only for a few days, then pollen and honey.
Pheromone ProductionProduces special pheromones (queen substance) that regulate the colony’s activities and suppresses worker ovary development.Do not produce these pheromones.
BehaviorDoes not participate in hive maintenance, foraging, or caretaking of young.Highly industrious; responsible for various roles including nurse bees, foragers, builders, and guards.
FlightOnly flies to mate during nuptial flights or to lead a swarm to a new hive.Regularly flies out of the hive to forage for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis.
SwarmingMay leave the colony with a swarm to establish a new hive.Some workers will follow the queen to form a new colony, while others remain and rear a new queen.
StingerHas a smooth stinger and can sting multiple times without dying. Mainly used for rival queen elimination.Barbed stinger; dies after stinging as the stinger gets lodged in the victim’s skin, causing fatal injury to the bee.
Interaction with BeekeeperTypically less handled by beekeepers except during colony inspection or requeening.Regularly encountered by beekeepers during hive inspections and management activities.

This table provides a comprehensive comparison of the physical, biological, and behavioral characteristics that differentiate queen bees from worker bees, reflecting their specialized roles within the hive’s social structure.

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.

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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.

queen bee vs worker bee

Queen Bee vs Worker Bee – Conclusion

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.


Q: What is the primary difference between a queen bee and a worker bee? A: The primary difference between a queen bee and a worker bee is their role within the colony. The queen bee is the only reproductive female in the colony, responsible for laying eggs and producing pheromones to maintain colony cohesion. Worker bees are non-reproductive female bees responsible for foraging, feeding larvae, producing honey, maintaining the hive, and protecting the colony.

Q: How do queen bees and worker bees differ physically? A: Queen bees are generally larger than worker bees, with a more elongated abdomen to accommodate their reproductive organs. They also have shorter wings relative to their body size, which makes them less efficient at flying. Worker bees, on the other hand, have a smaller body size and proportionally longer wings, enabling them to fly more efficiently for foraging tasks.

Q: What is the lifespan of a queen bee compared to a worker bee? A: A queen bee typically lives for 2-5 years, while the average lifespan of a worker bee ranges from 6 weeks during the active season to several months if they are born in the late fall and survive the winter.

Q: Can a worker bee become a queen bee? A: A worker bee cannot become a queen bee once it has fully developed. However, if a larva is fed a special diet called “royal jelly” during its early developmental stages, it can develop into a queen bee. This process is usually initiated when the colony senses the need for a new queen, such as when the current queen dies or her egg-laying ability declines.

Q: How do queen bees and worker bees communicate within the hive? A: Queen bees communicate with worker bees primarily through the production of pheromones, which help maintain colony cohesion and regulate worker bee behavior. Worker bees can also communicate with each other using pheromones, vibrations, and body movements, such as the waggle dance, which conveys information about the location of food sources.

Last update on 2024-06-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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