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Honey Bee Colony

Division of Plant Industry – Apiculture
8995 East Main Street
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-3399


A colony of honey bees during the active season is composed of a queen, several hundred drones, 30,000 – 80,000 workers and brood in all stages of development. Honey bees have become so highly specialized in their functions that no individual bee, including the queen, is capable of establishing a new colony alone.

Queen bee: The queen is the only member of the colony capable of laying eggs which have been fertilized by spermatozoa. A prolific queen is essential to have a strong colony. She will lay up to 1,500 eggs during a 24 hour period. A young queen normally takes one or more mating flights within 4 to 12 days after emerging from her cell. Queen bees may live 6-7 years, but are of the most productive value during the first Iwo seasons of their life. Her sting resembles a wasp’s, being relatively smooth, and is used to destroy rival queens.

Drone bee: The drone’s sole function is to furnish spermatozoa. Mating takes place outside the nest in the air and the drone dies after the act. Drones range 8 miles or more in their flights and are welcomed into any colony, provided there is an abundance of nectar and pollen.

Worker bee: The worker bee is a nonreproductive female (no spermatozoa). Her sting is used only as a defensive weapon. It can be thrust into other insects. However, when the sting pierces the skin, barbs on the sting cause it to be torn from the bee.

Normally, young worker bees perform hive duties while older bees forage in the field. The length of the worker’s life depends on her wings. They last only 6 weeks or less during the peak season. Workers which emerge in fall generally live through the winter, but die during the spring.

Brood: All castes of the honey bee pass through four stages in the development: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The bee larva is a legless grub. At the end of the feeding period, attendant bees seal the mature larva in its cell by means of a porous wax capping. After the capping is in place, the larva spins a cocoon lining the inside of its cell. During its growth, the larva sheds its skin (molts) five times. The last molt produces the pupa which molts once before the adult bee emerges from the cell.

Prepared by: Gordon Rudloff
State Apiarist
Ohio Department of Agriculture