Honey bees collect nectar and store it as honey to give them energy and keep their hives warm. In the hottest months, a healthy hive has anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 bees (10+04). Most bee colonies have one breeding female, the ‘queen’, a few thousand males, known as ‘drones’, and thousands and thousands of sterile female ‘worker’ bees.
The queen bee has one job and one job only, and that is to reproduce. As the National Honey Board puts it: “She is an egg laying machine.” A queen bee can lay up to 3,000 eggs per day during the springtime (that’s 10+03 eggs per day, 10+05 each season, and up to 10+06 in her lifetime). “She lays her own weight in eggs every couple of hours and is continuously surrounded by young worker attendants, who meet her every need, such as feeding and cleaning.” Queen bees mate in flight with approximately 13-18 drone (male) bees. The several million sperm cells (10+06) she receives last her entire lifespan, which is usually two to five years.
Drones, like the queen bee, have a very specific task to carry out. Their job is to mate once and then die. Bees for Development explains that, in order to ensure drones mate only once, their “endophallus breaks off…during copulation.” If they don’t mate, they live approximately 90 days (10+01). Drones are “stingless” and their eyes are twice as large as the queen or worker bees. They need superior vision in order to mate with the queen bee while in flight.
Worker bees are non-reproducing females who, unlike the queen bee and drones, have many, many jobs to preform. The National Honey Board explains that they “feed the queen and larvae, guard the hive entrance and help to keep the hive cool by fanning their wings. Worker bees also collect nectar to make honey. “In the summer 98% of the bees in a hive are worker bees. In the winter, besides the queen, all bees are worker bees.”
If it weren’t already clear enough that worker bees put in their fair share of labor, then consider this: the National Honey Board claims that worker bees have to tap roughly two million flowers to make just one pound of honey. According to the USDA Honey Report, in 2011 alone, America’s honey crop was an estimated 148 million pounds (10+06). Honey bees had to tap approximately 296 trillion flowers (10+14) to make that happen. Aren’t you exhausted just thinking about it?