Bee castes

As social insects, the colony of bees is organised into stable groups of workers who become specialised on specific task sets. For honey bees these are broadly divided into three castes, the worker, drone and queen.

 

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The Queen

The role of the queen in the hive is the production of eggs and queen substance, pheromones that affect the behavior of the bees in the hive. The queen does not control all activities that occur but she does have a significant influence on the ultimate survival of the colony. In a hive there is normally only one queen. Very rarely two queens can co-exist for a couple of months. Normally vigin queens or unrelated queens will fight to the death.

The colony may raise more than one queen at a time. if this happens the first one to emerge from her cell will attempt to destroy the other cells or sting any other queens to death. The virgi queen will start her mating flights five or six days after hatching and will mate with between ten and fifteen drones on the wing. 

Other than during swarming , the mating flights are the only time the queen will leave the hive. She starts to lay eggs two to three days after her mating flight and can lay fertelised eggs resulting in worker bees or un- fertilised drones. The egg production varies with the seasons from a few to over 1500 a day. The amount of sperm in her spermatheca determines her life span usually about three to four years.

Drones

The only known function of the drone is to mate with a virgin or partially mated queen. They do not collect food, sting, produce wax, or feed the young.  They either beg or rob food from workers or rob it from cells.

The drone dies after mating , drones that do not mate live on average 21-32 days during spring to mid summer, but from late summer to Autumn drones can survive for up to 90 days. Workers stop feeding drones as the food supply decreases and expels  them from the hive in late autumn.

Workers

Workers make up the majority of the bees in the hive, which numbers from 10000 in winter to approx 30000 in the summer.  Workers are females but do not normally lay eggs.  They carry out a wide range of duties in and outside the hive, dictated by their age and physiological maturity of their internal organs.

The house bees duties inside the hive include cleaning out cells, feeding larvae, grooming and feeding the queen, producing wax and building honeycomb, receiving nectat from forager bees, converting nectar into honey and fanning and guarding the hive.  The forager bee collects nectar, pollen, propolis, honeydew and water according to the hives needs. 

During the summer the workers live for 15-38 days Workers reared during spring and autumn live 30-60 days. The winter bees live on average about 140days because they have a higher body protein level and food has been stored during summer so that foraging requirements are minimal. Long lived winter bees maintain the colony survival through the winter. and enable brood to be reared early in spring. without the initial need to forage for food.

Queen Rearing

A colony of bees are governed by their queen. She is the longest lived member of the colony, and eventually mother to all. The queen's genetics and behavior, coupled with that of the transient drones she mated with, determines the colony's temperament, how well they produce, and how resilient they are.

Gorey beekeepers run an extensive programme of queen rearing, based on selection of queens for calmness, productiveness, and ability to prosper in the Irish climate. For further information contact a member of the committee<.

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