Honey Bee Workers, Drones, and Queens

Roles Within the Honey Bee Colony

Workers attending to the queen honey bee.
Workers attending to the queen honey bee. Getty Images/Collection:PhotolibraryMax /C. Allan Morgan

Honey bees enlist a caste system to accomplish the tasks that ensure survival of the colony. Each member of the community fulfills a need that serves the group. Tens of thousands of worker bees, all females, assume responsibility for feeding, cleaning, nursing, and defending the group. Male drones live only to mate with the queen, who is the only fertile female in the colony. The queen need not lift a wing, as workers tend to her every need.

The Queen:

Don't get the idea the queen is lazy, though. A newly hatched queen begins her life in a duel to the death with any other queens present in the colony, and must destroy potential rivals that have not yet hatched. Once she accomplishes this, she takes her virgin mating flight. Throughout her life, she lays eggs and secretes a pheromone that keeps all other females in the colony sterile.


The drone's anatomical structure proves its limited role in the colony. Drones lack stingers, so they cannot help defend the hive. Without structures for collecting pollen or nectar, they cannot contribute to feeding the community. Upon mating, its only reason for existence, the drone dies. In the fall, worker bees prevent drones from entering the hive, effectively starving them to death.


Female worker bees accomplish every chore unrelated to reproduction. In their first days, workers tend to the queen.

For the remainder of their short lives, workers keep busy - thus the expression "busy bees." They build the comb in which honey is stored and eggs are laid. Workers collect pollen and nectar, and evaporate the nectar to make honey for times when food is scarce. They tend to the queen, the young drones, and the larvae.

When threatened, the workers defend the colony. New research suggests the workers also make the collective decision to move the colony, or swarm.