There are more than 20,000 known species of bees found in the world, and almost one-fifth of them are found in the United States . Though we are more familiar with the social bees like honeybees and bumble bees, however, only about 10% of the bee species are social or live in a hive or as part of a colony. The rest of the bee population is considered solitary bees , or bees that prefer to be alone.
To add to the popular honeybees, we are all familiar with the single queen bee in the hive, but rarely do we hear about a king bee. So, is there a king bee or not?
There is no such thing as a king bee in a bee hive, primarily because male bees have only one purpose. The male honeybees are called drone bees, whose primary role is to deposit sperm during the nuptial flight of a virgin queen bee. During this time, up to 15 drone bees will try to mate with the queen in her nuptial flight. Aside from mating, drone bees are basically worthless in the hive since they don’t collect food, and they also don’t have stingers to defend.
Let us now learn more about the bee colony and if there really is a king bee or not.
Is there a king bee?
We are all familiar with the standard royal titles of kings and queens in Europe and other parts of the world, which are also used in the game of chess, where the most important officials are the king and queen. So, it is only natural to assume that if there is a queen bee, there has to be a king bee.
Though it is a good assumption, however, you will find no king bee in the bee hive because there is no such thing as a king bee. There are only three types of bees in the hive.
The worker bees are all females who do all the work , the drone bees are males that do absolutely no work, and the single queen bee with the most demanding job in the hive lasts her lifetime , which is to lay eggs.
The queen bee is obviously a female who has the role of laying thousands of eggs each day for the rest of her life. However, she doesn’t need to mate with a male bee any time soon after her initial nuptial flight , so there is no need for a king bee.
It is also essential to know that though the queen title of the queen bee has the most critical role in the hive, it doesn’t indicate that she is the ruler of the hive or has control over the other bees.
In fact, social bees don’t act that way. They are more concerned with the overall health of the colony. The worker bees will not think twice about killing their queen through thermoballing if the queen bee doesn’t perform her duty since they can always make a new queen.
Why is there no king bee?
The role of the queen bee in her colony is not the thing royalties enjoy, though the name sounds like it. The queen bee is responsible for laying thousands of eggs every day for the rest of her life. It may even seem that she is a sweatshop worker because she can’t stop laying eggs.
You may assume that the hive needs a king bee that will be the primary mate of the queen bee. However, queen bees don’t require a single mate because they can get all the sperm they need for fertilizing the eggs in their life through a single nuptial flight, where she mates with several drone bees and stores the sperm, which is enough to fertilize tens of millions of eggs.
The only role of male bees in their life is to mate with a virgin queen bee during her nuptial flight, which, if successful, will also be the drones’ last flight since they will die shortly after. So, the male bees that were unsuccessful in mating with a queen bee will have no more contribution to the hive.
What does a male bee do in a hive?
The male bees or drones are the least productive members of the bee hive since they don’t participate in any activities performed by the worker bees, like gathering food and defending the hive. Their only role in their lifetime is to mate with virgin queen bees in a designated location called a drone congregation area .
When the mating season is over or as the winter draws near and the supply of food becomes limited in the hive, the worker bees will either kill or kick the drones out of the hive and are left for dead so they can conserve food for the rest of the colony.
What are the members of a bee colony?
The honeybees are the most common type of social bees or bees living within a colony in a single hive. Though unequal, each bee has specific roles inside the hive because some bees have a harder responsibility. In contrast, the others have no responsibilities at all.
1. Queen Bee
A queen bee is a female bee with a developed reproductive organ. Once matured and mated, the queen bee will be responsible for populating the hive by laying thousands of eggs each day. During her lifetime, she will be the mother of most (if not all) of the bees in the colony.
The queen bee’s larva is unique and is placed in a special cell called a queen cup and fed with royal jelly, unlike the other bee larvae, which are fed bee bread (a combination of pollen and nectar or honey) .
The queen bee is also the most crucial bee in the hive because of the responsibility of reproduction. Since there is a single queen bee in the colony, a loss or accidental death of the queen bee may be disastrous for the colony.
2. Worker Bees (Female)
Worker bees are female bees that lack the ability to reproduce, unlike a queen bee. Worker bees are also the most hard-working bees in the hive since they are responsible for almost all of the productive activities within the colony, both inside and outside the hive.
They travel far to forage flowers to collect food like nectar and pollen, produce wax and honey, defend the colony against predators and intruders even to death by stinging, nurse bee larvae and feed them, collect dead bees and larvae to make room in the hive, construct or repair the hive, and even feed the lazy drone bees.
3. Drone Bees (Male)
The drone bees are male bees and are larger than the worker bees. Though they are bigger in size compared to the busy worker bees, they don’t have stingers to protect the colony. They also don’t travel far and wide to foraging sites to collect nectar and pollen from flowers.
In fact, drone bees’ role in their life is to go to a drone congregation area and wait for a virgin queen bee and mate with her, where they will die after. On the other hand, the unmated drone bees will live a life of leisure or be tossed out of the hive to die during a food shortage.
The honeybee colony is made up of many female worker bees, several male drone bees, and a single queen bee. Since there is a queen inside the hive, it is only natural to presume that there should also be a king that will be the queen’s mate.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a king bee. In fact, the male bees don’t have any productive role within the colony except to deposit their sperm to a virgin queen bee during nuptial flights, where up to 15 drones will mate with the queen bee. The successful drones will die shortly after.
If the drones are unsuccessful in mating, they will have no more roles in the colony except to consume food since they don’t work. They also don’t have stingers to use to defend the colony. So in times of less food supply, the worker bees will kill or kick them out of the hive to conserve food.
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