Honey bees

06 January, 2008


I was at the Melbourne Museum today and was fascinated by the live honey bee hive you have on display. I watched the workers for a long time. I thought they would all be coming in and out delivering nectar, but many of them seemed to be busy in the hive. What were they all doing?

I think I found the queen bee but I also saw some bees that were larger than the workers, but not as big as the queen. Can you tell me what they were? There also seemed to be some very pale bees in the hive. Were they sick?


The vast majority of the bees in the hive are workers.

Worker bees

Worker bees. The worker bee in the centre is carrying pollen.
Photographer: Alan Henderson, Source: Museum Victoria

Worker bees carry out all the work necessary to support the colony. Their jobs include:

  • building and repairing cells
  • cleaning and capping cells
  • tending to eggs and larvae
  • forage for nectar, pollen, water and plant resins
  • feeding the queen, the drones and the larvae
  • storing nectar and pollen brought in by other bees
  • ripening the honey
  • guarding the hive entrance
  • fanning their wings at the entrance and vents to regulate the temperature of the hive and expelling the hive’s scent to help other workers find their way back to the hive.

The queen bee has a longer abdomen than the workers and at the Melbourne Museum she can be identified by a white tag on her thorax. This special tag is specially manufactured for queen bees and is glued to her thorax using clear nail polish.  Adult bees do not moult so the tag stays on for life.

The queen bee

The queen bee surrounded by worker bees.
Photographer: Alan Henderson, Source: Museum Victoria

The larger bees you saw would have been drones (male bees). As well as being heavier that their sisters, drone bees have much larger compound eyes and no sting. They live for eight weeks and their only function is to mate with new queens (usually from other hives) when they leave the beehive for their ‘nuptial flight’.

A drone bee

A drone bee (note larger compound eyes) surrounded by worker bees.
Photographer: Alan Henderson, Source: Museum Victoria

The pale bees in the hive were not sick. They were new adults that had just chewed their way out of a cell. Newly emerged bees are pale at first, but soon develop their bright yellow colouration.

Comments (2)

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Ray Isaacs 17 December, 2009 07:51
good morning, I am just starting in bee keeping and seek clear photos of Queen drones and worker bees please Ray Isaacs NSW Central Coast
Discovery Centre 17 December, 2009 11:07

Hi there, Ray. A couple of excellent websites for browsing images from major Australian collections are Picture Australia and CSIRO's Science Image. We found lots of relevant bee close-ups at each of these. Hope this helps! 

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