Scientists think of a honeybee colony as a single unit. It is made up of thousands of workers, but their goal is to ensure that the colony survives and reproduces. Every job that the workers do is directed toward that goal.
The honeybee colony has a single queen. When she is healthy, the queen can produce more than 1,000 eggs every day. If the queen does not fertilize the egg, it develops into a male, or drone bee. If she fertilizes the egg, it develops into a female bee – a worker or a new queen.
When the eggs hatch, workers feed the larvae. Larvae that will become workers receive a mixture of honey and pollen. This mixture is often called “bee bread”. Larvae that will become new queens receive only “royal jelly”. This is a special substance that the workers produce in glands on their heads.
The queen produces chemicals, called pheromones. One of the pheromones instructs the nest workers whether or not they should develop an egg into a new queen. If the queen is healthy, the pheromone will be strong, so no new queens will develop.
When the colony gets large and the nest becomes too crowded, the queen allows new queens to develop. When they become adults, they compete for authority. The winner becomes the new queen of the colony. The old queen leaves with many of the workers. They fly away to make a new nest. This process happens once or twice each year. It allows the colony to reproduce itself and make other colonies.
Honeybee workers make beeswax, build the nest, feed the immature bees, gather pollen and nectar, and make honey. During the summer, a worker only lives six or seven weeks. Scientists report that it is common to find dead workers with frayed wings. Evidently the workers really are “busy bees”.