A colony of bees consists of three castes of bee:
- a queen bee, which is normally the only breeding female in the colony;
- a large number of female worker bees, typically 30,000–50,000 in number;
- a number of male drones, ranging from thousands in a strong hive in spring to very few during dearth or cold season.
The queen is the only sexually mature female in the hive and all of the female worker bees and male drones are her offspring.
The queen may live for up to three years or more and may be capable of laying half a million eggs or more in her lifetime. At the peak of the breeding season, late spring to summer, a good queen may be capable of laying 3,000 eggs in one day, more than her own body weight.
This would be exceptional however; a prolific queen might peak at 2,000 eggs a day, but a more average queen might lay just 1,500 eggs per day.
The queen is raised from a normal worker egg, but is fed a larger amount of royal jelly than a normal worker bee, resulting in a radically different growth and metamorphosis.
The queen influences the colony by the production and dissemination of a variety of pheromones or “queen substances”. One of these chemicals suppresses the development of ovaries in all the female worker bees in the hive and prevents them