Drone vs Worker Bee: What are the Differences?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: March 1, 2022
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When we talk about bees, we often think of the same type of bees that produce honey. But in reality, there are several types of bees, each with its own function. If you have watched the Bee Movie, you’ll realize bees have plenty of benefits to the environment. From producing our beloved honey down to pollinating flowers, they are highly beneficial in their ways. Together with the queen bee, worker bees and drones create a quite intriguing community. But what do you think is the difference between drones and worker bees? Are there more that set them apart aside from their functions in the bee community? This article will discuss the main differences between a drone and a worker bee, from their physical features down to their primary jobs in their community.

Comparing a Drone and a Worker Bee

DroneWorker Bee
Size22.7 mm11-15 mm
RoleMating with the queen. Drones do not work, nor make honey.Works in the beehive: making honey, collecting pollen and nectar, feeding drones, the queen, and her larvae, creating wax, defending the colony
FeedingCannot feed on their ownFood producers

The 5 Key Differences Between Drones and Worker Bees

Both the drone and worker bee are honey bees. Drones are male honey bees, while worker bees are female honey bees. They may be from the same bee species, but they are like night and day. Apart from their functions in the beehive, they have distinct abilities that make them who they are.

Drone vs Worker Bee: Gender

Big drone bee

Drones are male honey bees, while worker bees are female honey bees.

©PHOTO FUN/Shutterstock.com

All drones are male honey bees, while all worker bees are female. Don’t get fooled by their names, though, because drones and worker bees are changing and breaking the traditional gender roles. For most animals, male and female counterparts differ only in sex organs. But in honey bees, gender plays a more significant role. While worker bees are all female, they do almost every work inside the beehive. 

Drone vs Worker Bee: Size

Drones are significantly larger than worker bees. Drones are almost double the size of worker bees, growing to an average of 22.7 mm, but are shorter than queen bees. They also have larger eyes than worker bees and queen bees. A drone’s abdomen is plumper than a worker bee’s gut. Worker bees, however, are smaller in size, reaching only 11 to 15 mm. Despite their bigger size, drones do not overcrowd worker bees inside a beehive.

When drones fly in a swarm of bees, as many as 11,000 drones will often come from over 200 various colonies! Drone colonies often fly 10 to 40 meters above a ground surface. 

Drone vs Worker Bee: Role

worker bee on honeycombs.

©Aleksandr Rybalko/Shutterstock.com

One of the most distinguishing differences between a worker bee and a drone is their role inside a bee community. Worker bees ooze with girl power. A hive’s population may contain between 20,000 to 80,000 bees, but the majority of them are females, called worker bees. Worker bees had their name as they are responsible for almost every job inside a hive. Although they are all female, they are entirely infertile. They have the queen to produce eggs, so their main job is to protect the colony and work for its survival. Despite not producing fertilized eggs, worker bees impress many by a long list of various tasks that keep the colony growing and nurturing. Worker bees are indeed industrious– from building the waxy honeycomb shells for the beehive, raising the queen bee’s eggs and larvae, and defending their territory using their stingers. They are exactly what people say they are, “hardworking insects“. Apart from their significant contributions to their hive, worker bees are also beneficial to the environment. They have a unique pair of hind legs that hold pollen and transfer them to other flowers. 

On the other hand, drones are the true examples of “gentlemen in waiting.” They do not have a proboscis to suck out nectar or pikes to collect pollen. The primary responsibility of a drone is to fertilize the queen’s eggs. Without fertilization, the whole hive may die out. This is because a honey bee’s life span is dishearteningly short. Worker bees live for an average of 4 to 6 months, while drones only live up to 90 days. The whole colony will wither if the hive is left unreplenished with healthy egg production. However, since queen bees only mate once, hundreds of other drones won’t even get a chance to fulfill their only role. Drones can’t even feed themselves or defend the hive. Worker bees do all the work for them, and they only need to be in good numbers to have the queen fertilized once the mating season arrives. In addition, drones die immediately after mating with the queen, emphasizing their only role in the hive.

Drone vs Worker Bee: Self-defense

As if working nonstop doesn’t put worker bees on top of their games over their male counterparts, they are also proven to be stronger than them. Despite the drone’s bigger size, worker bees are fiercer when protecting the hive. Worker bees have a stinger that helps them defend their hive. However, using their stingers is more deadly to bees than their victims. Some honey bees can die from stinging, so they refrain from doing it as much as possible. Drones do not have stingers, making them incapable of protecting the hive.

Drone vs Worker Bee: Feeding

Drones only do two things in their hives: eat and mate. But they are incapable of feeding themselves. Adult drones depend on worker bees to produce food for them. As worker bees make honey and collect pollen, they provide drones with bee bread, a hearty combination of the two. Worker bees work to produce food and drones usually wait and hold out their tongues for the females to put food on them.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Aleksandr Rybalko/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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