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Queen Bee Vs. Worker Bee

A queen bee next to a worker bee.

Queen bees have longer shiny abdomens, which reach up to ¾ inch (20mm) in length. They have shorter wings that extend halfway down their abdomen and legs without pollen baskets.

The queen’s primary role is laying eggs and using pheromones to guide the colony. She may live several years and will only leave the hive to mate or swarm to a new location.

Worker bees have shorter, rounder, and often hairier abdomens. Their maximum length is typically a half inch (15mm) with longer wings reaching the tip of the abdomen.

Worker bee roles range from foraging and nursing to cleaning and protecting the hive. They have a lifespan of about six weeks during active seasons but can live up to four months through the off-season.

Queen bee vs. worker bee

AbdomenLonger, elongated, smooth, and shiny.Shorter, rounder, and often hairy.
LengthUp to ¾” (20mm)Up to ½” (15mm)
WingsShorter. Reach half way down the abdomen.Longer. Extend to the tip of the abdomen.
LegsLonger than a worker bees with no pollen baskets.Shorter than a queen bee’s with pollen baskets on the hind legs.
RoleReproduction: Lays eggs and is the only fertile female in the hive.Performs various tasks including foraging, nursing, cleaning, and hive defense.
MatingPerforms a nuptial flight between days 20-24.Never mate.
DietPrimarily royal jelly for her entire life.Honey, pollen, and water; nurse bees feed on royal jelly for a few days.
LifespanSeveral years, typically 2-3, but may extend to 5.6 weeks during active seasons; 4-6 months in the off-season.
StingerCan sting multiple times without dying. Primarily used to kill rival queens.Barb gets stuck in the victim, causing the bee to die after stinging. Used in defense of the hive.
PheromonesFocused on long-term colony maintenance and reproductive control.Focused on immediate responses and day-to-day operations.
Hive locationUsually located in brood boxes.Through brood boxes and supers.


Queen bees have smoother elongated abdomens, while worker bees are shorter and fatter. A queen can reach up to ¾ inch (20mm) in length, making them larger than worker bees, which typically grow to ½ inch (15mm).

A macro image of a queen bee on white background.
Closeup image of a queen bee.

The wings of a queen bee are shorter, only reaching about halfway down her abdomen. A worker bee’s extend to the tip of the abdomen. This extra wingspan helps with roles like foraging and scouting out new hive locations.

Worker bees have pollen baskets (corbicula) on their hind legs for collecting and carrying pollen back to the hive. Queen bees lack this anatomy as they never forage.

A zoomed in shot of a female worker bee isolated on white background.
Closeup photo of a worker bee.

Suggested reading:

Roles in the hive

The queen bee’s primary role within the hive is reproduction. She is the only fertile female responsible for laying eggs. The queen also plays a crucial role in releasing pheromones to regulate hive activity.

Read more about the queen’s roles here.

Worker bees are infertile females who perform most of the work within the hive. Common tasks include foraging for nectar and pollen, caring for the queen and larvae, and maintaining and defending the hive.

Learn more about the roles of a worker bee here.


Royal jelly is fed to all bee larvae initially. This is a protein-rich secretion produced by the worker bees’ hypopharyngeal glands.

Only the queen larvae continue to receive royal jelly throughout development. This enables them to develop into fertile queens.

Worker bees have a more varied diet that includes nectar and pollen collected from flowers as well as honey.

After their initial few days, worker larvae are fed bee bread instead of royal jelly. This mixture of honey and pollen supports their development into infertile workers.

Life span

A queen bee may live for several years, often between 3 to 5 years. Some live longer under optimal conditions. Her presence is essential for the colony’s growth, as she is the sole egg-layer.

When a queen bee stops laying eggs, it signals to the colony that she is no longer useful. Worker bees will raise a new queen to replace the existing one (supersedure).

Worker bees have much shorter lives, which varies depending on the season. During the busy summer months workers are highly active, so their lifespans average six weeks.

Workers born in late autumn can live 4-6 months as they have less foraging work. Their overwintering duties focus on keeping the queen safe and warm.

Stages of development

StageQueen BeeWorker Bee
EggHatches on day 3.Hatches on day 3.
LarvaDay 3 to day 8½.Day 3 to day 9.
Cell capped~day 7½.~day 9.
Pupa~day 8 until emergence.~day 10 until emergence.
Emergence~day 15½ – day 17.~day 20.
Nuptial flight~day 20 – 24.Workers do not mate.
Egg laying~day 23 and up.Irregularly, rarely.


The queen’s pheromones focus on long-term colony maintenance and reproductive control. Worker bee pheromones help dictate immediate responses and day-to-day operations.

Worker bees release alarm pheromones, such as isopentyl acetate and 2-heptanone. They also use brood recognition pheromones to prevent worker bees from reproducing and distinguish between different larvae types.

Foragers emit pheromones like ethyl oleate to regulate the development of nurse bees. They use Nasonov pheromone for recruitment and orientation.

The queen bee’s pheromones, especially the Queen Mandibular Pheromone (QMP), play a central role in maintaining the hive’s social structure. QMP inhibits ovary development in worker bees, affects mating behavior, and prevents swarming.


The queen bee’s stinger is smooth, allowing her to sting multiple times without killing her. This feature is crucial during rival queen combats within the hive, where the queen defends her position.

Worker bees have a barbed stinger that provides a potent defense against threats. As the bee moves away, it tears out part of the bee’s abdomen, resulting in the worker’s instant death.

Location in the hive

The queen bee resides mainly in the brood chamber to lay eggs. Workers are spread throughout the hive, doing jobs based on their age.

Unlike workers, the queen bee remains inside the hive throughout her life. Worker bees may regularly leave the hive to gather nectar, pollen, and other resources.

Further reading: What’s the difference between a worker bee and drone?

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