For example, out of every 1000 eggs laid, X mature into drones and/or virgin queens. That seems impossibly precise but it illustrates the kind of number I want well. I'll accept answers for any species and any number of species, even one, with any amount of precision or lack thereof, because right now I can't even feel confident saying that there are more workers or more breeders, though I obviously suspect more workers.

I would also be ecstatic to have any live count just before the nuptial flight, i.e. for this colony in this study there were X workers, Y drones, and Z virgin queens just before the nuptial flight, or X workers and (Y+Z) breeders, or X% of the colony was breeders, or for this species on average X% are breeders just before the nuptial flight.

Anything. Any one thing and I can accept it as an answer.

I can find any number of studies that talk about the sex ratio between drones and virgin queens, so I know someone is counting. Maybe I'm not reading closely enough, but they always seem to slip away from giving all the numbers I need to figure this out for myself.

  • $\begingroup$ My guess is that the answer could be quite different for different species: I would recommend narrowing it down to a specific species so the question doesn't get closed as too broad. $\endgroup$
    – rotaredom
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ Limiting it to a single species means that the answer can more easily be "We don't know". I'm trying to avoid that by accepting an answer for any species because the last thing I want is "Oh, I know the answer for this other species but it's not the one you asked for so I'm going to walk away with the knowledge." I've edited the question in an attempt to make that clearer. If there is anything I can say to be even more clear, please let me know. $\endgroup$
    – Tarbox
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ It will vary so drastically that the ratio will be exactly 1 (or 'NA' :D) for solitary species and close to 0 for species that make gigantic colony with a single queen. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ I'm interested in the virgin queens that get pushed out of the hive for the nuptial flight, not the one or few laying queens in a colony. Also, I will accept statistics for any one species, it does not have to be an average across multiple species, although I will accept that too if that is the number that's available. I will even accept a single study that clearly publishes a number for one particular colony at some particular point in time, even if gathered incidentally while pursuing some other research goal. $\endgroup$
    – Tarbox
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 17:31

1 Answer 1



This answer is specific to the western honeybee, Apis mellifera, as there are massive amounts of data on them; more, possibly, than any other insect species. There has certainly been more data collected about them than any other hymenopteran.

At around the time of the nuptial flight, there may be as many as 60,000 workers in the hive, though likely number is more like 15,000 - 20,000. There will be either one (virgin) or two (one mated, one virgin) queens (the old queen will stay with the hive, if she is alive). There may be as many as 400 drones from the original colony (though usually the number is less, around 150 is typical; 10 - 50 of them will actually mate with the queen), and an equal number may join in the flight drawn from other colonies, especially in commercial beekeeping operations. Somewhere between 1000 - 6000 workers will take part in the nuptial flight with the virgin queen and the drones.

This means that in honeybees, the nuptial flight contains 1 queen:~5000 workers:~150 drones.

Data is drawn from many years working with bees and beekeepers. Opinions will vary somewhat depending on the beekeeper and the beekeeping methods. These are based, generally, on bees kept for clover and fruit pollination in the western USA.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! I'm surprised at the high drone to virgin ratio but there you have it. $\endgroup$
    – Tarbox
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 11:01

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