Honey bees are fascinating insects. If you are lucky enough to already be a beekeeper, you are likely enamored with these creatures and have spent countless hours studying their movements, watching as young bees emerge from capped cells, trying to decipher their communication patterns. If you don’t have your own bees yet, get some soon!

bee on tansy

THREE CASTES OF HONEYBEE 

Queen: There is only one queen per hive. The queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries. A queen bee can live for 3-5 years. The queen mates only once with several male (drone) bees, and will remain fertile for life. She lays up to 2000 eggs per day. Fertilized eggs become female (worker bees) and unfertilized eggs become male (drone bees). When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will “make” a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of “royal jelly”. For queen bees, it takes 16 days from egg to emergence. 

Workers: All worker bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live for 4-9 months during the winter season, but only 6 weeks during the busy summer months (they literally work themselves to death). Nearly all of the bees in a hive are worker bees. A hive consists of 20,000 – 30,000 bees in the winter, and over 60,000 – 80,000 bees in the summer. The worker bees sequentially take on a series of specific chores during their lifetime: housekeeper; nursemaid; construction worker; grocer; undertaker; guard; and finally, after 21 days they become a forager collecting pollen and nectar. For worker bees, it takes 21 days from egg to emergence. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once.

Drones: These male bees are kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin queen. Because the drone has a barbed sex organ, mating is followed by death of the drone. There are only 300-3000 drones in a hive. The drone does not have a stinger. Because they are of no use in the winter, drones are expelled from the hive in the autumn.

 

Did you know?

  • The honeybee hive is perennial. Although quite inactive during the winter, the honeybee survives the winter months by clustering for warmth. By self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the winter cluster (regardless of the outside temperature).
  • Honeybees represent a highly organized society, with various bees having very specific roles during their lifetime: e.g., nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants, undertakers, foragers, etc
  • Agriculture depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination – honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination.
  • Bees collect 66 lbs of pollen per year, per hive.
  • Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants.
  • Honey is hydroscopic and has antibacterial qualities.
  • Eating local honey can fend off allergies.
  • Beeswax, secreted from honey bee glands, has many applications, including drugs, cosmetics, furniture polish and candles.
  • Royal Jelly, the powerful, milky substance that turns an ordinary bee into a Queen Bee, is made of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee’s head.
  • Honeybees, of European origin, are not native to the USA. 
  • Honeybees are not aggressive by nature, and will not sting unless protecting their hive from an intruder or are unduly provoked.