The worker honey bee is about 1/2 inch long and is usually yellow in color, with 3 or 5 dark brown abdominal bands. They are covered with golden brown and black hair. Honey bees have two pairs of wings.
Honey bees are social insects and live in hives. These hives can be man-made or located in a hollow tree, wall void, or some other sheltered habitat. Pollen is stored in the cells of the comb within the hive. In other cells (“honeycombs”), nectar is converted into honey when the bee regurgitates the nectar (adding an enzyme) that facilitates the conversion.
In order for honey bees to produce honey, they consume pollen and nectar from a variety of flowers. The worker bees gather as much nectar and pollen from flowers as possible. They “eat” this, and with the help of enzymes in their stomachs regurgitate it and create honey, which is then stored in honeycomb to eat in the future.
Queen honey bees are fed “royal jelly”. Royal jelly is a white secretion produced by young, female workers. It is comprised of pollen and certain natural occurring chemicals. Royal jelly contains supplements, vitamins and stimulates that help the queen grow much faster and twice as big as an ordinary worker bee. Due to the rich nutritional value of royal jelly, queens can live up to 25 times longer than worker bees.
Honey bees live on stored honey and pollen during the winter, and cluster into a ball to conserve warmth. The larvae are fed from the stores during the winter months and by spring the hive is swarming with a new generation of bees.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Honey bees are social insects. There are three castes of bees: queens, which produce eggs; drones or males, which mate with the queen; and, workers, which are all non reproducing females. The queen lays eggs singly in hexagonal cells of the comb. Larvae hatch from eggs in 3 to 4 days and are fed by worker bees. Queens and drones are larger than workers and require enlarged cells for development. Queens complete their development in 15 to 16 days, drones in 24 days and workers in about 21 days.
Workers are the only bees that most people see. These bees are females that are not sexually developed. Workers forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, clean, circulate air by beating their wings, and perform many other functions.
The queen’s job is simple—laying the eggs that will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. There is usually only one queen in a hive. If the queen dies, workers will create a new queen by feeding one of the worker females “royal jelly.” This rich nutritional elixir enables the worker to develop into a fertile queen bee.
New colonies are formed when newly mated queens leave the colony with worker bees, a process called “swarming”. A swarm of honey bees can be alarming, but more often than not, they will move on in their search of a suitable nesting site. The queen can live up to five years; while drones usually die before winter hits; and, the workers generally live only a few months. A colony typically consists of 20,000 to 90,000 individual bees.
Honey bees can sting, but are much less aggressive than wasps and hornets. Honeybees can only sting once. The sting can be extremely painful if the stinger is not immediately removed from the sting. Persons allergic to insect stings can have severe reactions.
Honey bees are generally not aggressive (defensive) during foraging or swarming activities. However, if the hive contains developing larvae and pupae, honey bees (particularly Africanized honey bees) will aggressively attack intruders to defend their colony.