Honey bees are important pollinators for flowers, fruits and vegetables. Bees transfer pollen between the male and female parts, allowing plants to grow seeds and fruit.
Bees produce honey as food stores for the hive during winter. Luckily for us, in a good year when there is plenty of food around, these workers produce two to three times more honey than they need, so we get to enjoy their excess stores.
How bees live is awe inspiring. They live together in large, well-organized family groups (colonies) that involve a variety of complex tasks not practiced by the multitude of solitary insects.
Communication, complex nest construction, environmental control, defence, and division of the labour are essential for honeybees to successfully exist. Reproduction and colony strength depend on the queen, the quantity of food stores, and the size of the worker force.
A honeybee colony usually consists of three kinds of adult bees: workers, drones, and a queen. Worker bees build the nest, collect food and rear the young. Each member has a task to perform, related to its age. Surviving and reproducing take the combined efforts of the entire colony and individual bees cannot survive without the support of the colony.
All honeybees pass through three developmental stages before emerging as adults: egg, larvae, and pupa. These stages are collectively called brood. During the brood stage unfertilized eggs become drones, while fertilized eggs become either workers or queen. Nutrition plays an important part in the development of female bees; larvae destined to become workers receive less royal jelly and more honey and pollen compared to the copious amounts of royal jelly that the queen larvae receive.
The Queen is usually the mother of all the other bees in the hive. Normally there is only one queen. The queen can lay up to 1500 eggs a day, and a million over her lifetime. She lays both fertilized and unfertilised eggs. The fertilised eggs can either become a worker bee or a future queen. The unfertilised eggs grow into drones. The usual lifespan of a queen is about 3 years but she can live up to 5 years.
New queens are raised when an old queen is accidentally killed, lost, or removed and the bees select younger worker larvae to produce emergency queens; an older queen begins to fail and the colony prepares to raise a new queen or in preparation for swarming
Drones (male bees) are the largest bees in the colony. Drones have no stinger, pollen baskets, or wax glands. Drones eat three times as much food as worker bees and have never been seen taking food from flowers. Their main function is to fertilize the virgin queen during her mating flight. Several hundred live in each hive during the spring and summer. But come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out
Worker Bees are the smallest and the majority of bees occupying the colony. They do not lay eggs but have brood food glands, scent glands, wax glands, and pollen baskets, which allow them to perform all the work of the hive. In their early life, as nursery worker bees, they clean and polish the cells, feed the brood, care for the queen, remove debris, handle incoming nectar, build beeswax combs, guard the entrance, and air-condition and ventilate the hive during their initial few weeks as adults. Later as field bees they forage for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant sap).
The life span of the worker during summer is about 6 weeks. Workers reared in the Autumn can live as long as 6 months, allowing the colony to survive the winter and assisting in the rearing of new generations in the spring before they die.
Honeybee facts and figures