honeybee collecting nectar (13954 bytes)

All About Honey Bees

By Lynne Eley, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver

When you are feeling that the world around you is chaotic and unpredictable, it may help to think about the highly organized world of the honey bee.

Among the 10,000 species of bees identified, the honey bee is the only one that produces honey.  Honeybees are social insects, living in colonies of up to 80,000 bees-- each with its own purpose.

What is life like for a honeybee? It depends upon what its status is when born. If it is a female,worker bees inside the hive (58328 bytes) it will be most likely to become a worker. The life of the worker bee involves the making and maintenance of the nest. The youngest worker bees clean the empty cell and tend to the 'baby bees' or larvae. It is the worker bee you are most likely to encounter outside as it gathers nectar, pollen and water for the young in the hive. A bee will fly in random patterns to collect the nectar, but when it has all it can carry, the bee will make a 'beeline' for the nest.

The success of a beehive depends largely on the queen bee. For some unknown reason, worker bees will select only a few of the larvae to develop into queens. The selected larvae have special cells to grow in and are fed royal jelly.  A queen will emerge from her cell in only 16 days after the egg has been laid.

She will eat honey to gain strength. If there is more than one queen in the nest the queen bees may fight until death or a queen may leave or 'swarm' from the nest with other workers to establish a new colony. A newly established queen bee flies out of the hive and will mate with one or several "drones." Most likely, this one mating event will allow her to lay eggs for the rest of her life. A queen bee may lay up to 2,000 eggs a day and up to 1,000,000 in her lifetime.

The "drones" are male bees that have developed from unfertilized eggs. They do no work and are stingless. Their only job is to mate with the queen. An unmated queen will lay drone eggs. She will only lay worker eggs if she is fertilized. In autumn, when the honey flow is over, so is the need for drones. The workers will allow the drones to starve to death when the egg laying season finishes, and they would eat too much of the stored honey if allowed to live over the winter.

The lives of bees are so fascinating that many people have glass-walled hives so that they can observe the industry and efficiency of a bee colony. We should all appreciate these marvelous insects!

Photos: Judy Sedbrook


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Date last revised: 01/05/2010