Honey Bee Colony

Honey bees are social insects that live in colonies. Honey bee colonies consist of a single queen, hundreds of male drones and 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees. Each honey bee colony also consists of developing eggs, larvae and pupae.

The number of individuals within a honey bee colony depends largely upon seasonal changes. A colony could reach up to 80,000 individuals during the active season, when workers forage for food, store honey for winter and build combs. However, this population will decrease dramatically during colder seasons.

Honey bee colonies depend upon diversity of population for survival, as each caste of bee performs specific tasks. Thus, while queens are extremely powerful within their societies, they cannot establish new colonies without the help of drones and workers, who provide fertilization, food and wax to construct the hive.

Queens are the only members of a colony able to lay fertilized eggs. An egg-laying queen is important in establishing a strong honey bee colony, and is capable of producing up to 2,000 eggs within a single day. Queens mate early in life and store up millions of sperm within their bodies. While they are capable of living up to five years, they only often only live two to three years producing eggs.

All members of a honey bee colony undergo complete metamorphosis, passing through the egg, larval and pupal stages before becoming adults. Honey bee larvae are legless grubs that eat honey, nectar or pollen. Larvae shed their skin and molt several times before they enter the pupal stage. After another molt, these pupae will emerge as adult honey bees and begin to perform specialized tasks for the colony.

Worker honey bees are the largest population within a colony. Worker bees are entirely female, but they are unable to produce fertilized eggs. If there is no queen they do sometimes lay unfertilized eggs, which become male drones. Worker bees use their barbed stingers to defend the colony, but after attacking, the barbs attach to the victim’s skin, tearing the stinging bee’s abdomen, resulting in death.

Workers are essential members of honey bee colonies. They forage for pollen and nectar, tend to queens and drones, feed larvae, ventilate the hive, defend the nest and perform other tasks to preserve the survival of the colony. The average life span of worker bees is approximately six weeks.

Drones, or male honey bees, have only one task: to fertilize new queens. Drones mate outdoors usually in midair and die soon after mating. Some honey bee colonies will eject surviving drones during fall when food for the colony becomes limited.