Why Honey Bees Have Their Color

Honey bees are usually oval-shaped creatures with golden-yellow colors and brown bands. The genetic aspect of honey bee coloration is most visible between queens and males. Males are the queen’s unfertilized eggs, so the physical characteristics of male honey bees rely entirely on those of the queen. Queens also produce fertilized eggs, which become workers. Each honey bee worker will have the same genetic characteristics as other workers in a colony. However, because most queens mate several times before laying eggs, workers within one laying could be produced with the sperm of various drones, resulting in varying coloration.

Although the body color of honey bees varies between species and some honey bees have predominantly black bodies, almost all honey bees have varying dark-to-light striations. These light and dark stripes serve a purpose for the survival of the honey bee: unlike other species that hide when they sense predators close by, the brightly colored bodies of the honey bee act as a warning to predators or honey robbers of the honey bees’ ability to sting. Female honey bees protect themselves with an egg-laying tube, or ovipositor, which contains venom. Because this tube is found only in females, male honey bees are not capable of stinging. As such, when a nest or hive is threatened, only female honey bees swarm and attack.

Worker honey bees sting animals and people, while queens sting other honeybee queens when taking over another colony. Each stinger has barbs, which anchor into the victim’s skin. When the stinging bee flies away from its victim, its stinger tears away from its body, causing death.