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.
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.
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.
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.
Honey bee swarming is a natural part of a developing their colony. Honey bees swarm as a result of overcrowding within a hive. To create a swarm, an old honey bee queen leaves the hive with about half of the hive’s worker bees, while a new queen remains in the old hive with the rest of the workers. In the wild, honey bees swarm most in late spring and early summer, at humid times of the day. While swarming is part of the healthy life cycle of every honey bee colony, beekeepers often attempt to reduce the incidence of swarming in domesticated bees.
A honey bee swarm may contain hundreds or thousands of worker bees and a single queen. Swarming honey bees fly temporarily, and then cluster on shrubs and tree branches. The clusters rest there for several hours to a few days, depending on weather conditions and the amount of time needed to search for a new nesting site. When a scout honey bee locates a good location for the new colony, the cluster immediately flies to the new site.
Generally, honey bee swarms do not harm people. Swarming honey bees do not have young or a nest to defend during the swarm, and as such, their incentive to sting is reduced.
However, a swarm of bees will attack when provoked, as workers attempt to protect their queen. Should a persistent swarm of bees appear near your home or garden, it may be necessary to contact a pest control expert to assist in relocating or exterminating the swarm. Honey bees are a protected species in some areas, so check with a professional pest control expert before taking any action yourself.