They are found all over the world, though much of their range is due to man introducing them to new places like the Western Hemisphere.
They can be found anywhere that is rich in flowers – like orchards and gardens, rainforests, wetlands, fields and grasslands, open woodlands and even desert habitats when in bloom.
Like all insects they have three body parts – a head, thorax and abdomen. Their head is hairy with large, dark eyes. The thorax is hairy and reddish-brown. The abdomen is striped dark and light – the light rings can be from white to yellowish-orange. It is also hairy, though less so than the thorax. The abdomen has a venom gland. It supplies the stinger with poison used to attack anything that threatens the hive. They have six dark legs. The back pair has a “pollen basket” where the bee stores collected pollen. They are up to ¾” long (2 cm).
Honeybees have three different forms in a hive.
Honeybees live in a colony in a dome-shaped hive. They build the hive in a hollow tree or a rock cavity made out of wax they make. Bees can communicate with each other using chemical scents. In this way they can tell that a bee belongs in their hive or mark flowers for hive mates to find later. They also communicate by “dancing.”
The three different honeybee forms have different jobs in the hive:
The female worker bees build the honeycomb, making the wax chambers or cells into which eggs will be laid by the queen. They collect nectar and pollen during the daylight. They feed and care for the baby bees – larvae. They protect the hive from attack.
The male drones leave the hive to gather nearby and watch for new queens in the area. This happens when the warm weather comes in the spring and through the summer when they are about 4 weeks old. When a new queen flies near they can smell her giving off a strong scent, called pheromones. They will then chase her to mate. After they mate, they die.
The queen is the egg layer. There is only 1 active queen per hive. Once she has mated, she lays eggs nonstop for the rest of her life (unless it gets very cold). She can affect what form her eggs will be as adult bees. This allows her to change the number of males and females depending upon what her hive needs. If it is very cold in the winter, scientists have discovered that the bees form a tight ball and warm themselves by pumping their flight muscles.
When honeybee hives have a lot of food in one area, they will “swarm” to form another hive. When they are getting ready to swarm, the workers feed some grubs (larvae) the right food to form into new queens. Right before they are ready to break out of their wax rooms as adults, the hive queen will leave the hive. She will take about half the workers with her. They "swarm" into a tight group nearby in a tree and workers will scout for a new spot to build their hive. Then the swarm will move there and start building a new honeycomb, collecting food and laying eggs again. Healthy honeybees swarm once a year, sometimes twice if there is a lot of food nearby. In the old hive all the newly hatched queens fight until only one is left alive to be the new hive queen.
Young growing honeybee larva are fed pollen, nectar and honey. The worker bees collect pollen and nectar and store food as honey for the winter. While they feed, they are pollinating flowers, so are very important part of plant life cycles.
Many animals around the world may attack a nest for its honey, including other honeybees. Spiders, wasps, birds and toads may feed on honey or the bees themselves. South America predators are anteaters and pangolins, while North American predators include skunks, armadillos and bears.
The queen lays eggs starting in the spring and throughout the year. In cold climates, activity in the hive will stop during the coldest months. The queen can lay up to 80,000 eggs in one season. She lays the eggs into the wax chambers in the hive.
The eggs hatch in about 3 days into small, white worms, called grubs or larva. They are fed and taken care of by the worker bees for up to week. They will form into one of the three forms of adult honeybee. How long the workers feed the grubs (and with what kind of food they give them) affects what form of honeybee they will become.
After they are fed and grow, they are sealed into their little wax room to form a cocoon. This is called the pupal phase, where they change or “pupate” for up to two weeks. This is also called metamorphosis. The different adult forms pupate for different lengths – male drones taking the longest to transform.
When they are ready, they chew their way out of their wax room. They don’t live as adults for very long. The queen lives the longest – up to 5 years, though usually less. The male drones only live up to 2 months during the summer. The female workers only live up to 1 month, but if they hatch later in the season, they can over winter.
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Amsel, Sheri. "Honeybee" Exploring Nature Educational Resource ©2005-2023. May 29, 2023
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