Honeybee

Honeybees

What's all the buzz about?

A working honeybee collecting pollen

A working honeybee, Apis mellifera, visiting a flower and collecting pollen.

Bees are insects. The species in the Museum's beehive is called Apis mellifera. The honeybee lives in groups called colonies. They first evolved about 35 million years ago in tropical Africa and because honey is so popular, bees now live all over the world.

Are all the bees in the colony the same?

No. There are different bees for different jobs. Every colony has one queen, which is the largest bee. The workers are female bees and are the smallest in size but the largest in number. There are also male drones and the brood is made up of eggs, larvae, and pupae.

What is a hive and how does it work?

The hive is the colony's home or nest. The outside is often a man-made box like this one, and the inside is made from wax, which the bees produce themselves. The queen and most of the bees live in the bottom of the hive in the brood chamber. The top contains the honey.

Beehives in a field

Beehives in a field.

Why do bees sting?

A honeybee will rarely sting away from the hive, except when stepped on or roughly handled. If a bee is buzzing around you, she may smell perfume, soap, or hair spray and think the smell is nectar or food. She will check you out to see if she can find the nectar, but if you stand very still, she will realize there is no nectar and go away.

How do bees communicate?

Like other insects, honeybees communicate using many different chemicals and odours. Honeybees can direct other bees to food by dancing. The movements tell them the location and direction of the food.

What is the hive's life cycle?

As the number of bees in the hive increases, some of the bees leave to set up a new colony in a new location. They form a big group known as a swarm. The queen leaves the colony and about half of the worker bees and drones follow her in search of a new home. She is usually replaced with a new queen after a couple of weeks. Another new queen is left behind with the other half to continue the old colony.

A close up of a honeycomb.

A close up of a honeycomb.

How do normal bees differ from the queen bee?

Each type of bee has a different job in the colony. Worker bees do different things depending on how old they are. If a worker (sterile female) is born in the spring, she probably only lives 4 or 5 weeks. If she’s born in the autumn when there’s less work to do, she may survive the winter.

What is a bee’s life cycle?

The queen lays each egg in one cell of the honeycomb. Each egg hatches and a little worm-like larva crawls out. The worker bees feed pollen and honey to the baby larva. Soon, it spins a web blanket inside the cell and becomes a pupa. After 16 to 24 days, a fully grown bee climbs out of the cell. They live between 3 to 6 months depending on the time of year and food available.