Species: Apis nigrocincta, Apis mellifera (European or Western honey bee), Apis koschevnikovi, Apis cerana (Asiatic honey bee), Apis dorsata (giant honey bee), Apis florea (red dwarf honey bee), Apis andreniformis (black dwarf honey bee)
Subspecies: There are 44 subspecies of honey bees
Common Name: honey bee or honeybee
Honey bees live in highly social family groups called colonies. A honey bee hive (a natural or man made home for bees) contains three types of bees and an average of 50,000 members. Each hive has one queen (except during brief periods when juvenile queens are present), thousands of female workers, and hundreds of male drones (during spring/summer). When juvenile queens are created, they will fight until only one remains. The old queen will take most of her workers and create a swarm. A swarm will leave the hive to find a new nesting spot.
The queen is the mother of all bees in the hive and directs behavior of colony members. Male drones have the specific job of mating with queens. Drones soon die after mating. The female worker bees are sterile and have various jobs at different stages of life. Young workers clean the hive, groom one another, and make royal jelly and feed it (as well as honey and pollen) to the larvae. A larva that is to become a queen bee is fed solely on royal jelly. As worker bees change jobs as they age. Young workers are cell creators in the honeycomb. They then become receivers of gathered pollen and hive defenders. Finally, older worker bees become foragers that gather pollen and bring it back to the hive. Honey bees communicate with pheromones and through dance. Foraging worker bees relate locations of nectar and other resources by doing round or waggle dances.
Female honey bees sting as a defense mechanism. The barbed stinger gets stuck in the thick skin of mammals, which disembowels the bee as it flies away. Male drones do not have stingers.
Honey bees gain all needed nutrients from pollen and nectar. Honey is produced from nectar to provide food for the winter. Foragers will make an average of about one half tsp of honey over their lifetime.
Honey bees undergo a metamorphosis with four stages: egg, larval (grubs), pupal, and adult. Queens mature in 16 days, workers in 21 days, and drones in 24 days. The lifespan of a honey bee varies based on their job. Worker bees can live from 2 weeks to 11 months, while drones only live 4 to 8 weeks. Queen bees have lifespans of up to 5 years.
A virgin queen honey bee will leave the hive to find a contingent of male drones for mating. Queen honey bees store the sperm, gathered during mating, for the duration of her life in her spermatheca (a reservoir in the queen bee’s reproductive system). By choosing to open or close the spermatheca, a queen can control whether or not an egg gets fertilized. Fertilized eggs become female worker bees, while male drones are born from unfertilized eggs.
Honey bees are brown or reddish and have distinct yellow and black bands of coloring around their abdomens. This coloring serves as a danger warning for predators, whom associate the bold striped pattern with a painful sting. Honey bees have segmented bodies that include the thorax, abdomen (with six segments) and a head. They also have a stinger (if female), six legs, antenna, two pairs of wings, and five eyes (two compound and three simple). Bristly hair covers their abdomens. Their hind legs house pollen baskets.
Cave paintings and beeswax residue found in ancient pottery demonstrate that honey bees have been significant to humans for thousands of years. Honey is a well-loved food and also has medicinal uses. Beeswax from bee hives is used in candle making, cosmetics, and other items. The role of honey bees in pollination makes them one of the most vital life forms on Earth. Western honey bees are domesticated for commercial crop pollination and honey production.