The Life of a Honey Bee

In a brood cell deep inside the nest, the Queen lays an egg, the egg hatches, and then is a larva, fed first on royal jelly, by other worker bees, then on bee bread, it grows throughout its first week before developing into a pupa. At this point it is sealed into its cell by the adult worker bees, and about three weeks after the egg was laid a new worker be emerges.

The behavior of the adult worker progresses with age. Her first duty is inside the nest, cleaning and nursing the brood, (bee babies) before she moves on to guarding the entrance, and eventually to forage for pollen and nectar. Foraging takes a severe toll on the worker bee’s body, they can travel up to three miles in search for food. The adult worker bee will spends her last days foraging. In the summer, a worker honey bee lives only about a month as an adult, but in the inactive winter season she might live for three to six months.

The Drones (male bees) and the Queen have longer lives. Drones can live for three months, or until they finally mate. After the Drone mates, he dies. Honey bee queens are remarkably long-lived. They can survive several years.

The Queen

Just a few eggs are laid in specially constructed queen cells. These eggs are destined to become queen bees. The queen’s DNA is the same as the worker bee, the only difference is the amount of royal jelly she is fed. Royal jelly is a secretion produced by the workers and fed to all larvae for a short time, but the queen is fed extra rations, enabling her reproductive organs to develop fully. By feeding her the increased amount of royal jelly, her life is changed forever. She will live for years, rather than a month, and she may lay several hundred thousand eggs over her lifetime.

The queen bee is larger that the workers. She emerges from her cell soft and fuzzy and remains that way for a day or so, allowing her body to darken and harden, as all newborn bees must. Within a few days of emerging form her cell, she will take off on the first of up to three mating flights. She will fly high to find her mates in areas where drones congregate. Honey bee queens are notorious for mating  with more males than possibly any other animal on earth ~ genetic analyses have shown up to 29 different paternal lines within one queen’s hive. Once mated sufficiently, the queen becomes a slave to her hive, remaining in it for the rest of her life.

Bee Senses

While bees share our world, they experience it quite differently. For example, a flower that appears white to humans may appear blue to a bee. The eyes of the honey bee have been well studied. They see primarily blues and greens, with some other colors formed through combinations of visual cues. Bees see what humans cannot ~ ultraviolet. Luckily, we can gain insight into what the world looks like to bees by using special ultraviolet filters. Bees cannot see the red end of the spectrum.

Most bees live inside the nests that have little to no light. Bees rely heavily on vibratory communications. Bees often walk upon one another, exchanging signals by body shaking and dancing. These signals are received through hair receptors throughout the surface of the bee body, including the antennae. Responses to touching and feeling vibrations are followed by a reaction in regards to what the message is conveying.

The antennae receive chemical cues from odors. These odors can be airborne, in nectar or transmitted directly from another bee through a behavior call antennation. There are 10 types of receptors in honey bees to determine taste, while smell is determined by 163 different receptors. In other words, smell is far more important to bees than taste. With their sense of smell, bees detect nearby floral patches and pick up the approach of competitors and predators.

Many bees also signal to others of their species using chemicals called pheromones, released by the Nasonov’s gland at the posterior end of the abdomen.

Bees do make sounds, but whether these are functional or merely byproducts is unclear. For example, drones occasionally make a short, loud popping sound when they ejaculate. This likely serves no purpose, but instead is a byproduct of his penis fully inflating and then air rushing out of his body as he explodes and dies. Reports of bees making sounds in the key of A are increasingly common, ranging from piping in A flat to buzzing in A during waggle dances.

Resources from: The Bee A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich