Honey Bee: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

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Honey bees are fascinating creatures that play a vital role in pollinating various crops and producing honey. These insects, specifically the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), are not native to North America but were imported from Europe in the 17th century source. Today, honey bees contribute to more than $15 billion in crop value annually by their pollination activities.

Some key features of honey bees include:

  • Hard outer shell (exoskeleton)
  • Three main body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen
  • A pair of antennae attached to their head
  • Three pairs of legs used for walking
  • Two pairs of wingssource

Honey bee colonies have various roles within their social structure, including queen bees that lay eggs, worker bees that collect pollen and nectar, as well as drones or male bees whose primary function is to mate with the queen[sources](https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/honey-bees, https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/plant-pest-and-disease-programs/honey-bees/honeybees). Honey bee management and health are essential for our environment and agricultural industry, so understanding and conserving these remarkable insects is crucial.

Honey Bee Basics

Worker Bees, Drones, and Queen

Honey bees exist in a social structure divided into three castes:

  • Worker bees: sterile females responsible for foraging, feeding larvae, and cleaning the hive.
  • Drones: male bees whose main purpose is to mate with the queen.
  • Queen: the single reproductive female in the colony responsible for laying eggs.

Lifespan and Roles of Honey Bees

Worker bees live for about 6 weeks, while drones have a lifespan of approximately 8 weeks. The queen bee has a much longer life, reaching up to 3-4 years.

In a honey bee colony:

  • Worker bees perform various tasks based on age, such as nurse bees feeding larvae and guard bees protecting the hive entrance.
  • Drones die after mating.
  • The queen’s primary role is to lay eggs, producing the next generation of bees.

Communication: Waggle Dance

Honey bee communication, particularly among scout bees, is executed through a unique behavior called the waggle dance. It involves a series of movements to convey information about food source location, distance, and quality.

Castes and Genetics

Honey bees have a distinct genetic makeup determining their caste:

  • Worker bees and queens share similar genes, but environmental factors like nutrition lead to caste differentiation.
  • Drones develop from unfertilized eggs and inherit genetics only from their mother, the queen.
Caste Origin Lifespan Role
Worker Fertilized egg 6 weeks Foraging, nursing, cleaning
Drone Unfertilized egg 8 weeks Mating with queen
Queen Fertilized egg 3-4 years Laying eggs, producing pheromones

The Honey Bee Colony

Colony Structure and Hierarchy

Honey bee colonies are amazing examples of social cooperation, organization, and efficiency. Their structure can be divided into three main groups:

  • Queen: The single reproductive female that lays eggs.
  • Worker bees: Non-reproductive females responsible for various tasks.
  • Drones: Males, whose primary purpose is to mate with the queen.

Building Comb and Queen Cells

Honey bees construct their colony homes by building combs, which are sheets of hexagonal cells made from beeswax for egg-laying and food storage. In addition, special structures called queen cells are built to house developing queens. Some examples of the colony’s use of comb for various purposes include:

  • Rearing larva
  • Storing pollen
  • Storing honey

Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, some drones, and a few nurse bees. The cause of CCD is still not fully understood, but potential factors contributing to it include:

  • Pesticides
  • Viruses
  • Parasites
  • Environmental stress

New Queen and Natal Hive

When a honey bee colony requires a new queen, several female larvae are fed with royal jelly, a nutritious substance produced by worker bees. This special diet transforms the chosen larva into a queen. The first queen to emerge kills the other developing queens and becomes the new ruler of the colony. Soon after, the old queen, along with a portion of the worker bees, leaves the hive in a swarm to search for a new location to establish a natal hive, ensuring the survival and growth of honey bee populations.

Queen Drones Worker Bees
Lay eggs Mate with Queen Clean the hive
Only one Shorter life Gather food
Large size Larger size Defend colony
Fertile Reproductive Non-reproductive

Beekeeping Essentials

Langstroth Hive

The Langstroth hive is a popular choice among beekeepers due to its efficiency and ease of use. It consists of:

  • A bottom board: Provides ventilation and serves as an entrance for bees.
  • Boxes with removable frames: Used for brood rearing and honey storage.
  • An inner cover: Regulates airflow and protects the colony.
  • An outer cover: Shields the hive from harsh weather conditions.

Pros of Langstroth Hive:

  • Easy to use and inspect
  • Efficient honey production
  • Suitable for beginners

Cons of Langstroth Hive:

  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Heavy when full of honey

Frames and Equipment

Essential equipment for beekeeping includes:

  • Frames: Support honeycombs for honey storage and bee raising.
  • Hive tool: Assists in hive inspection and frame removal.
  • Smoker: Calms bees by emitting smoke during hive inspections.

Consider investing in good-quality beekeeping equipment for better results.

Beekeeping Attire

Safety is crucial while handling bees. Key protective clothing includes:

  • Veil: Protects your face and neck from stings.
  • Gloves: Shields hands and provides a better grip on equipment.
  • Beekeeping suit: Keeps your entire body safe from bee stings.

Always wear proper attire to reduce the risk of injury during beekeeping.

Beekeeping Tips and Techniques

Optimal beekeeping techniques vary with the seasons:

  • Spring: Colony expansion; Feeding bees; Monitor for diseases.
  • Summer: Honey collection; Queen bee management.
  • Fall: Preparation for winter; Disease treatment if needed.
  • Winter: Hive inspection; Ensure adequate food reserves.

For beginners, maintaining two to five hives is ideal. This offers manageable colony sizes and allows for winter losses. As you gain experience, expand your apiary accordingly.

By following these essentials, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful beekeeper. Enjoy the fascinating world of beekeeping and the rewards it brings.

Honey and Pollination

Foraging and Pollinators

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are essential pollinators in both natural ecosystems and agricultural settings. They collect nectar and pollen to nourish their hives while visiting various flowers. Honey bees are known as excellent pollinators for their ability to transfer pollen between plants, promoting reproduction and the growth of fruit and seeds.

Flowering Plants and Crops

Honey bees play a vital role in pollinating many major crops, such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables, which ultimately contribute to the diversity of our food sources. They also help to pollinate flowers in natural ecosystems, providing a stable environment for plant growth and supporting wildlife.

Pollen, Nectar, and Honey

Bees collect pollen, a protein-rich source, to feed their young, while nectar, loaded with sugars, is mainly used for energy. These ingredients are processed by worker bees inside the hive and transformed into what we know as honey. This sweet substance serves as the colony’s primary food source, especially during the colder months.

Honey Varieties and Harvesting

Honey comes in different varieties, primarily based on the floral source from which bees collect the nectar. For example:

  • Raw honey: Unprocessed honey straight from the hive
  • Wildflower honey: Honey produced from diverse flowers in a specific region

The process of harvesting honey involves removing honey-filled frames from the hive and extracting the honey using specialized equipment.

Pros and Cons of Honey Bees as Pollinators

Pros Cons
Efficient pollinators Susceptible to pests and diseases
Increase crop yields Can outcompete native bee species
Contribute to biodiversity May require management in agricultural settings

Urban Beekeeping and Community

Urban Beekeeping Benefits and Challenges

Urban beekeeping provides several benefits, such as:

  • Supporting local plant biodiversity
  • Enhancing ecosystems
  • Offering educational opportunities for communities

However, it can also pose challenges related to:

  • Limited green spaces
  • Pesticide exposure
  • Neighbor concerns

Example: An urban beekeeper planting native wildflowers helps support the local ecosystem while overcoming habitat loss challenges.

Building a Friendly Bee Habitat

To create a supportive environment for bees, consider:

  • Planting bee-friendly flowers in gardens or window boxes
  • Providing water sources for bees (e.g., birdbaths)
  • Avoiding chemical pesticides

Comparison Table: Bee-Friendly Flowers

Native Flowers Flowering Season Bee Attraction
Coneflowers Summer High
Lavender Summer/Fall High
Salvia Spring/Summer Moderate

Educating Neighbors and Support

Educating neighbors is crucial to successful urban beekeeping. Share information about the benefits of beekeeping and address concerns, such as:

  • The difference between honey bees and wasps
  • The importance of bees for pollination
  • Urban beekeeping’s contribution to fighting habitat loss

Additionally, seek local beekeeping associations for support and guidance.

By embracing urban beekeeping and fostering community awareness, we can build stronger ecosystems and connect with the people around us.

Dangers and Solutions

Dealing with Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to bee stings can be dangerous for some individuals. Here are a few simple steps to handle such situations:

  • Stay calm and remove yourself from the bee’s vicinity.
  • Remove the stinger by scraping it gently with a fingernail or credit card.
  • Apply ice or a cold compress to the sting area.

In case of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis, seek immediate medical attention.

Infestations and Pests

Honey bees face various infestations and pests, which can harm their colonies. Some common issues are:

Consistent monitoring and treating infestations early can protect honey bee colonies.

Preventing Swarms

Swarms can be unsettling and cause problems for both homeowners and the bees. To prevent swarms:

  • Ensure adequate space in the hive for the colony to grow.
  • Keep an eye on queen bee health and replace if necessary.

Following these guidelines can help minimize swarms and maintain healthy colonies.

Pros and Cons

For each method, we should consider pros and cons, as shown in the table below:

Method Pros Cons
Treating infestations Protects honey bee colonies Not always 100% effective
Increasing hive space Reduces swarming Requires additional resources and management
Monitoring queen bee Enhances colony health and stability Time-consuming

Role in Natural Ecosystem

Contributions to Fruits and Vegetables

Bees play a crucial role in the pollination of many fruits and vegetables. Their pollination efforts are essential for healthy crop production. Examples of fruits and vegetables that rely on bee pollination include:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash

Importance of Bees to Nuts and Lavender

In addition to fruits and vegetables, bees also contribute to the pollination of nuts, especially almonds. They are vital for lavender plants, as their pollination helps with seed formation and overall plant health.

Lists of Dependent Flora and Insects

Various flora and insects depend on bees for their survival. Some examples of dependent flora include:

  • Clover
  • Sunflowers
  • Wildflowers

Dependent insects that benefit from bees include:

  • Butterflies
  • Ladybugs
  • Wasps
Dependent Flora Dependent Insects
Clover Butterflies
Sunflowers Ladybugs
Wildflowers Wasps

These relationships illustrate the interdependent nature of the ecosystem and the importance of bees as pollinators.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Capturing a Honey Bee Swarm


Honeybee Swarm Capture
Location: Portland Oregon
December 5, 2010 12:49 pm
We keep bees in Portland Oregon and capture swarms during ”swarm season” which is usually late March through June.
I thought you might enjoy a shot of a nice swarm we captured. In this shot we have cut it out of a tree. The swarm was about 20 ft up. We are getting ready to put it in a Langstroth style hive body and take them to their new home.
I want people to know that when honeybees swarm they are only looking for a new home and are very mellow. I have personally stood in the middle of swarms when they are flying and it is an amazing experience. There is nothing like 20,000 honeybees flying all around you. It’s wonderful.
A swarm looks intimidating but they are not interested in you at all. So if you see one please just leave them alone and call a local beekeeper. Don’t spray them with chemicals or otherwise harass them. Treat them with respect and care because without them we will starve.
I love your site and thank you for the great work you are doing.
Signature: Taborhood Honey

Honey Bee Swarm Capture

Dear Folks at Taborhood Honey,
Thank you for sending these exciting photographs and such good advice.  Every couple of years, we are lucky enough to see a swarm emerge from Elyria Canyon near our Mt Washington offices, and two and a half years ago, the swarm remained in the front yard for a few hours.  We agree it was quite exciting.

Honey Bee swarm transfered to Langstroth style hive

Letter 2 – Honey Bee


Baby spiders, bee, grasshopper
Hi! Thought you might enjoy these pix of: newly hatched linx spiders (hard to tell on small picture, but when I zoom in they look just like Mom), cute bee (maybe you can ID this one?), and a big grasshopper on a cactus. Thanks for the wonderful site.
Best Wishes,
Donna in San Diego

Hi Donna,
Thanks for the images of the Green Lynx Spiderlings. Your bee is a common Honey Bee, Apis mellifera and your grasshopper is a Gray Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca nitens. The females can grow to 2 1/2 inches in length or larger.

Update from David Gracer
Honey Bees
In addition to honey itself, many species in the genus Apis are harvested for bee brood (the high-protein larvae in the honeycomb; the brood harvested from Apis laboriosa is called Bakuti in Nepalese. Notice that evocative Latin name). To the extent that they’re eaten at all, domestic honeybees are consumed almost exclusively at certain Entomology Department get-togethers. While most American beekeepers would shudder at the thought of harvesting their future worker bees as a food source, the larvae are vastly more nutritious than the honey, and from everything I’ve read they’re delicious. One of these days I will have to give it a try .

Letter 3 – Honey Bee


Bush Bees – Colorado
I live in the Denver, CO area and I have a bush in my front yard that has hundreds of bees hovering around it constantly. Is this because the bush and it’s small flowers are particularly appealing to bees ? Or … is there possibly a ground hive of some sort underneath the bush ? I have looked inside the bush and there is no above ground hive that I can see. I have 2 small children which play in the yard frequently. While I know bees aren’t aggressive there’s a good chance they’ll get stung accidentally because of the sheer quantity. How can I locate the burrow (if there is one) and how would I get them to leave without carnage ? Granite over the burrow as with a previous post? Thank you for your help

These are Honey Bees, most likely domestic bees from a nearby apiarist’s hives. Honey Bees will travel great distances to a likely food source, and that is probably the case here. Honey Bees do not nest underground, and wild hives are generally found in hollow trees and in little used areas of buildings, like crawl spaces. While we understand your fear of your young children being stung, you would be far better served to properly educate them that the Honey Bees are not aggressive, and they will not sting unless provoked. Here at What’s That Bug? we do not really feel qualified to give parenting advice, but we believe if you teach your children not to touch the Honey Bees or bother them, it will better protect your children in the future and they can avoid being stung when not under your immediate watchful eye.

Letter 4 – Honey Bee


photo 10 – honey on the leg?
Sending you some photos you may want to use for your web site. I am always taking photos of bugs and other things. I sent you some a couple years ago and so here you are some more. I know some of them but not all of them. Enjoy….. Photo taken in Sawyer, Choctaw County, Oklahoma… Thanks,
JoLynn Mangum

Hi Jolynn,
Just posting your ten wonderful photos would have taken us hours at the expense of all the other wonderful images and letters we have in our mailbox. So, we have chosen this very sweet photo of a Honey Bee and want to comment on your title “honey on the leg?” Honey Bees injest nectar and their digestive enzymes produce the honey. Pollen is gathered on the legs and used by the bees for other purposes. Interestingly, while at the theater this weekend to see the awesome movie “Son of Rambow” we were treated to the trivia that honey is the only known food that does not spoil. 3000 year old honey found in Egyptian tombs is still edible.

Letter 5 – Honey Bee


Subject: Unknown pollinator
Location: Central Texas
March 24, 2014 5:57 pm
Can you help me identify this pollinator? The picture was taken mid-morning in central Texas on 3/18.
Signature: DanaK

Honey Bee
Honey Bee

Dear DanaK,
This is a Honey Bee, a common species that has been kept domestically for thousands of years.

Thanks. Now I feel stupid, but glad to know what it is. I guess we just don’t see many actual honey bees here.

Letter 6 – Honey Bee


Subject: Bee
Location: Western Kentucky, USA
August 12, 2014 4:33 pm
What kind of bee is this? Western KY. There is a swarm in a tree behind my house.
Signature: Anthony Stoner

Honey Bee
Honey Bee

Dear Anthony,
This is a domestic Honey Bee, and you can call a local bee keeper to remove the swarm from your yard.

Letter 7 – Honey Bee


Subject: Help!!!
Location: Miami, FL
July 14, 2017 8:08 pm
I have these bees in a crevice under a window ledge outside that is about 1.5 feet off the ground. The bees have been there since about beginning of June and fly around all day near the front door. I think they are honey bees. I’m not sure. I sprayed it crevice tonight with a foaming pesticide and a little while later I found a total of 4 over the course of two hours flying inside the house!
Signature: I bee worried

Honey Bee

Dear I bee worried,
This is indeed a dead Honey Bee.  Wild Honey Bees often form a new hive in protected areas of homes.  If you have a Honey Bee hive under your window ledge, you are not going to solve the problem with foaming pesticide.  You should contact a local bee keeper who will come and remove the hive.


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3 Comments. Leave new

  • A belated note from Denver (I stopped by to look for info on a black-and-white bee): The honey bees in question are not necessarily from an apiary, as Denver is full of bee trees. I know of at least ten within a three-block radius of my house.

    The best time to spot them is in early spring on a warm day before the trees leaf out. Many big, old street trees have likely cavities. You can see the bees on orientation flights, hovering in front of the hive entrance.

    Last summer, I saw five swarms in my neighborhood, and two so far this year. We have a LOT of feral bees.

  • A few months ago we had a swarm of bees invade our back yard. I think they were going to settle down and make a nest in a tree that they were hovering around. They must have decided they didn’t like it, because they disappeared after a few days.

  • Hi there! Just wanted to add a comment to your answer. Many beekeepers will not touch a hive inside a home that has been sprayed. It’s a contamination risk for our equipment. If a beekeeper is agreeable to removing a dead, pesticide sprayed colony, the price usually increases substantially.


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