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Honey Bees

The honey bee benefits the economy immensely. Honey bees produce millions of dollars worth of honey and beeswax, as well as pollinate commercial fruits, vegetables, and field crops. However, by establishing a colony in a house, building, or hollow tree next to the home, honey bees may become a nuisance or hazard to humans. Some people have severe allergic reactions to the sting of a honey bee. Although it is not unlawful to destroy honey bees, it is always best to save them if possible.


Honey bees are characterized by the presence of a long, pointed tongue, social habit, front wings with three closed submarginal cells, and no spurs at the tips of the hind Tibiae (4th segment of the insect's leg). Adults consist of three castes: queens (3/5" — 3/4" long) are fully developed egg layers with only one in each colony; drones (3/4" — 5/8" long) are functional males; and workers (2/5" — 3/5" long) are undeveloped females.

The first honey bees introduced from Europe were black German bees. The common midwest variety of honey bee is the Italian, which is a golden-brown and black bee covered with short, dense hair. The forepart of the abdomen is yellow and there is some yellow between the four brown bands on the rest of the abdomen. The Caucasian variety, a mild-tempered bee, is dark, and its abdomen is banded with gray. The carniolan is a gray bee similar in appearance to Caucasian. Most people see only the workers, which regularly fly in and out of the nest.

The Queen

The honey bee queen is the only female in the bee colony capable of laying fertilized eggs. She is extremely important, because without her, no young honey bees would be replacing the old honey bees as they die. The rest of the honey bees pay a lot of attention to her. There is only one queen to each honey bee colony, and she may live two to five years. She must be fed by the other honey bees in the colony, and she can do none of the rest of the chores that need to be accomplished to make honey and keep a clean nest.

The Drone

Drones are male honey bees within the colony. There may be several hundred honey bee drones in the spring and summer, but they are all eliminated in the fall and winter when their services are no longer wanted. The honey bee drone develops from unfertilized eggs and exists only to fertilize or mate with young queens. He typically lives 40 to 50 days, and is bigger than either the queen or workers.

The Worker

The majority of honey bees in colony are worker bees. They perform most of the functions honey bees are known for, such as making honey and stinging for defense. Although workers are females, they cannot lay fertilized eggs. There may be as many as 60,000 workers in a colony, though the average figure for the whole year is 30,000.

Worker honey bees live only 40 days in the summer, but may live several months during winter. Some gather nectar and pollen in the field; others process the honey. Usually, the worker honey bees perform their duties based on age. The younger ones are cleaners and helpers. The older, more experienced bees, are builders and do the foraging in the field.

The nest is the comb on which the bees rest, rear brood, and store honey. The comb is constructed of wax. It has a central rib, with six-sided cells constructed on each side parallel to the ground. The cells are the storage area for the bee colony and at the same time serve as the nursery for rearing young bees.

The life cycle of the brood is egg (3 days), larva (6 days), pupa (12 days) for a total of 21 days from egg to adult worker. This cycle is longer (24 days) for drones and shorter (16 days) for queens.

  • The black and yellow honey or bumble bee is important for its role in pollination of fruit trees, vegetables and flowers.

  • Its stinger is barbed (like a fishing hook). The muscles around the venom sac of the stinger continue to work for up to 20 minutes after the stinger has become detached from the insect's body. It is important to remove the stinger as soon as possible.

Read also: Raising Honey Bees

Mites threaten honey bee population!

Did you know...

  • Honey Bees have 5 eyes. Bees cannot see the color red. But they do see a color we can’t: ultraviolet (UV). UV is what gives us a sunburn. But to a bee, it’s a whole different color. Since bees can’t see red, red flowers are pollinated in other ways, by bats, butterflies, birds, or the wind. Flowers that want to attract bees have colors that bees can see. Often, white flowers, which look plain to us, actually reflect UV light, so they look very pretty to the bees.

  • Honey Bees fly about 20 mph

  • Honey Bees are an insect, so they have 6 legs

  • Male honey bees in the hive are called drones

  • Female honey bees in the hive (except the queen) are called worker bees

  • Losing its stinger will cause a honey bee to die. A bee has a poison gland in her abdomen. When she stings another insect (like a wasp), she can pull the stinger out of the wasp’s body and get away. So if a bee is fighting another insect, she can sting many times. But if a bee stings a person or a large animal (frog, raccoon, etc.) the stinger sticks in the animal’s tough skin and keeps pumping poison. As the bee flies away, she gets torn in half and dies. Bees only sting if they think they or their hive are in danger. If one bee is buzzing around you, she may smell perfume, soap, or hair spray and think the smell is nectar (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.

  • Honey Bees have been around 30 million years!

  • Honey Bees carry pollen on their hind legs called a pollen basket or corbicula

  • An average beehive can hold around 50,000 bees. A beehive is made mostly of wax. Worker bees can make wax from the bottom of their abdomens. They use their legs to shape this wax into the cells of their honeycomb or hive. Each cell is hexagonal or 6-sided. The hive usually has several layers of cells. Some cells are just for baby bees. Near the baby bee section, there are cells for storing pollen. In other parts of the hive, there are cells just for storing honey. The queen stays in the hive for her whole life except when she flies off to mate. All the bees stay inside the hive at night to sleep.

  • Foragers must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey

  • The average forager makes about 1/12 th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime

  • Average per capita honey consumption in the US is 1.3 pounds

  • Bees have 2 pairs of wings

  • The principal form of communication among honey bees is through chemicals called pheromones

  • Bees are important because they pollinate approximately 130 agricultural crops in the US including fruit, fiber, nut, and vegetable crops. Honey Bee pollination adds approximately 14 billion dollars annually to improved crop yield and quality.

Africanized & European Honey Bees

Africanized honey bees are already established in the wild population of honey bees in Texas. The Africanized bee is a hybrid (mixture) of African and European honey bee subspecies. Both are not native to the Americas. As a hybrid the Africanized bee appears identical to European honey bees. Individual foraging European and Africanized bees are highly unlikely to sting. A swarm rarely stings people when in flight or temporarily at rest. However, established Africanized colonies are more highly defensive toward perceived predators than European colonies.

Potential Honey Bee Nesting Spots

Bees will choose a nesting site in many places where people may disturb them. Nesting cavities may include: buckets, cans, empty boxes, old tires, or any container ranging in volume from as little as 2 to 10 gallons and more. Bees will also choose infrequently used vehicles, lumber piles, holes and cavities in fences, trees, and the ground, in sheds, garages, and other outbuildings between walls or in the open, low decks or spaces under buildings. FOR SAFETY REASONS, REMOVE POTENTIAL NEST SITES AROUND BUILDINGS. Call an exterminator if you find bees on your property. Do not attempt to exterminate them yourself.