The Secret Behind The Social Lives of Bees

The Social Lives of Honey Bees

Honey bees do so much for the environment and the plants that depend on them to grow. To put things in perspective, crops like blueberries and cherries are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination. Trust me; life would be a lot less sweet without these bees. So how do they successfully carry so much responsibility on their tiny backs?

Here’s how:
Believe it or not, honey bees are just as complex and social as us humans. These creatures buzz around in perfect harmony and constant communication with one another. Honey bees live by the thousands. About 30,000 to be exact. That number can even spike to 80,000 when it’s an active season. Within these vast colonies, bees have a fascinating way of interacting with each other to keep the colony organized and functioning smoothly. Believe me; they take the idea of “organized chaos” to a whole new level.

Roles of Honey Bees

Crazy as it may seem, each honey bee has a specific job that they dedicate their entire lives to. Despite their simple brains, they have a systematic way of going about their day to day duties. These roles are pre-programmed at birth and keep them on task at all times. There are three categories that adult Honey Bees fall into:

  • Worker Bees
  • The Queen Bee
  • Drone Bees

The Backbone of the Beehive — Worker Bees

The name worker bee seems pretty straightforward, but they do way more than you could imagine. The hive couldn’t function without them and are necessary to keep the rest of the colony running happily. There is a whole lot of them; in fact, they make up the majority of the colony. They have multiple different roles, both inside and outside the hive. Worker bees are in charge of cleaning and polishing the beehive, building wax combs, removing debris, and guarding the entrance. Talk about small but mighty! These little guys also have the significant role of tending to the queen and larvae. Without them, the hive would not be provided with a healthy and strong future generation of new bees. When they aren’t hard at work inside, they are hunting for nectar and pollen to bring back home.

Now, get this. Worker bees will only live up to 6 weeks during the summer. However, in the fall, they will live up to 6 months. Why would their lifespans change so drastically depending on the season? Well, they need to live longer in the fall so they can stick around to assist with feeding the larvae. During the summer, they are working their hardest and are most active at this time, which wipes them out quickly.

Queen Bees

Queen bees are given their iconic name for a reason. The Queen bee has an extraordinary and specific purpose in the hive. She is the one and only bee responsible for populating the entire colony. This means that she is the single sexually developed female, and is responsible for laying thousands of eggs. How many thousands to be exact? During spring and summer, she is busy laying up to 1,500 eggs every single day. However, during the winter months, she only produces a few eggs.

Looking at the big picture, queen bees provide their hive with up to a million eggs in a lifetime. On average, this means that she is responsible for laying 250,000 eggs per year.

Drone Bees

As you can see, worker bees and the queen bee are responsible for doing so much in so little time. Drone bees, on the other hand, have one purpose and one purpose only. They are the males of the colony and are only present during Spring and Summer. On appearance, it’s easy to spot a Drone Bee because they are the largest in the hive. They do not have stingers, pollen baskets, or wax glands.

Interestingly, they stay primarily inside the hive and rarely leave. This means they entirely depend on the worker bees to bring in large quantities of food in order to survive. So what are they good for then?

The Drone Bees have the unique responsibility of mating and fertilizing the virgin queen. This is their primary purpose, and it is their duty to provide the next generations of the hive. Once they have fulfilled their task of mating with the Queen Bee, the drone bee dies.

Harmonious Relationships

It’s hard to imagine the work that goes behind the hustle and bustle of a beehive. Every bee is born with a task that they are responsible for during their lifetime, and they do a fantastic job of sticking to it. I think it’s safe to say that bees do their fateful jobs and do it well.

Author: Henry Reed

Henry Reed is a 13-year Apiarist providing live bee removal in San Diego County.