We have all heard that honey bees are so important to our food supply. Honey bees pollinate approximately one-third of all our food crops.
There is lots of interest in the management of bee colonies not only for their ability to pollinate gardens, fruit trees and crops but also for what they produce due to their pollination activity: delicious honey. It has been said that “No other insect serves human needs like the honey bee.”
Honey bees are communal. They exist in colonies with about 50,000 to 60,000 bees in the colony. For honey bees, there's power in numbers. From spring to fall, the worker bees must produce about 60 pounds of honey to sustain the entire colony during the winter. It takes tens of thousands of workers to get the job done.
Female bees are worker bees that specialize within the colony. Nurse bees care for the young. The queen bee’s job is to lay eggs, some worker bees store the honey, guard bees guard the hive entrance and there are bees whose job it is to keep the hive clean. Forager bees collect pollen and nectar. The job of the construction bees is to build the beeswax foundation for the queen to lay eggs.
The lifetime of a worker bee is five to six weeks. Overwintering worker bees may live for four to six months. Whatever their life span, worker bees usually confine themselves to one task at a time. Worker bees are aptly named as they literally work themselves to death. Death occurs following approximately 500 miles of flight.
The hive must have a queen bee to exist. In an average day she lays about 1,500 eggs. She has no time for any other chores, so attendant workers take care of all her grooming and feeding. In her lifetime, she might lay up to 1 million eggs. A queen bee can live as long as five years.
Male honey bees are called drones that serve only one purpose: They provide sperm to the queen. About a week after emerging from their cells, the drones are ready to mate. After they've fulfilled that purpose, they die. The queen bee usually makes only one mating flight during her life which provides enough sperm for her lifetime.
Honey bees fly about 15 miles per hour. They are built for short trips from flower to flower, not for long-distance hauls. Their tiny wings must flap 12,000 to 15,000 times per minute just to keep their pollen-laden bodies aloft for the flight back to the hive.
As temperatures fall, the bees form a tight group within their hive to stay warm. Workers cluster around the queen, insulating her from the cold. In summer, the workers fan the air within the hive with their wings, keeping the queen and brood from overheating. You can hear the hum of all those wings beating inside the hive from several feet away.
Ruth Correll works with the UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension Wilson County. She can be reached at (615) 444-9584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.