Life of a Honeybee

Ok, I’m back from my sons wedding in Seattle and what a beautiful wedding it was indeed! On the drive there I got to thinking about sharing the little known facts about the life of a honey bee. Few people realize they only live about 6 weeks during the summer. (They live longer in the winter because they are not as active.) So what follows is a short review of the life cycle of a honeybee. I think you will be surprised at varying jobs they are assigned as they age.

A worker bee begins as an egg, layed in the bottom of a cell in the wax comb. After three days the cell is capped by worker bees and the egg grows into a small larvae. It will remain in the larval stage for about six days before spending the next elevan days as a pupa. From egg to hatching is 20 days. For queens this process is shortened to about 16 days because she is fed “royal jelly”. Drones, which are larger, will take 24 days, from egg to birth.

The interesting thing about a workers bees life are the various jobs it is assigned as it grows older. The first two days of its life are spent cleaning cells, then it moves on to feeding older larvae for the next three days. After it is five days old its job changes to feeding younger larvae and it will do that for 6 days. As you can see, the worker bee spends the first 11 days of its life cleaning cells and feeding larvae.

On the 12th day of its life its job changes once again. Now it begins to produce wax and build new comb for the hive. It will also transport food for storage. This job lasts for another 6 days. In the first 17 days of its life, the worker bee never sees the outside world. Ah, but finally that day arrives when it is ushered outside to begin a four day assignment of guarding the hive entrance. For four days it is the bee that will come after you if it perceives you as a threat. It has been my experience that some of these guard bees needed a little more training. (I say that tongue in cheek of course.)

At the age of three weeks, the worker bee has performed seven different jobs within the hive and is now assigned the task of foraging. All those beautiful flowers and sweet nectar await and it is a just award, for the worker bee is now nearing the end of its life. After three weeks inside the hive the worker bee will literally work itself to death and in the summer time, lives approximately three more weeks after it begins to forage. That makes for a short six week life span! Depending on how far they must fly to forage they may live up to seven or possibly eight weeks if the distance is short, but I have read they have a 500 mile odometer and die when they have flown 500 miles.

So the next time you are visited by one of your local honeybees, remember it is literally working itself to death and is far more focused on bringing home the food the hive needs than it is in stinging you. Occassionally you may even be able to give the little worker a drink. If the bee is not aggressive and simply curious about you, place a small droplet of water on your finger tip and see if it will stop for a drink. I’ve only managed to do this one time, but if you are so inclined to try, it is a wonderful experience.

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