Just How Long Do Bees Live For?


When thinking about how long bees live, it is important to bear in mind that different species and different castes of bees have different life spans. In this article, I will focus on the honeybee.

Within a colony of honeybees, there are three different types – or caste – of bee: the queen, the workers, and the drones. Each caste has a different role within the hive and lives for a specific amount of time. Of course, external factors can affect the life span of a bee such as disease or infection, availability of food, and adverse weather conditions.

How Long Does a Worker Bee Live For?

Worker bees are all female and are reared during the spring and summer. The worker bees hatch around 21 days after being laid by the queen and will take on a number of roles during their lifetime. The first job a worker bee does is to clean brood cells and keep the brood warm. Once new workers have hatched to take over this task, the older workers will move on to nursing the larvae and looking after the queen. This is followed by producing wax and building comb, after which the workers will move on to regulating temperature within the hive and guarding the colony.

Worker bees typically toil in and around the hive for about three weeks before they start heading out to forage for pollen and nectar. Worker bees that have been reared in spring and summer will typically live for about five to seven weeks. Those that are reared in the fall have the job of keeping the hive warm during the winter months. They may live for around six months.

How Long Does a Drone Live For?

Unlike worker bees, drones are all male and their main role is to mate with the queen. Drones hatch around 24 days after being laid and are typically reared in springtime during the swarming season. Once they hatch, they will mate with the queen in what is quite a violent act. The drone typically dies after mating with the queen. Those that are unsuccessful in mating with the queen will live for about ninety days. Drones that are still alive in the fall are often driven from the hive by the female worker bees.

Dead Tree Bumble Bee
Dead Tree Bumble Bee – Photo by Orangeaurochs (CC BY 2.0)

How Long Does the Queen Bee Live For?

A colony of bees will have one queen, and it is her job to lay eggs. Queens are laid in special queen cells, which are larger than the other cells, and they hatch after around 16 days. Once the virgin queens emerge from their cells, they will start to attack any rivals. The one queen that survives the carnage will take on the role of laying eggs in the hive. Healthy queens usually live for anywhere between two and four years, although they have been known to live longer.

How Do Bees Usually Die?

As mentioned above, the drones will typically die after their mating flight. Mating with a queen is a violent act and usually results in fatal injury to the drone’s abdomen. Those that do not mate successfully will die of old age or from external factors.

Worker bees will also die of old age, but they may also die defending themselves or their colony. Honeybees have stingers that are designed to be used as a defense mechanism. The stinger has two barbed lancets and when it is used to sting, it cannot be pulled back out by the bee.

When the bee tries to fly away or is swatted away by its victim, the stinger is left behind. But so too, is a part of the bee’s abdomen, containing a part of its digestive tract. It is this that causes the death of the bee. As you might imagine then, a honeybee will only sting if it perceives itself or the colony to be under imminent threat.

Summary

Honeybees live for different amounts of time, depending on their caste. The queen bee can live for up to four years or more, while worker bees tend to live for between five and seven weeks if they have been reared in the spring and summer. Worker bees that hatch in the fall can live for about six months.

Drones will live for approximately ninety days unless they are successful in mating with the queen. If they are successful, they will die shortly after mating, having suffered fatal damage to their abdomen.


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Anthony

Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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