The honey bee, or European honey bee, is a social insect living in large colonies with populations ranging from 20,000 to 80,000 individuals. Honey bees are the only social bee or wasp that has a true perennial colony, surviving year after year. The honey bee is likely the most important beneficial insect in agriculture due to its role as a pollinator.
Worker bees are the only bees that people ever see. Adult worker bees are approximately 1/2 inch long, golden brown and black with pale orange or yellow bands on their abdomen. The head of the honey bee is nearly black and their antennae and legs are covered with fine hairs. The legs of a honey bee have special bristles that form pollen baskets, allowing them to gather pollen from flowers while foraging.
Honey Bee Life Stages
Each bee’s life begins as an egg developing in the queen. The queen has an organ that contains sperm from her previous mating. The queen’s body controls the release of sperm and therefore whether or not the egg is fertilized. The process of laying one egg takes only a few seconds, and a queen is capable of laying up to 2,000 honey bee eggs within a single day.
The three castes of honey bees have different life spans. Queens can live for three to five years; workers for a few weeks; and drones, which are the only males, live only until they mate with the queen, after which they die.
Honey Bee Threats
Many people fear bees because of their potent sting. Honey bee stings are quite painful and even life threatening to a small percentage of people who are allergic to the venom. Only female workers are capable of stinging, and are not likely to sting when foraging for nectar and pollen in the back yard. Bee stings generally happen when these docile bees are provoked or accidentally crushed. Honey bees will sting to protect their hive but each bee can sting only once, and then it dies.
Honey bees are most visible in summer and late spring, when new queens leave their old colonies along with thousands of workers to build new nests in tree hollows or crevices. At this time, large groups of bees can be seen swarming together to find a new nesting place. It takes a swarm approximately 24 hours to locate a new nesting site. While most swarms are harmless, certain species of bees, like the Africanized honey bee, are extremely aggressive and may attack unprovoked.
Honey Bee Extermination and Control
The need for managing bee swarms or hives depends on the location and whether the bees are establishing a hive. Swarms moving on without establishing a hive aren’t a concern, however, bees establishing a colony in a home need to be safely removed by a pest control professional or experienced beekeeper.
If a bee swarm is sighted, the most important thing to do is leave it alone. Swarming bees will generally move on within 24 hours. While swarming honey bees are not particularly aggressive they will still sting if disturbed. Additionally, if the bees in question are Africanized honey bees, they can be extremely aggressive when swarming. Because of their aggressive nature, pest control professionals and beekeepers in the southern United States cannot successfully relocate an Africanized honey bee hive.