Honey Bee Life Span
Much like other insects, honey bees do not have a long life expectancy-at least compared to mammals. How long do bees live? That depends on the type of bee. Queen honey bees can live for several years but the other members of the colony are not so lucky. Yes, in their short life span, our amazing bees accomplish a lot of work.
We tend to think of every type of flying insect that stings as a bee. However, this is not true. Our world contains bees, wasps, hornets and many others.
Some are social insects that live together in families. But the majority of bees in the world are solitary individuals that raise a family alone.
And within each type of bee, the life span depends on other factors related to their environment.
Variables in Bee Life Expectancy
As living things, bees sleep, eat and reproduce. The species of bee, the sex of the bee, climate and health all play a role.
Even the region in which they live can affect how long the bee lives due to weather conditions, available food, predators etc.
We can only give averages on bee lifespans because of the many variables involved.
The wild world is a dangerous place. Disease and predators can shorten the life of any bee.
The unlucky queen bee who is eaten by a bird on her mating flight will not live to the old age of 3 or 4.
Weather extremes, pesticide expose and other environmental pressures cause many early bee deaths. Sick bees die young and do not meet their potential.
Let’s examine the lifespan of the most common types of bees that we see regularly.
It’s a Bee’s Life
In honey bees and many solitary insects, the role played in the colony affects lifespan.
And, yes climate and food conditions play a part too as these can vary from year to year.
Late Spring freezes, droughts etc can hinder the availability of good food sources.
How Long Honey Bees Live
Of course, I must start with the Honey Bee. One of the most well-known bees on the planet! Honey Bees are social insects that live in large colonies.
With good health and a bit of luck, a honey bee colony can continue for years. However, the individual honey bees inside will not last that long.
Over time, the original bees will die and be replaced by new honey bees. The colony can remain active for years but the individuals inside change.
All honey bees pass through 3 stages of development. There are : egg, larva, pupa and adult.
In a honeycomb beeswax cell, an egg is laid by the queen honey bee. This egg become a larva after 3 days. Larva look like tiny white grubs.
Young larvae are fed royal jelly and other types of brood food. Larva grow quickly inside the cells.
At the proper time, the young bee pupates inside a capped cell. A fully developed adult emerges from her cell at the appropriate time.
All bees in the hive go through this process. But the honey bee colony has 3 different types of bees (Queen Bee, Worker Bees and Drone Bees) and each have a different lifespan.
How Long Do Queen Bees Live?
Her majesty the queen bee is the most important bee in the hive. The role of the queen bee is to lay eggs.
The only reproductive female in the colony, she is the mother of all. Given this important job for the colony, how long do queen bees live?
A queen bee has the capacity to live for 2 or 3 – 4 years (sometimes more). Yet, she rarely lasts that long in the honey bee colony.
Why do queen bees live longer than others? She doesn’t have to work outside the hive so her wings and other parts don’t wear out as quickly.
As the queen bee ages, her pheromone production declines and egg laying slows.
Once the worker bees sense a failing queen, they will rear a new queen bee and kill the old one.
Worker Bee Lifespan
How long do worker bees live? Well, in the case of the honey bee it depends on when the bee was “born”.
Most of the bees inside a honey bee colony are worker bees. These non-reproductive females do all the work for the hive.
From feeding larva to defending the hive from predators, a worker bee’s job is never done.
Unfortunately for these hard-working ladies, all this work takes a toll on their bodies.
Honey bees do not generate new cells to replace parts that are wearing out. After emerging from her cell, the worker bee lives about 6 weeks-during the Summer.
The first 3 weeks are spent inside the hive. During the last 3 weeks, the worker bee becomes a forager.
She can easily fly up to a mile (and even more) collecting nectar and pollen needed by the honey bee colony.
Sadly, this takes a toll on her wings and other body parts. Worker bees literally work themselves to death.
Interestingly, worker honey bees that are “born” in the Fall can expect a different life style. Fall bees are physiologically different than Summer workers.
They contain larger fat bodies inside their abdomen. These fat Winter bees spend the cold months inside the hive.
Their job of eating honey and helping heat the cluster does not wear out body parts as quickly. So, Winter worker bees can live up to 6 months!
The lifespan of the worker honey bees varies greatly depending on when they emerged from their cell.
How Long Does a Bee Live if it Stings You?
If a honey bees stings you, that bee’s lifespan is greatly shortened. Stinging is the ultimate sacrifice.
Worker honey bees have barbed stingers. When the stinger is embedded in skin, the barb prevents the bee from pulling the stinger out.
The stinger and poison sac are ripped from the bee’s body. She will die soon after having given her life in defense of the colony.
How Long do Drone Bees Live?
Drone bees are the male bees in the honey bee family. These male drone bees develop from unfertilized eggs.
They are needed to mate with new virgin queens. Mating takes place outside and well away from the hive. This lessens the likelihood of drones mating with their own mother queen bee.
Drones do no other work. They laze around the hive and eat. On warm afternoons they go out to look for virgin queens. Life is good – until.
When a drone bee mates with a queen, his reproductive organs are ripped from his body. The successful drone falls to the ground and shortly dies after mating.
If a drone bee does not mate with a queen, he will live several months during the warm season.
Alas once Fall arrives, the easy life of the drone is over. Worker bees will throw the drones out of the hive and leave them to die. The colony does not want to feed them over the Winter.
Honey Bee Life Expectancy
- queen honey bee lives 2 – 3 years
- worker honey bee lives 6 weeks / 6 months
- drone honey bee lives 2 months of until mating
How Long do Bumble Bees Live?
Though similar to honey bees, the bumble bee lifespan has some major differences.
Like the honey bee, the labor or tasks of the colony are divided among individual castes. And, you will see overlapping generations due to many brood cycles during the warm season.
However, the Bumble Bee colony does not over-winter as a group. This means that only some individuals of bumble bees will have a lifespan that “spans” over Winter.
The Bumblebee family begins in the Spring when mated queens emerge from hibernation. After finding a good nest site, she lays a few eggs and cares for them.
Once these “worker” bumble bees mature, they take over many colony activities leaving the queen to lay eggs. Most worker Bumble bees live from 2 weeks to a couple of months.
In late Summer, the queen Bumble bee lays eggs that produce drones and new queens. The male bees do not have a very long life.
Like the honey bee, male Bumbles die after mating. Those that survive until cold weather will perish then.
A queen Bumble bee can live for several years if conditions are good. The lifespan of worker bumbles varies due to species and conditions.
This shows how the Honey Bee and Bumble Bee share some characteristics – yet are very different as well.
Bee Life Span Chart
Final Thoughts on Life Span of Bees
As we observe the similarities and differences between these types of bees, it is easy to understand the difficulty involved in answering this simple question. How long do bees live?
Well, it depends a great deal on which kind of bee we are talking about. And even within a bee species, local conditions and environmental pressures play a role in bee longevity.
It often seems that the more we know about bees…. the more questions we have about these fascinating insects.