Honey Bee

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Classified as social insects, honey bees are the only bee species with truly perennial colonies, as hives remain continuously active for numerous years.

Fast Facts

Color The body of the honey bee is typically a red to brown color, with yellow and black bands around the abdomen.
Size Workers are usually about 1/2″ long, while queens reach up to 3/4″ length. Male drones falling somewhere in between.
Appearance They are similar in size to wasps but are furrier and mostly black in color. The primary features of the head are the compound eyes and antennae.  A slender ‘waist’ is created by a constriction of the second abdominal segment. On females, the most notable feature is the stinger.

Diet

Honey bees mainly feed on pollen and nectar collected from blooming flowers. Workers may also eat honey, while larvae are fed a combination of honey, pollen and royal jelly.

Habitat & Nests

Honey bees can thrive in natural or domesticated environments, though they prefer to live in gardens, woodlands, orchards, meadows and other areas where flowering plants are abundant. Within their natural habitat, honey bees build nests inside tree cavities, rock crevices and under edges of objects to hide themselves from predators. They can also be found in chimneys, wall cavities or roof spaces.

They make their nests out of wax secreted from the abdominal glands of the worker honey bees. Workers sweep up a few flakes of wax from their abdomens chewing them until the wax becomes soft enough to mold into cells to form the hive. It is highly unusual to see a honey bee colony in an exposed location, like a tree branch. Honey bees prefer to nest in a hollow tree, a bee box or other man-made structure, never in the ground.

Unlike other bee species, honey bees do not hibernate during cold periods. Instead, they remain inside the nests huddled closely together, sharing body heat and feeding on stored food supplies. On the contrary, honey bees use the liquid from stored nectar as a coolant during warmer seasons. These methods ensure that seasonal changes do not affect their habitats.

Colonies & Life Cycle

Colonies
Honey bee colonies often contain anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 members at any given time. Operating according to a caste system, honey bees each perform a specific role in the colony.

Queens & Drones
Queens produce all the eggs for the colony, producing 1,000-2,000 eggs per day. Drones serve only to fertilize the queens and are driven off by the workers after they have served that purpose.

Workers
Worker bees are always female and provide all the labor for the colony, including building and repairing the hive, foraging for food, producing honey and wax, feeding the young and protecting the nest from invaders. They live five to seven weeks during the summer.

Eggs
After mating, the queen will lay eggs individually in hexagonal cells in the hive. Honey bee eggs measure 1-1.5 mm long and look like a tiny grain of rice. Larvae hatch within three to four days and go through several instars before pupating. Depending on the role of the new bee, pupation takes a varied amount of time.

Development
New queens usually emerge after 15 days, while workers and drones take around 21 to 24 days to develop, respectively. Select larvae fully develop into new queens when an old queen dies or when the colony becomes large enough for the current queen to mate and start a new colony.

Honey bee hive in wall cavity.
Honey bee hive in wall cavity.

Stings & Damage

Even though they are not aggressive or sting unless they feel threatened, most people still associate the insects with stings. When a honey bee stings, the stinger, venom sac and other parts of the bee become detached from the body, which causes them to die. Since the glands associated with the venom sac continue to pump venom into the victim even after the bee dies, the stinger should be removed immediately. Though painful, honey bee stings are only dangerous to people with bee allergies.

In addition to posing the threat of stinging, honey bees can damage homes and other structures when they build nests in wall cavities. As the nests expand over time, the size and presence of both honey and beeswax may cause the surrounding plaster and drywall to sag or become stained.

Signs of Infestation

Swarms

May notice swarms of honey bees, indicating a nearby hive.

Sounds

Listen for a distinct buzzing sound in wall cavities, under leaves or in trees.

Stings

Experiencing a bee sting typically signifies the presence of a hive nearby.

Prevention & Control

Honey Bee Prevention

Keep honey bees from invading by taking preventative measures around the home, such as:

  • Sealing cracks and other possible entry points.
  • Placing well-fitted screens over windows and doors.
  • Sealing around pipes and electrical conduits going to and from the house.
  • Checking areas where bees like to nest may prevent large honey bee infestations from building up.
  • Regular inspections of your home by a pest control professional throughout the year is the best method to identify and prevent any issues with honey bees or any other pests. Pestfree365 provides regularly scheduled preventive services throughout the year.
Honey Bee Control

Removing honey bees from the home can become a challenging task once nesting takes place. The insects will become defensive once anyone or anything comes near the nest which makes removal without professional assistance both difficult and dangerous.

Many homeowners who try to remedy the situation end up having greater pest problems. Sealing up the entry point of the nest will agitate the bees and they will look for other exits, including inside your property. If nests are not removed, the wax and honey will melt and rodents and other insects will become attracted to this site. It will also attract honey bees in the future and a nest might be rebuild in the same area.

If you have a problem with honey bees, contact a local Beekeeper or the Environmental Protection Agency as they will be able to arrange for the swarm to be relocated. Using insecticides to kill a void nesting colony should be used only as a last resort, as honey bees are beneficial to the environment.