When it comes to honeybee colonies, most people don’t give it much thought unless they’ve encountered them forming hives in inconvenient places, like the siding of a residential home, or raising them as a hobby. It’s worth noting, however, that there are a number of fascinating facts about honeybee colonies.
Each hive contains only a single queen, who lives anywhere from three to five years and actively lays eggs for around two to three years. A queen can produce thousands of eggs a day, following an early mating in which sperm from drones is stored within their bodies.
It is possible for any fertilized egg to become a new queen, and this is determined by the larval diet. Once the old queen produces another, and the older of the two will swarm with half the workers to a new home to form a new colony while the new queen remains in the nest with the other half of workers to raise her brood.
In the course of a colony’s life, this is an inevitable process. Swarming occurs when the colony is overcrowded and a new queen has emerged, often in late spring or early summer, when the weather is the most humid. It is common for a swarm to contain tens of thousands of workers, as well as the queen, who fly for short periods of time before resting for several hours. While the colony is searching for a new home, workers send out scouts to look for a suitable location. In most cases, swarms are not aggressive or dangerous to humans, as they are not protecting a hive or its eggs and larva. Workers will continue to sting in order to protect the queen.
The majority of the colony’s population is made up of workers, all of whom are female but do not produce fertilized eggs. Sometimes, workers produce unfertilized eggs that hatch into male drones if there is no queen. As part of their role in protecting the colony, worker bees will sting to defend themselves, even if doing so results in the bee’s death. A worker’s job is to care for the queen and her offspring, as well as foraging for pollen, ventilating the hive with their wings, and searching for new hive locations. The lifespan of worker bees is typically six weeks, which necessitates the constant laying of new eggs by queen bees.
Drones, the male honeybees, serve only one purpose: to mate with the queens and produce new queens. In midair, drones mate, die, and then fall to the ground. During times of food scarcity, hives will expel any drones that are still alive, almost always resulting in their death.
For a honey bee colony, September through December could be considered the beginning of a new year. At this time, the health of the colony has a significant impact on its future prosperity. As nectar and pollen flow into the hive decreases in the fall, the bee population declines as well. In the early spring, the lengthening of the days and the appearance of new sources of pollen and nectar encourage the rearing of eggs. Colonies grow rapidly in spring, with more young bees than older bees populating them. Early summer is the time of year when swarming is most common, when hives split to form new colonies due to overcrowding.
This phenomenon is when a large number of worker bees in a colony disappear, and the queen and the young are left a supply of food and nurse bees to sustain the colony, but little else. This differs from colony collapse as the result of the death of the queen There’s a lot of speculation as to what might be causing this behavior, but pesticides, mites, poor quality queens, GM crops, or malnutrition are all possibilities.
Bees produce a variety of useful products. Honey is the substance produced by worker bees by ingesting pollen, processing it, and storing it in honeycombs. Beeswax is secreted by worker bees from glands on their abdomens to create honeycombs from which the cells containing larva are capped. “Royal jelly,” a secretion from the glands of young workers, is fed to queen larva and “bee bread,” a mixture of nectar and pollen, is fed to worker larva.