how long do honey bees live

How Long Do Honeybees Live?

The lifespan of a bee depends on various factors—some species survive longer than others, who may only live for a season. Honeybees, on the other hand, generally live longer than other bees. The question, however, is how long?

The Lifespan of a Honeybee

On average, honeybees live longer than other bees. They’re crucial pollinators, being recorded in 89 percent of the pollination networks. Honeybees help plants, such as berries, broccoli, cucumbers, and apples, not to mention honeycomb, honey, and wax.

Honeybees go through three stages in their lifecycle: larval stage, pupal, and adult. Female workers and queens come from the same fertilized eggs. The difference, however, is that queens are fed with more royal jelly, a protein-rich diet, and eventually honey.

There are several factors that may affect how long honeybees live, different jobs within the colony, time of year, among others. Let’s see how long honeybees live on average.

The Lifespan of the Honeybee Queen

The honeybee queen has one of the most important roles inside the colony. As soon as the queen enters her adult life, she’ll venture out to mate with as many as 20 drones. She fills up her sperm pouch with enough sperm to last her a lifetime, where she’ll lay around 1,000 to 1,500 eggs a day.

Once the queen is back from her mating tour, she’ll mostly stay inside the hive, laying eggs and feeding on honey and nectar. The queen is also responsible for fertilizing her spawn to create more workers, or she’ll leave them to produce drones. She’ll rarely venture outside, only leaving at times where she starts a swarm, or to die.

The honeybee queen, by far, has the longest lifespan of all the bees in the colony. The average duration is anywhere between two and five years. Some have recorded queens living up to seven years, but, this is rare.

Honeybee queens have to survive many threats during their long lifespan. She must dodge diseases, stay healthy to produce eggs, not to mention enduring harsh winters.

beehives in winter

Honeybee queens don’t hibernate like bumblebee queens. Instead, they will remain in the middle of the hive, surviving on the heat produced by the workers. If the workers fail to keep her warm, it could mean the end of her reign.

The Lifespan of the Honeybee Worker

We can somewhat divide the honeybee worker’s lifespan into two parts; work within the hive and work outside the hive. As the young worker bee emerges from the pupal stage, most of its days are spent working inside the hive.

Here, they will tend to the queen and brood, while keeping the hive clean. It’s also these workers who help produce the honey. Once the foraging bees return, they’ve already mixed the nectar with an enzyme, which they drop into the hexagonal cells.

bee and honeycomb

The worker bees inside the hive will then fan their wings to evaporate the water content of the mixture. The result is sweet, gooey honey.

The older honeybee workers spend most of their day flying in and out of the hive. Their main job is to pollinate and gather nectar for the hive. Upon landing on a flower, they cover their entire body in pollen dust.

bee covered in pollen
A bee covered in pollen – CC Image courtesy of forestwander-nature-pictures

Then, as they land on a new flower, they discard some of the gathered pollen, thereby fertilizing a new plant. On its foraging trip, the worker bee will visit approximately 100 flowers and plants. Workers have some of the hardest jobs in the hive.

Their lifespan is also significantly shorter than their queen’s. The average honeybee worker will only live for about five to six weeks. They may live longer if they emerged as adults during the winter, where the workload isn’t as demanding.

During the winter, their fat supplies increase, not only keeping them warm, but their glands produce enough food for the larvae. Winter worker bees can live up to five months.

The Lifespan of Honeybee Drones

Honeybee drones are very different, mostly because their sole purpose is to mate with a queen. About six days after the drone enters adulthood, he’ll set out to find a queen to mate with. If he was successful, he’ll die minutes after mating.

This is somewhat the same occurrence as when the female bees sting. The male loses a vital part of his body which causes his death moments following the deed. As he finishes mating, the organ sort of explodes, and a loud pop is sounded.

If he fails to mate, he’ll likely return to the hive where he’ll just lay about, feeding on the resources and taking up space. He won’t contribute toward foraging or looking after the hive.

The male’s lifespan really only depends on the workers. As soon as there’s a shortage of resources, the workers will either banish the drone, or they’ll simply kill him. He can’t survive outside the hive, where he’ll die either from starvation or cold.

If he were allowed to stick around during the winter, he’s the last to be fed. The workers protect the already limited resources. It’s no fun being a failed drone, and his lifespan will rarely be longer than eight weeks.

What Affects the Lifespan of a Honeybee?

There are several factors that can affect a honeybee’s lifespan. Workers, as I mentioned earlier, take on a demanding workload. Foragers fly incredible distances to gather nectar and pollen.

During the summer, or high season, the worker bees can die from utter exhaustion. It can also happen that they get lost and simply never return to the hive. This is especially common if the bee lacks rest and sleep, which is vital for its memory.

Foraging bees and drones also face the dangers of predators. This can include other insects, birds, and rodents, among many others.

Bee Eater

The queen bee also faces her share of threats and dangers within the hive. Because a healthy queen is essential for the colony’s survival, workers won’t hesitate to overthrow her if her egg production decreases.

Ensuring the survival of the bloodline is a priority in the colony. Because of this, there are special workers who’ll step up and kill the queen if she produces the wrong heirs or none at all.

The last factor I’ll mention is disease. Honeybees are not excluded from diseases and viruses. There’s one parasitic fly called Apocephalus borealis that will literally force the bees out of their hive to die.

The fly larvae will then feed and grow in the remaining dead bees until they emerge as adults. So as you can see, there are plenty of factors that can affect the lifespan of a honeybee.

Summary

The lifespan of a honeybee differs between the roles within the colony. Honeybee queens live the longest, about two to five years, whereas the workers and drones might only live a couple of months. There are several factors that can affect these numbers, shortening the honeybee’s lifespan. Although it’s rare, a honeybee queen can sometimes survive up to seven years.

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