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Friday, May 8, 2015

How long do bees live?

The answer depends on the bee, not only its species but the role it plays in the hive. Digger bee larvae will survive the winter, and carpenter and mason bees both have one generation a year. Queens bees overall tend to live the longest. The queen is the largest bee, and, after mating, she will spend all her time in the hive laying eggs and being tended by the other workers. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders, young queen bumblebees are the only bumblebees that survive the winter. Queen honeybees can live up to six years, according to Roger A. Morse’s New Complete Guide to Beekeeping, but many beekeepers will replace their queen after a few seasons, with some requeening their colonies every year. A queen will slow down as she ages and start laying eggs erratically. When bees recognize that their queen is no longer laying enough to maintain a healthy colony, they’ll rear a new one from an egg. It takes her sixteen days to develop.

As to the worker bees’ lifespans, it depends on when they are born. A honeybee can live nearly six months in the winter since she’s staying in the warm confines of her hive. In the warmer months, though, when she’s spending most of her time foraging for food, she’ll only live four to six weeks. A worker bee only forages once her life is about half-over. She spends her first few weeks keeping the hive clean, attending to the queen and larva, making honey, building comb, and guarding the hive.

Drones, the only male bees in the colony, have the shortest lives. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. If they succeed, they die in the act of mating. If they don’t succeed, they’re kicked out of the hive and left to starve when winter comes, as the worker bees see them as a waste of resources.

For more information on bees, Ross Conrad’s Natural Beekeeping, Howland Blackiston’s Beekeeping for Dummies, and the Firefly Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders are all available for borrowing here at the Newton Falls Public Library.

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