How long do bees live? A few days, a few weeks? Even longer? Insects often have varying lifespans, so it is not always clear how long one lives, and this is no different for bees. Whether you've got a beehive in your back yard that you're keeping an eye on, are doing research for a project, or just have some genuine curiosity about our bee friends, you're in the right place. This article will cover everything from different types of bees and factors that can affect their lifespan to their main life stages. By the end, you should have all the buzz you need on bees and then some.
A Brief Look at Bees
In recent years, there has been some anxiety surrounding bees. Plain and simple, bees are an extremely important part of the world's ecosystem. They're so important, in fact, that the high rate of bee decline and their potential to become extinct in the near future could spell out disaster for all other life on earth. This is because bees – the honey bee specifically – are the world's most important pollinators. Without them, humans and animals would not have any of the food we need to survive. These foods include:
- Tree fruits – apples, apricots, peaches, cherries, lines, plums, lemons
- Other fruits – bananas, melons, mangos, grapes
- Berries – strawberries, blackberries, cranberries
- Tea plants
- Nuts – almonds, cashews, coconut
- Beans – green beans, lima beans, kidney beans
- Vegetables – broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower
With this in mind, we must know what is putting our bees at risk, how to help them, and what a normal, healthy lifespan looks like for these creatures.
Types of Bees
One answer to the “How long do bees live?” question is “It depends.” Certain factors can affect a bee's lifespan like the type of bee it is. Different bees have different functions, which means one's lifespan might differ from another's depending upon what the bee does.
Honey bees are known as “superorganisms” due to their well-organized and highly efficient colonies. In fact, a honey bee colony can be made up of between 50,000-60,000 bees, all with their different roles to keep the hive running. There are several types of honey bee with different functions, and each may have a different lifespan. What's more, the time of year a honey bee is born can also affect how long the bee lives. For example, worker bees born in the spring and summer usually have shorter but busier lives, while bees born in autumn have longer, albeit harsher, lives due to their having to endure the winter. Here's a breakdown of each type of honey bee.
Queen Honey Bee
A healthy queen honey bee could live for 4 or 5 years, so long as she is free from disease and living in a safe environment. Since the queen is highly favored amongst the colony, she is always protected, which helps extend her lifespan even more. However, if a honey bee queen is no longer favored by the colony, she may be removed by the worker bees. When this happens, a new queen is produced, and the old queen is replaced in a process called “supersedure.”
The lifespan of a worker honey bee is dependent on the season in which they are born. Worker bees born and raised during the spring or summer can live for 6-7 weeks. These weeks are usually incredibly busy as the workers are fitted with a variety of tasks. They have to feed larvae, produce honeycomb, collect nectar and pollen, and feed the colony at large.
Worker honey bees born and raised in the autumn, however, do not have to care for larvae since the queen stops producing eggs during this time. During the autumn and winter months, then, worker bees usually huddle around the queen to keep her warm. They stay this way until they are ready to emerge in the spring to begin foraging for food, nectar, and pollen. In total, worker bees born during the latter half the year can live between 4 and 6 months.
Drone honey bees are known to live for up to 4 months. On the lower end of the lifespan, however, they can survive for just a few weeks. Drones are the bees responsible for mating with the queen to produce more eggs. After mating with the queen, drones immediately die.
Bumble Bee – Differences
It is important to note that bumblebees differ from honey bees in a few key ways: appearance, temperament, longevity, and nest/colony location. Let's run through the differences:
While honey bees are more slender, have little body hair, and have translucent wings, bumblebees are much larger and more “robust” in appearance. They have more hairs on their bodies, are usually colored yellow, orange, and black, and have thicker, darker wings. The tip of their abdomen is also rounded while the abdomen of a honey bee is pointed.
While both honey bees and bumblebees are not overly aggressive, both will sting to defend themselves and their colony. The biggest difference is that a honey bee will sting only once (and usually die immediately after) while a bumblebee can sting multiple times; so watch out!
While a honey bee queen can live for 4 or 5 years, that is not the case with bumblebee queens. These queens typically live for just one year.
If you see a hive above ground, chances are you're looking at a honey bee colony. Bumblebees tend to make their nests underground. While some do nest above ground, bumblebees most commonly live at ground level.
Queen Bumble Bee
A queen bumble bee will spend part of her year-long life in hibernation. New queens usually emerge during the late summer or early autumn and will complete their full lifespan if disease, predators, or pesticides do not bring harm. After emerging, the queen will mate and feed to store fat for the winter.
Worker Bumble Bee
The lifespan of a worker bumblebee can last anywhere between two to six weeks. The length of life depends on the species, but other factors may come into play as well. Like honey bees, when the bee is born can play a role in how long or short their lifespan is. In addition to that, most worker bumblebees with nest duties tend to live longer than those who are tasked with foraging. This is because these bumblebees are more exposed to predators, weather conditions, and human interference.
Of course, bumblebees are equipped to withstand most conditions. They do not sting unless provoked, which can help them fight off predators. If they are caught in the rain or heat, they may need a quick rest or a drink of water before going about their business. If a human gets in the way, they may be able to defend themselves with their stingers or avoid the threat altogether.
How Long Do Bees Live?
So, how long do bees live? The answer is anywhere from two weeks to five years, depending on the type of bee and its role in life. But, what about the natural life cycle of a bee? All bees, whether drone, worker, or queen, go through four key stages. These key stages are the egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Let's take a look at them in a bit more depth.
The Stages of a Bee's Lifespan
A bee's life begins when its egg is laid and hatched by the queen. During this life stage, the digestive system, nervous system, and outer covering of the bee are formed. Each type of bee has a different timeline between hatching and adulthood. For queens, the process takes 16 days. Drones develop in under 24 days while worker bees need 21 days total.
It is important to note that queens will lay over 2,000 eggs each day. However, not every egg is fertilized. Fertilized eggs will produce worker bees while non-fertilized eggs develop into drones.
Three days after hatching, the larvae stage begins. Larvae are identifiable by their white color and nearly minuscule size. Over a couple of weeks, the larvae grow and shed their skin more than five times. This happens because of how quickly they are growing and eating (they consume over 1300 meals in a day!). Larvae are raised on a diet of royal jelly and “bee bread” (a mixture of honey and pollen). Though it takes them a few weeks to grow out of this stage, in just five days, a larva will have grown ten times its size. Once a certain size has been reached, the larva is then sealed in beeswax by a worker bee where it will spin itself a cocoon to develop into an adult.
The pupa is the stage of the cocooned larvae. During this time, the eyes, legs, and wings are starting to develop and take shape. For example, the eyes are first pink, then purple, and then they become the black we are all familiar with. Finally, they grow hair over their bodies and increase in size until they are strong enough to chew their way out of the cocoon.
After about 12 days in the pupa stage, an adult bee will chew its way out of its cocoon and emerge. From here, the bee will either be a new queen, a worker, or a drone and live out the life allotted to it.
So, there you have it: four key stages, various types of bees, and tons of tasks to finish in a quick but jam-packed lifespan. Remember, we must protect our bee friends since they are at risk now more than ever. If you come across a bee, remember that if you do not bother it, it won't bother you!