Honey Bee: Apis Mellifera

Photo of a worker honey bee extracting nectar

Description Of North American Honey Bee’s

Apis mellifera is usually red/brown with black bands on the abdomen with orange-yellow rings. They have hair on the thorax and have less abdominal hair. They also have on their hind legs a pollen basket. The legs of the honeybee are mainly dark brown/black.

There are two female castes, smaller sterile workers (adults 10-15 mm long), larger fertile queens (18-20 mm). At maturity, males, called drones, are 15-17 mm long. Workers, although smaller, have longer wings than drones. Both female castes have a stinger that is formed from structures of modified ovipositors. In workers, the sting is barbed, and when used, it tears away from the body. Males have much larger eyes than females, likely during mating flights to help locate flying queens.

Currently, there are 26 subspecies of Apis mellifera, with variations based on morphological and molecular differences. Differences between subspecies are generally discussed under specific environmental conditions in terms of their agricultural output. Some subspecies can tolerate climates that are warmer or colder. The defensive behavior, tongue length, wingspan, and coloration of subspecies may also vary. The abdominal banding patterns also vary – some darker and some with more of a mix of darker and lighter banding patterns. 1Go To Source biokids.umich.edu -“Honey bee Apis mellifera”

Learn More: Dangerous Stinging Insect Species 

Types Of Honey Bees

Honey Bee Drones

The male honey bees are called drones. A drone’s only function is to fertilize a young queen bee. Commonalities of drone honey bees include:

  • Larger and stouter visibly than workers
  • Have large distinctive eyes that meet on the top of their heads and have slightly longer antennas than the worker or queen.
  • Larger cells during fertilization compared to worker bees
  • Drones do not breed, produce wax, or gather pollen or nectar from the brood
  • They feed themselves directly from the honey cells in the hive or ask worker bees for food
  • They are reared in the spring and summer, starting about four weeks before new queens, ensuring that ample drones are available to mate with emerging queens.

Worker Honey Bees

Workers are the smallest but by far the most numerous of the bee castes. All worker bees are women and are usually incapable of reproduction. They cannot mate, but in a queenless colony, workers may begin to lay unfertilized eggs, which develop into drones.

Within a colony, workers do all the necessary tasks, including:

  • The wax used in the hive is secreted by them and formed into honeycombs.
  • Worker Bees will turn all of the nectar/pollen brought into the hive into honey
  • The worker bee is responsible for producing royal jelly that feeds the queen and larvae
  • For pupation, they cap the mature larvae cells and remove debris and dead bees from the hive
  • Worker bees defend the hive against intruders by heating, cooling, and ventilating the hive to maintain optimal conditions 2Go To Source uaex.edu -“About Honey Bees – Types, Races, and Anatomy “

Honey Bee Queens

Image of a queen honey bee in her colony

In a honey bee colony, there is only one queen. She is slightly larger, with a more elongate abdomen than a worker bee. In a bigger cell, eggs destined to become queens are laid, and only royal jelly is fed to the larvae. The sole obligation of the adult queen is to lay eggs, up to 2,000 a day. The workers provide her food, and she never leaves the hive except to mate.

Queen bees have stingers and use them for colony dominance in battles with other bees. The “old lady” often goes over and kills her rival if a new queen emerges from her incubation cell and is detected by the current queen. In this way, the colony’s stability is maintained. She is generally replaced by a new queen when a queen gets old or weak and slows down her queen substance production. In colonies about to swarm, new queens are also produced. 3Go To Source cals.arizona.edu -“Honey Bee Biology”

Behavior Of Honey Bees

Honeybees are eusocial insects that form colonies that contain one reproductive woman and her offspring (the queen). The queen’s sterile female offspring (the workers) do all the colony’s work and are by far the most numerous caste in the hive.

Worker honey bees research shows “age polyethism.” As they get older, their behaviors change. Newly developed workers clean cells, prepare them for a new egg, or store food. They move to other hive maintenance work after a couple of days, remove waste, maintain air circulation/temperature, process nectar, and feed the queen and larvae.

The wax glands of workers become active in their second week of adult life, and they help build the comb while continuing to tend the queen and feed workers. The workers of Apis mellifera create a “comb,” a sheet of hexagonal cells made from the waxes they secrete. One larval bee can house each cell, and cells are also used for honey (processed nectar) and pollen as a protected storage space.

Workers take a turn guarding the hive between 12 and 25 days, inspecting any bees who try to enter the hive – driving strangers away and attacking any other creatures who try to enter. Workers atrophy the food and wax glands after about three weeks, and they switch to foraging duty.

Bees are always active in the hive but will only forage during daylight.

In temperate climates, honey and pollen are stored by colonies to feed on during the winter. During cold weather, the bees will form a tight cluster and use their flight muscles to create heat and keep the colony warm. Honeybees keep smaller stores of food in warmer tropical regions.

The entire bee colony may move to a new site if the nest conditions become too unfavorable. For tropical honeybees, which move in response to seasonal drought, this is especially prevalent. In domesticated colonies, beekeepers call this “absconding” and work to avoid it. 4Go To Source animaldiversity.org -“Apis mellifera honey bee”

Honey Bee Swarming

Image of a European honey bee

The queen increases drone production during early winter by laying unfertilized eggs. This is in preparation for swarming colonies. A special food called royal jelly is fed to early-stage larvae, and their cells are enlarged to accommodate the larger queen. The original queen will eventually leave the hive, and a large number of worker bees will accompany her in search of a new location for the hive.

The traveling bees will rest on the branch of a tree after flying around in the air for several minutes, but they will not stay there long. The next day they will be gone in search of an excellent place to start a new hive. Swarming occurs from March to June in the Central, Southern, and Western States, although it can happen from April to October at almost any time.

Except for the care of the new queen larvae, the remaining bees continue to work as normal. The original queen will search for rival queens and destroys the cells when a new queen emerges from her cell. The two queens will fight if a rival has emerged from their cell until they have eliminated the other. Only one queen can exist. When the new queen is a week old, one or more drones in the air outside the colony will mate with her. The mated queen begins laying eggs within 3 or 4 days. 5Go To Source ucanr.edu -“Bee Biology and Behavior”

Reproduction Cycle Of Honey Bees

There are three main phases in the honey bee’s lifecycle: the larval, pupal, and adult phases. A single queen bee lays fertilized and unfertilized eggs within a normal hive situation. Worker and queen bees can hatch fertilized eggs, and drone bees can hatch unfertilized eggs. After about 3 days, eggs hatch, but development rates and processes vary between bees within the hive and between species within the Apis genus. 6Go To Source blogs.evergreen.edu -“Life Cycle of the Honey Bee”

Honey Bee Stings

Its sharp, barbed stinger pierces the skin when a honey bee stings you. This stinger injects a venom called apitoxin. After a sting, the honey bee’s stinger will get tear loose and end up lodged in the victim’s skin. In most instances, the stinger will rip off other parts of the bee’s body ending with its death. If not removed quickly, the stinger will continue to inject venom into the victim for 10 minutes.

They release pheromones that stir up nearby bees when honey bees sting. Those other bees often join the attack. One stinging bee can transform into hundreds or even thousands of stinging bees in just a short time.

Habitat Of Honey Bees

These insects need habitats with plenty of nearby feeding possibilities, namely flowering plants. In natural habitats, agricultural areas, and urban parks or gardens, they can live. Orchards, meadows, gardens, woodlands, and virtually anywhere with plenty of flowers growing are their preferred habitats.

Honey bees can also survive in cold climates by huddling within the nest (thermoregulation). To increase the temperature inside the hive, the bees will shiver. 7Go To Source animals.net -“Honey Bee”

Honey Bee Range & Distribution

Apis mellifera, the most commonly recognized honey bee species, is native to Africa and Europe but is now abundant across North America.

Honey bees are not indigenous to the American continents but have been introduced by European colonists. The first introductions by English and Spanish colonists are believed to have occurred in the early to mid-1600s. From 1859 to 1922, beekeepers actively imported several various European subspecies. 8Go To Source naturemappingfoundation.org -“Honey Bee”

Honey Bee Diet

Photograph of honey bees swarming to form a new colony

There are two staples of the honey bee diet, both generated by flowers: nectar and pollen. Nectar is the sweet water produced by plants such as flowers and collected on them, while pollen is a powder rich in protein.

While bees drink as much nectar as they can, they’re not gorging themselves—they’re taking it back to the hive where it’s used for honey production. Together, nectar and pollen provide the ingredients for honey bees to produce the different kinds of honey needed for the colony’s survival. 9Go To Source animals.mom.com-“HONEY BEE’S DIET”

Threats To Honey Bees

  • Invasive plants and bees
  • Low genetic diversity
  • Climate change
  • Pathogens spread by commercially managed bees
  • Habitat loss and fragmentation
  • Pesticides

Honey Bee Importance To Humans

Honey bees are among the world’s most numerous and efficient species of pollinators. Given that the average honey bee can visit more than 2,000 flowers in one day, these bees increase the chances of a plant producing a fruit or vegetable significantly.

The species that is most commonly used in the U.S. as commercial pollinators are honey bees. These insects pollinate over 100 different North American crops and contribute $15 billion each year to the U.S. economy. Many crops, such as almonds, which contribute $4.8 billion each year to the U.S. industry, rely on more than 90% of their pollination from honey bees.

Honey bees also pollinate crops and pollinate/indigenous plants, thereby contributing to all of those mentioned above environmental and societal benefits for pollinators in general.

Honey Bee Species Found In The United States

  • Carniolan Bee apis mellifera carnica
  • Caucasian Bee apis mellifera caucasica
  • German Bee apis mellifera mellifera
  • Hybrid Stock
  • Italian Bee apis mellifera ligustica



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