Honey Bees, Apis mellifera

Honey Bee, Apis mellifera All honey bees are social and cooperative insects. A hive's inhabitants are generally divided into three types.

Workers are the only bees that most people ever see. These bees are females that are not sexually developed. Workers forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, clean, circulate air by beating their wings, and perform many other societal functions.

The queen's job is simple—laying the eggs that will spawn the hive's next generation of bees. There is usually only a single queen in a hive. If the queen dies, workers will create a new queen by feeding one of the worker females a special diet of a food called "royal jelly." This elixir enables the worker to develop into a fertile queen.

The Problem With Honey Bees

To many people, honey bees symbolize prosperity, sustainability and environmentalism. Although they are important for agriculture, honey bees also destabilize natural ecosystems by competing with native bees — some of which are species at risk.

Scientists warn that the millions of introduced honey bees pose a risk to native bee species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.

Read more: The Problem With Honey Bees

Honey Bee
Habitat: Woodland, gardens and orchards
Development: Complete metamorphosis
Food: Herbivore
Flight Period: Spring through fall
Description: Orange and brown-colored, rather hairy. The abdomen is black with orange transverse stripes of varying width.
Length: 0.47 to 0.79 inches
Wingspan: 1 inch


Honey bees measure about 15 mm long and are light brown in color. Honey bees are usually oval-shaped with golden-yellow colors and brown bands. Although the body color of honey bees varies between species and some honey bees have predominantly black bodies, almost all honey bees have varying dark-to-light striations. These alternating light and dark stripes serve a purpose for the survival of the honey bee.

Unlike other animals and insects that hide when they sense predators close by, the brightly colored bodies of the honey bee serve as a warning to predators or inadvertent visitors, of the honey bees’ ability to sting.


In the wild, honey bee hives are typically located in the holes of trees and inside rock crevices. The hive is produced from wax from the specialized abdominal glands of worker honey bees. Workers sweep up a few flakes of wax from their abdomens and chew these flakes until the wax becomes pliable and soft. Workers then mold the wax and use it in constructing cells to form the hive.

Unlike other bee species, honey bees do not hibernate during cold weather. Instead, they remain inside the hive huddled closely together, sharing body heat and feeding on stored food supplies.

Honey bees are extremely social creatures and live in colonies. However, they do display some aggressive behavior within colonies. Drones are ejected from their nests during cold weather, and a queen will sometimes sting other queens in a battle for hive supremacy and during mating fights for dominance.

Although honey bees serve an important role in pollination and ecology, measures should be taken to ensure that hives do not exist in close proximity to a home or place of business, due to the possibility of getting stung. Always contact an experienced beekeeper before attempting to address a dangerously located hive.

Bees live on stored honey and pollen all winter, and cluster into a ball to conserve warmth.

Drone Honey Bee

Drones: Agony & Ectasy

Drones do little around the hive, they don't clean or build honey combs and they help themselves to nectar stores. Yet they don’t do much to help out with the kids. Heck, they don’t even go out and get food for the colony!

Bee Quiz Graphic

Bumble Bee Vocabulary Quiz

Take this quick quiz and see how much you know about Bumble Bees—our favorite essential pollinators working around the world. This quiz is intended for fun, in a random-facts-can-be-cool kind of way.

Reading a brood frame

How To Read Brood Frames

There are many things that a beekeeper needs to see when checking a frame. This article shows the different kinds of cells that you find in comb and how to read them. Includes a short quiz.

Bees flying footer graphic