Brian’s Amazing Facts About Honeybees


In summer a typical hive of honeybees might contain:-

  • 1 queen
  • 250 drones
  • 20,000 female foragers
  • 40,000 female house-bees
  • 5,000 to 7,000 eggs
  • 7,000 to 11,000 larvae being fed
  • 16,000 to 24,000 larvae developing into adults in sealed cells
  • In the UK winter, such a colony might reduce in size to about 20,000 bees before beginning to build up again at the end of February.
  • A worker larva is fed an average of 1300 meals a day.
  • A worker honeybee in summer lives only 6 to 8 weeks from the time she hatches as an adult bee. Before that, it takes just 3 weeks for her to develop from an egg. Most adult workers forage only 3 weeks for the pollen, nectar and water needed to feed the colony. They also forage for propolis, an antiseptic resinous substance obtained from some trees.
    After this their wings are worn out and they fail to return to the hive.
  • The queen is fed a high protein food produced by young workers which enables her to lay up to 2000 eggs a day. This represents about twice her own weight. All the worker bees living in a colony will have been laid by the queen of that colony.
  • The queen fertilizes most eggs as she lays them. She has control as to whether she fertilizes an egg or not. If she fertilizes the egg, the bee that develops will have 2 sets of chromosomes, one from the queen and one from a male of another colony; this develops into a female. If she does not fertilize the egg, it develops into a male, all his cells having just one set of the queen's chromosomes. This creates a very different society from the human one we know, both genetically and culturally.
  • The queen makes only one mating flight during her life and stores the sperm from up to 20 drones that she collects on that flight. Drones that mate with her die in the act. She can store the sperm for up to 5 years, a feat that has not been accomplished in the laboratory.
  • Bees eat honey primarily to fuel their wing muscles. They fly within a radius of up to 3 miles of their hive though few go that far. Their top speed is about 22mph (32 Km/h). Honey fuel consumption is approximately 7 million miles per gallon (2,25Km/litre) of honey. For flying, temperature regulation and wax production, a colony can consume 75Kg of honey per year.
  • To collect a pound of honey (half a kilo) a bee might have to fly a distance equivalent to twice round the world. This is likely to involve more than 10,000 flower visits on perhaps 500 foraging trips.
  • Bees eat pollen to produce bee milk, sometimes called royal jelly, which they feed to the queen continuously and to larvae for 3 days after they hatch from eggs. A mixture of honey and pollen (bee bread) is fed to worker and drone larvae for a further 5 days. At this point the larvae are ready to pupate so the bees cap them over with wax and propolis. The pollen is used by the bees as their protein food for building bee body parts. A colony can use 32Kg of pollen each year involving over 300.000 foraging trips. On each trip a bee could return with half a million grains of pollen.
  • To make 1 Kg of wax, it is estimated that a bee must consume 4 Kg of honey. They secrete wax scales from 4 pairs of glands under their abdomen, each wax scale weighing about 1 mg. It is estimated that about 80,000 wax scales are necessary to make a single honeycomb. Its hexagonal interlocking structure makes it one of the strongest light-weight structures known to engineers.
  • Until the advent of gas and electricity, bees were most important to man for the wax that they produce. Beeswax was prized for its sweet smelling fragrance which, if burnt with the correct size of wick, burned economically to give light with no smoke.
  • Bees maintain the brood nest all year round at a constant temperature of 33-34 deg C even though the outside temperature might vary from minus 30 degC to plus 35 degC. When hot, water is collected and evaporated to cool the hive by circulating air around the hive interior. When cold, they consume honey and vibrate their wing muscles without operating their wings to create heat within the hive. It has been calculated that 1000 bees can produce 7 watts heat energy in this way.
  • A bee weighs about one tenth of a gramme. She can bring back half her weight, i.e. 0.05 g, though sometimes she brings back only 0.02 g. To bring in a kilogramme of nectar, it is necessary for the bee to make 50,000 trips or 50,000 bees to make one trip. A bee can make twenty trips a day of one kilometre return, bringing in 0.4 g nectar. The harvest of 1 kg of nectar thus represents more than 40,000 kilometres, i.e. more than the circumference of the earth.
  • The British honey bee can forage up to 3 miles radius from the hive.
  • A large colony in Summer comprises one female queen, up to 70,000 female workers with perhaps 300 male drones between May and August

October 26, 2009