Honey Bee

  • Common Name(s): Honey Bee
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Common Species: Apis mellifera
  • Commonly Confused With: Bumble Bees, Yellow Jackets, other Bees/Wasps/Hornets


How to Identify?
Honeybee workers (non-reproductive females) are usually between 1.2-1.5 cm in length. Honeybee drones (reproductive males) and queens (reproductive females) are larger in size. Males usually range from 1.7-2.0 cm in length and queens are usually a solid 2.0-2.25 cm in length. The females are the only ones that can sting; the males are only produced to mate and die. Honey bees will generally be a yellow and tan or yellow and black color with hairs all over the body and striping/banding on the abdomen (back section of an insect). Two key areas to look for hairs are the legs, where honey bees carry their pollen (pollen baskets), and their eyes, which also have hairs to help pick up pollen.


Where do they live?
Honey bees live all across the United States. They live in any location near flowers, crops, or other food sources. They nest in tree holes, inside man-made structures, under porches, or tucked away in any other safe, dry location. Hives that are kept by beekeepers are usually inside wooden bee boxes on their property. Wherever the queen resides the colony will follow. Larval (juvenile) bees live in individual cells inside the beehive. Once the larva is ready to pupate (transform to their resting pupa stage between larva and adult) the cell will be capped by workers and the transformation begins. Once the pupae emerge as adults they live in the hive to work and care for the colony and queen. Newly emerged queens will venture off to find and mate with males and start new colonies.

Food Source

What do they eat?
The larval stages of these bees feed on pollen and honey. The adults feed on nectar and pollen of plants when it is warm. During the colder months, honey bees rely on their stored honey supplies as their food source. As larvae, queen bees are fed a special royal jelly that helps them to become fertile reproductives.


What do they do?
These insects are extremely beneficial pollinators. They help to pollinate crops across the country, and there are even honey bees driven around on semi trucks to help aid in pollination across the United States. While these bees are beneficial to pollination they are also displacing tons of native bee species, which is becoming an issue. They also sting to protect their nest or hive. This is a trait that scares most homeowners. Remember, honey bees die when they sting. This means that they pay the ultimate sacrifice to protect their hive and they only sting as a last resort. Usually, honey bees are docile and can be safely observed from a distance! Unless you are allergic to their venom, a singular bee sting should pose no threat.

Fun Fact

There are many different facts that I could tell you about honey bees. One fact that scares most people is the topic of “Africanized” honey bees or “killer bees.” African honey bees and European honey bees can mate, which gives rise to the “Africanized honey bee.” All of these are the same species Apis mellifera, but the subspecies does vary. European bees have a slightly more potent venom and African bees are more aggressive, so when they mate you get the traits of a more aggressive, more potent honey bee. That being said, killer bees pose no threat unless you accidentally happen upon their nest. If you do happen upon a killer bee nest or any bee nest, leave the area quickly and calmly. A common myth is to jump in the water (this won’t work; they will wait right above the water for you to come up for air). You are better off to just run (don’t flail your arms as this can be perceived as a threat and result in even more stings)!

Additional Resources

  • https://bugguide.net/node/view/3080 If the topic of honey bees interests you, I highly recommend you research google for colony collapse disorder and read about what is plaguing these pollinators.

Author: G. Wyatt West– B.S.E.S University of Georgia 2017; Board Certified Entomologist

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