The Honey Bee

Common Name:
Honey Bee
Scientific Name:
Apis mellifera Linnaeus


Honey bees get their common name from the sweet yellowish to brownish fluid they make from the nectar of flowers and use as food. Honey bees not only provide honey and wax, but as pollinators are of far greater importance. They are also responsible for a large share of insect stings, although many stings blamed on "bees" are actually done by yellowjackets. Honey bees are worldwide in distribution.


Adult worker's body length about 1/2-5/8" (1 1-1 5 rnm). Color usually orangish brown to sometimes black with body mostly covered with branched, pale hairs, most dense on thorax. Eyes hairy. First segment of hind tarsus enlarged, flattened, In addition, hind tibiae lack apical spurs; front wing venation with marginal cell narrow, parallel-sided, and 3rd submarginal cell oblique; hind wings with jugal lobe (lobe on rear margin near body). Barbed stinger present. Queens slightly larger, about 5/8-3/4" (15-20 mm) long, pointed abdomen extends well beyond wing tips, with smooth stinger. Males or drones robust, about 5/8" (15-17 mm) long, stinger absent. Africanized honey bees look just like our "domestic" bees. A specialist is required to identify individual specimens.


  1. Yellowjackets (Vespidae) have abdomen usually banded with yellow and black, hind tarsal 1 st segment not enlarged, hind wing lacks a jugal lobe (lobe on rear margin near body).

  2. Other bees (various families) lack hairy eyes, have apical spurs on hind tibiae, lack having front wing's marginal call narrow and parallel-sided and 3rd submarginal cell oblique.

  3. Some syrphid flies (Diptera: Syrphidae) which resemble honey bees, with 1 pair of wings.


Honey bees are social insects and live as colonies in hives, with mature colonies of 20,000-80,000 individuals. Adults are represented by workers which are infertile females, a queen or inseminated female, and drones (males) which come from unfertilized eggs. The entire population overwinters. There is only one egg-laying queen in the hive and she mates only once. She can lay as many as 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day, and may live as long as 5 years. The queen produces many pheromones, mostly from her mandibular glands, which regulate among other things the production of new queens and inhibit development of worker ovaries. The young workers care for the young or brood, build the comb, provide hive ventilation, and guard the hive entrance. Older workers serve as foragers to gather pollen, nectar, and propolis or bee glue. Workers live only about 5 to 7 weeks during the summer but those emerging in the autumn, overwinter. Drones (males) appear periodically and are short lived, usually living only a few weeks. Honey bees swarm primarily when the colony size gets too large for the available hive space or the queen begins to wane or fail. New queens are produced and the old queen leaves with a large number of workers.


Honey bees are not aggressive, and do not search for something to attack. Instead, they are defensive and will attack only whatever seems to threaten the colony. Swarms first move to a temporary site such as a tree branch. The swarm will usually remain here for about 24-48 hours until permanent quarters are located, and then moves on. Permanent quarters may consist of a bee hive, hollow tree, hollow wall, aftic, etc., typically some place which is sheltered from the weather.

Bees in a swarm are very docile and not likely to sting because they harbor no food stores or young and therefore, have nothing to defend. Likewise, honey bees encountered away from the hive are unlikely to sting unless severely provoked, like stepping on them. However, if the hive entrance is approached, the guard bees can become very aggressive. Worker bees have barbed stingers and when used, the stinger, poison sac, and associated tissue are torn from the body. If the stinger is not removed immediately, muscle contractions will drive the stinger deeper and deeper into the skin and there is greater time for toxin injection. In addition, the stinger gives off a pheromone which attracts other bees and induces an alarm and attack behavior. Therefore, immediate removal with a fingernail or knife blade is recommended; squeezing only forces more venom in.

The normal reaction to bee stings is local pain for a few minutes followed by swelling at the sting site which subsides in a few hours. Often itching and heat may last for a few hours. First-aid consists of quickly removing the stinger with a fingernail or knife blade. After stinger removal, do not rub the area because this causes the venom to spread, or scratch the area which may cause secondary infection, but clean it with soap and water followed by an antiseptic. A cold compress will reduce pain and swelling. If the reaction is more severe than a small welt, consult a physician immediately because death can occur within 15-30 minutes from severe allergic reactions. Africanized honey bees are much more aggressive and will sting with little provocation, even swarms may be dangerous. They will pursue the intruder/victim for up to 328 ft (100 m) whereas, domestic bees pursue only about 33 ft (10 m). They use a wider range of nesting sites, sometimes including subterranean cavities.