A worker bee collecting nectar and pollen from a flower
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife
Question: How long does a bee live?
Answer: An average hive may contain 60 000 bees, including one fertile queen, thousands of sterile female workers and hundreds of male drones. The longevity (life span) of a bee depends on the caste of the bee, i.e. whether it is a worker, a queen, or a drone.
All bees start life as an egg laid in a cell in the honeycomb. The eggs hatch three days after they are laid. The legless white grub (called a larva) is fed by worker bees for five to seven days. The cell is then capped with wax and the larva spins a silk cocoon in which to pupate. After 16 to 24 days it emerges as an adult bee.
Most of the bees in the hive are female worker bees. Workers usually only live for about 6 weeks. It is their job to maintain and operate the hive; they perform a variety of tasks which change as they as they get older. Throughout their short lives they progress through the following tasks: cleaning the hive; looking after the larvae, the drones and the queen; repairing and building new wax combs; regulating the temperature inside the beehive; defending the hive and foraging outside the hive for pollen, nectar, water and plant resins. The bees we see flying around flowers are therefore the oldest of the worker bees.
Drones, or male bees, are bigger and heavier than workers and have larger eyes and no sting. They live for about eight weeks and their only function is to mate with new queens (usually from other hives) when they leave their own beehive for their ‘nuptial flight’. They die immediately after mating as they can’t feed themselves and are not welcome back in the hive.
The queen bee can live for two to eight years. During this time she can lay up to 2000 eggs per day!