If you want to succeed as a beekeeper, you should understand the lifespan of honey bees. Knowing the lifespan of the various bees, including the queen bee, will help you plan properly and have a smooth operation over your apiary.
Queen honey bees have the most extended lifespan, sometimes living up to 6 years. Worker bees live for 6 weeks during the summer and can live for up to 6 months in the winter, while drones have a relatively shorter lifespan going to a maximum of 55 days.
You should know that these figures are general and indicate the highest lifetime the various bee types can attain. In reality, the lifespan of a bee is determined by a combination of many factors, such as the type of bee species, its role in the colony, and even external factors such as the weather. Often, the bee may not attain its maximum possible lifespan because of negative factors or natural factors beyond its control.
Lifespan Comparison of How Long Different Bee Species Live
All bees do not live the same duration. The lifespan of a bee is determined by what kind of bee it is and the role it plays in the colony. Even different bee species (whether a honey bee, solitary or bumblebee) have different lifespans.
In addition, external factors also affect the lifespan of bees. For example, severe weather conditions such as winter are more dangerous to bees because the extreme cold can quickly kill them. Availability of forage is another factor, not to mention other human factors such as insecticides. Finally, remember that bees are also affected by pests and diseases. All these factors play a part in determining the lifespan of bees.
There are two major categories of bees; social bees and solitary bees, and both types have different lifespans.
- Solitary bees
Solitary bees do not live in large colonies like social bees. It would take a whole year for a social bee to go through its lifecycle. However, adults will survive for only 3-4 months.
- Social bees
Social bees are the kind that lives in colonies, unlike solitary counterparts. Because they live in harmony as a community, social bees divide various roles among their members to help the colony survive.
In any colony, each bee is specialized to its particular role, including its physical features and mannerisms. The most critical of these roles is that of the queen, who plays a significant part in the propagation of the colony because she is tasked with laying eggs that will hatch to produce new bees.
That being said, it is for this reason that the lifespan of social bees is not specific but dependent on the bee’s role within the colony. For example, male bees tend to die immediately after mating with their new queen, while worker bees live a bit longer than drones but not as long as the queen bee who lives the longest.
There are various types of social bees, such as; stingless bees, bumblebees, honey bees, and many more, and in all these categories, the lifespans vary. So the coming sections will focus more on these social bee species to understand a bit of their life span.
How Long Do Bumble Bees Live?
Bumblebees belong to the category of social bees, but they are different from honey bees. During winter, the entire bumblebee colony is wiped out, and only the queen bee survives until spring to start a new colony. Therefore, the lifetime of the bumblebees apart from the queens’ is determined by seasons. Though the queen bumblebee does not also live for very long, she can only live for up to a maximum of one year.
Because the survival of bumblebees is highly dependent on the weather, different species from different regions across the globe tend to have different lifespans. For example, in the tropics, where the weather is more conducive, the bees live longer than in colder regions.
Studies have also shown that there can be variations even in specific regions. For example, some colonies have been discovered to be active in the south despite the winter in England.
The Lifespan of Queen Bumblebees
The queen bumblebees mate during fall and hide until the winter season is over. Once spring season comes around, they come out of their shelter and build a nest from where they establish another colony. The queen awaits the fall season to start producing male bees, which will mate with some of the female bees who will later become queens to start other colonies because the old queen will soon die.
Despite the potential difference due to regions, bumblebee queens generally can live for up to one year if disease, insecticides, or predators do not plague them. Part of the one year is spent in shelter during hibernation when winter kicks in. They can make it through the winter because they had fed well and stored the fat as reserves within their bodies after mating. They will emerge in early autumn to establish their colony.
Worker Bumblebees Lifespan
Just like in the case of queen bumblebees, different studies came up with varying durations. The various research studies came up with figures that ranged from 13 days to 6 weeks. The variation was different because the studies were conducted in different species.
It was also reported that bumble bee workers involved in foraging for food lived a shorter life than their worker counterparts, who primarily engaged in the nest activities. This is because those worker bees going to forage for food are more prone to predatory attacks and are often exposed to harsh weather conditions. Often, they would need to rest and rejuvenate due to over-exhaustion, which lowered their lifespan.
Male Bumblebees Lifespan
Male bumblebees are unlike the worker bees that do much of the work, and usually, they emerge from the colony last. They also do not hibernate during winter but die off when winter comes. Therefore, for the most part, male bumblebees only live for a few weeks.
How Long Do Stingless Bees Live?
Stingless bees are also social bees and live in colonies. The prevailing data shows that well over 500 species of stingless bees have different lifespans. In one particular species named Melipona favosa, the queens have been found to maintain productivity for even three years and sometimes longer.
How Long Do Honey Bees Live?
Honey bees are the most famous among the social bee species because of the honey gold they provide to humanity. They are very complex and live in well-organized colonies, sometimes comprising up to 60,000 bees per colony. All these bees are never the same; they each have their specific role within the hive to ensure the effective running and success of the colony.
Because of the uniqueness of the various bees within a honey bee colony, each type of colony member has a different lifespan.
Apart from the role a particular bee plays within the colony, the time of the year it was born also determines its lifespan. For example, if a worker bee was born during summer or spring, it will live a busier life and have a shorter lifespan. Bees born in autumn, on the other hand, tend to live longer but have an additional hazard of having to withstand the harsh weather conditions during winter.
Considering all these factors, you can see that the lifespan of a bee is not a straightforward matter, for there are many factors involved.
The following is a summary of the range of the lifespan of the various honey bees depending on their role within a colony.
|Bee Species||Bee Colony Member||Average life span|
|Solitary Bees||All Types||3 – 4 months as adults but the full life cycle is 1 year|
|Bumble Bees||Worker BumbleBee|
|13 days – 6 weeks|
3 – 4 weeks
|Stingless Bee||Queen||3 years|
|Honey Bees||Worker Bees|
|Spring/Summer born: 6 – 7 weeks|
Autumn born: 4 – 6 months
3 – 6 years
What is the lifespan of Queen Honey Bees?
As long as a honey bee queen is in perfect health and free from other dangers that affect bees, it can survive for up to 3 to 4 years, and sometimes it can go up to 6 years. Thus, the honey bee queen lives longer than its bumblebee and solitary queen bee counterparts and even most other insects.
Although a queen bee can live for this long, it is not guaranteed to attain this lifespan. In some cases, the colony may reject its old queen, leading to a shortened lifespan. When the old queen runs out of favor, the colony begins raising a new queen to replace her. The workers do this by feeding royal jelly to young larvae, a unique food type. As soon as a new queen has been readied to replace her, the workers will sting the old queen killing her.
During its lifetime, a queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs on average every day. So cumulatively, she can single-handedly give birth to over 1 million bees in the course of her life. However, as she progresses, her productivity will reduce, and she may need to be replaced even though if she were left to live, she could go up to 5 or 6 years.
Reduced productivity is why some beekeepers have developed the practice of replacing their old queens every two years, causing queens to have shorter lifespans.
Worker bees do the donkey work in the colony and are the busiest. They do not live as long as queen bees but longer than drones. The lifespan of a worker bee within the honey bee colony is determined by the season it was born.
Workers raised during the spring or summer can live for a maximum of 6 or 7 weeks. They are born when the colony is most active, and there is much work to feed the many hungry larvae and produce honeycomb. The worker bees must be active to go and forage for nectar and pollen to keep the entire colony well fed. The high demand for work to be done tends to shorten this caliber of worker bees’ lives.
Workers born and raised during autumn live a much different life because, at this time, there is not much brood to manage since the queen has already stopped laying eggs. The main obstacle to the survival of the worker bees is the gradually worsening weather conditions. To survive, the colony must huddle together around their queen to maintain their warmth to avoid freezing to death until springtime, when they will emerge after the winter to start foraging for food again. Therefore, such bees tend to live for up to 4 or 6 months.
From this, you can see that the average lifespan of worker bees is 6 weeks if born in summer or 6 months if born during the cold months.
The lifespan of drones is the oldest among all the honey bees. The average lifespan of drones is no more than 55 days. But there is a catch; their lifespan is dependent on the time they mate with the new emerging queen.
Immediately after mating with a queen, the drones die. Therefore, even if they can live for up to 55 days, if they mate earlier than that, they will die immediately afterward, their lifespan notwithstanding.
Which Bee Has The Longest Lifespan?
The honey bee has the most extended lifespan among all the bee species, particularly the honey bee queen. The queen honey bee can live for up to 6 years, laying up to 2000 eggs every day compared to some other bee species where the queen bees tend to live shorter lives, for instance, the bumblebees whose lifespan extends to a maximum of 1 or 2 years.
Do Honey Bees Only Live 45 Days?
The answer is Yes and No.
Yes, because worker bees can live for 45 days, and No because the other two colony member types (drones and queens) can live longer than that. The drones can live for up to 55 days, while queens can live longer for up to 6 years in some cases.
Do Honey Bees Work Themselves To Death?
It has been found that the busier the honey bee is, the shorter its lifespan tends to be. In a way, that may be true because worker bees born during the busiest times of the year tend to live shorter lives compared to worker bees born in less busy months.