If you’re having a conversation about bees with someone, one of the questions most likely to come up sooner or later is the one about bee life expectancy. After all, how long do bees live? The answer is not as simple as the question would imply. There’s a wide variety of considerations to keep in mind when determining the average lifespan of a bee. The main consideration, by far, is the specific type and rank of the bee.
There are three main ranks for bees: queens, drones, and worker bees. While each rank of bee experiences the same amount of time as an egg, their life expectancy after hatching varies drastically.
Female worker bees, who are the most plentiful in a bee colony, lead busy lives. Their entire adult lives are consumed with a variety of tasks that can be essentially considered housecleaning: cleaning the brood cells, nursing the larvae, attending to the whims of the queen bee, producing wax and repairing the comb, and even guarding the comb against attack. And you thought you had a poor work-life balance.
If these worker bees are born during the summertime, they can expect to toil day and night for about five to seven weeks before dying. However, worker bees born during the winter may live as long as four to six months, since the wintertime generally inhibits the activities of bees, ultimately prolonging their lives.
Drones hardly have it better. Most drones’ birth tends to line up with the start of spring, the start of the mating season. Drone bees lives are focused almost entirely on reproduction, but they may aid the worker bees in temperature regulation if the need arises. The majority of a typical drone’s life is spent making flights to find a virgin queen to mate with, but only a select few will actually manage to succeed. However, the act of procreation is such a self-destructive and violent event for the drone, resulting in massive damage to its abdomen, and almost certainly ends in death. While most drones who are unable to mate can expect to live around 3 months if they are unable to mate, those still alive by wintertime are driven out of the comb to preserve resources.
Queen bees, of all the types of bees, tend to live the longest by far. As long as the queen is disease free, it is not unusual for a queen bee to live around 3 to 4 years. Compared to worker bees and drones, who lives barely eclipse half a year at best, queen bees have definitely won the genetic lottery.
That’s not to say the lives of queen bees is all fun and games, however. The life of the queen is focused entirely on reproducing for the colony, and this can mean horrible things if the queen does not produce larvae up to the standards expected by the colony. Newly minted virgin queen bees, desperate for the role as top queen bee, attempt to seek and destroy the current leader of the colony. In a process called supersedure, the current queen bee and the virgin queen bee have a fight to the death for supremacy in the colony. Talk about a toxic work environment.
As you can expect, this would have an effect on the average lifespan of queen bees. However, queen bees who are able to survive these fights to the death can expect to last around 2 to 4 years before succumbing to old age.
As you can see, an innocent question like “How long do honey bees live” can sometimes have long-winded answers that are not nearly as straightforward as one would expect. Hopefully, you managed to take something from this article. The next time you get into a conversation with your friends about the lifespans of bees, you’ll be able to impress them with your newfound knowledge.