Honey Bee

Apis mellifera

Copyright, Mark Cassino

Honey Bees are an animal most of us learn about very early on, one way or another. In Summer, many people step on Honey Bees and get stung while walking barefoot on a lawn.

Honey Bees are usually very gentle creatures who mind their own business. They are too busy to worry about people or other animals.

Honey Bees are normally about 3/4 of an inch long. Most bees are workers, which are female, but some are male, called "drones." Workers are slightly smaller than drones. All Honey Bees are reddish brown and black, with orangish-yellow rings on the abdomen (back part of body). The head, antennae, and legs are black. Honey Bees have thick, pale hair on the thorax (middle part of body).

Honey Bees live in a nest, called a "hive." A single hive can have up to 80,000 bees, mostly workers. It is usually located in a hollow tree.

The hive is ruled over by a queen bee. She is the largest bee in the hive, and she is the only female to mate. Males usually just hang around; their only purpose is to mate with the queen. Then they die. The workers do all of the work inside and outside of the hive. Their jobs include: caring for larvae (baby bees), making wax, building honeycomb, cleaning up the hive, storing pollen, making honey, guarding the hive, collecting pollen and nectar.

Honeycomb is layers of wax cells (little rooms) made into a hexagonal (six-sided) shape. The queen will lay eggs in the cells and Honey Bee babies, called larvae, will hatch. Larvae will eventually pupate (make a coccoon in their cells), and hatch out as adult bees.

Honey Bees eat nectar and pollen from flowers. Nectar is the liquid in a flower, and pollen is a powdery substance which must be transferred from one flower to another to make more flowers. Larvae eat honey.

Queen bees eat royal jelly. Royal jelly is a paste made by worker bees.

The queen lays eggs which become either males, workers, or new queens, depending on the time of year and the age of the hive. After she makes new queens, she will leave the nest with some workers to start a new hive.

The first new queen will kill all the others, and then she will be the queen of the old hive.


Can you see the queen in this picture? >

When Honey Bees seek out nectar and pollen to make honey with, they visit many different types of flowers, including clover, dandelions, goldenrod, fruit trees, and milkweed.

Once at the flower, the worker bee drinks as much nectar as she can hold. When she gets back to the hive, she passes the nectar on to another worker. This worker holds the nectar on her tongue until the water evaporates (leaves the nectar to go back into the air). She is left with honey on her tongue, which is stored in the hive.

Bees eat their store of honey in the winter, when there is no food.

When a bee finds a good place with lots of flowers, she marks the spot with a scent. She then goes back to the hive and does a little "dance" which tells the other bees the distance and direction to go. This communication helps the hive locate good places so they don't waste time always looking for flowers.

Honey Bees are attracted to flowers with bright colors, but they cannot see red. Plants, which have bright flowers so that insects will pollinate them, have to rely on some other animal (like a butterfly or hummingbird) if they have red flowers.

When a bee enters a flower, it has to go deep down to get to the nectar. While it drinks nectar, the bee gets covered with pollen. The bee also collects the pollen in its pollen basket (part of its hind legs). When the bee moves on to another flower, some of the pollen from the first flower rubs off on the second flower. This is pollination. Now the plant will drop its flower and make a fruit with seeds in it. The seeds may grow into a new plant. The bees cannot live without the plants and the plants cannot live without the bees.

Worker bees have a stinger which is sharp and has a barb on it (like a fishhook). The stinger is attached to a venom gland in the abdomen. Honey Bees only sting if they, or the hive, are in danger. If a Honey Bee stings a wasp, because the wasp has soft tissue, the bee can pull her stinger out and sting again. However, if she stings an animal with tougher tissue, such as a frog or a human, the barb gets caught and the stinger tears out of the abdomen, along with the poison gland. This will kill the Honey Bee.

The venom is what makes the beesting hurt. A muscle attached to the venom gland continues to pump poison into the wound, even after the bee is gone. Beestings, are not really dangerous unless you are allergic to bees!



Honey Bees will usually leave people alone, but they are attracted to some soaps, perfumes, and hair sprays. If one comes near you, it is probably confused. Once it realizes you have no nectar, it will leave you alone.

Many predators avoid Honey Bees because of their sting, but others eat them.

The worst predator for Honey Bees is the Varroa Mite. Varroa Mites are tiny arachnids (spider cousins). Varroa Mites weaken the Honey Bee's immune system, which makes them vulnerable to diseases. The picture to the right show Honey Bees covered with Varroa Mites (the tiny red creatures).

Additional Media

Honey Bee
Honey Bee Stinging Human
Virginia Tech Entomology Department
Honey Bee Stinger
Virginia Tech Entomology Department
Honey Bee Feeding(side view)
Virginia Tech Entomology Department
Hone Bee Feeding (top view)
Virginia Tech Entomology Department
Honey Bee Swarm
Honey Bee Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
Honey Bee's Head Under a Microscope
Link to Image
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:



Eastern Yellow Jacket

American Sycamore

Varroa Mite Pa

Common Milkweed

Wood Frog

Black Oak

Goldenrod Po

Common Dandelion


Black Willow

Black Willow Po

Lizard's Tail

Largemouth Bass

Yellow Poplar

Bull Thistle Po

Red Clover

Least Shrew

American Elm

Common Milkweed Po

Black Willow

American Toad

Virginia Pine

Yellow Poplar Po

Red Maple

Green Darner

Red Maple

Red Maple Po

Bull Thistle

Goldenrod Spider

Eastern White Pine

American Elm Po

Yellow Poplar

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Least Shrew SP

American Elm

Chinese Mantid

Flowering Dogwood Po

Flowering Dogwood

Great Crested Flycatcher

Highbush Blueberry Po

Highbush Blueberry

Black and Yellow Argiope

American Holly Po

American Holly

Common Grackle

Pickerelweed Po


CommonWater Strider

Common Dandelion Po

Spotted Jewelweed

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Spotted Jewelweed Po

Japanese Honeysuckle

Lizard's Tail Po

Devil's Beggar-tick

Japanese Honeysuckle Po

Greater Bladderwort

Devil's Beggar-tick Po

Spotted Joe-pye Weed

Greater Bladderwort Po

Common Mullein

Common Mullein Po

* Honey Bees also have a negative impact on nature, because they are not native to the United States. They were brought here from Europe in the 1600's. They directly compete with some native species of bees which are close to becoming extinct since they must compete with Honey Bees.

Relationship to Humans:

Honey Bees are very important animals. Humans rely on them to pollinate crops, especially fruit trees such as oranges and peaches. If Honey Bees didn't transfer pollen from flower to flower, we would have a difficult time growing fruit! People also eat honey and use wax from honeycomb to make candles and other products. Honey Bee venom is used to make medicine to cure arthritis.


Apis mellifera


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