Honey Bee Facts

Honey bees are just one of many species of bee in the UK. They belong to a group known as social bees, as they live in colonies; while solitary bee species live alone. However, among the social bees, honey bees are unique as their colonies survive from year to year - whereas, bumble bees, for example, survive just one season, as only their queen survives the winter by hibernating ready to start a new colony in the spring.

Whilst a honey bee colony and its queen can live for a number of years, the worker and drone bees have a shorter life span e.g. a worker bee lives for about 6 weeks during the summer months. To survive through the winter, a honey bee colony builds up a store of honey over the summer months collected from the nectar of flowers. The honey in excess of their needs is the beekeeper's reward. To produce 1/2 kg (1 lb) of honey, bees visit over 10,000 flowers and travel 75,000 km. An average colony can collect 150 kg a year, but only 15 to 20 kg of this may be taken by the beekeeper. However, the value of honey bees to the enviroment as pollinators is far greater than their commercial value as honey producers. 

Bees have four stages in their life cycle - egg, larva, pupa and adult. The majority of bees in a colony are called workers - they are infertile females, who feed the larvae, clean the hive and forage for nectar and pollen. There is only one queen in a colony, who is a fertile female and lays all the eggs. In summer, there are also a few hundred male bees called drones in a colony - their job is to mate with new queens produced during the swarming season. A colony may build up to 50,000 bees by July, but dwindle to 10,000 by the end of winter.

Even if you are not a beekeeper, you can become an Associate Member and support bees and beekeeping - and learn more about bees at our meetings.

Swarming is the way in which new honey bee colonies are created. A colony raises a new queen, at which point the old queen leaves the hive with about half the workers to form another colony. On leaving the hive, they first cluster in a swarm nearby e.g. on a tree. When a few bees, acting as scouts, have found a suitable new home, the rest of the swarm follows. A swarm is typically the size of a rugby ball; it may cluster for a few hours or even a day or two. If you find a swarm, contact one of our swarm liaison officers, who will endeavour to get a beekeeper to remove the swarm.