2 minute read


Social Bees

Honey bees and bumble bees are two of the 500 species of bees which are social. Their colonies or hives range in size from several hundred to as many as 80,000 inhabitants. They are organized within a rigid caste system, where members of a caste carry out specific tasks. The social system consists of a queen bee, male drones, and worker bees. The queen bee is responsible for laying eggs, which the drones have fertilized, and the worker bees build the nest and care for the fertilized eggs and larvae.

The female worker bees differ in structure from the queen bee. They have pollen sacs in their rear legs, which the queen bee does not have. Workers also have wax glands and other differences in their head structure. Their life span, usually a season, is shorter than that of the queen bee, who lives on the average for several years. Worker bees are not capable of mating, but if a queen bee is not present in the hive, their ovaries do develop and they become capable of laying eggs that become drones. Drones are not constructed for collecting pollen. They are hatched from unfertilized eggs that the queen lays by withholding sperm. While the queen bee has a life span of several years, the drone dies when he has impregnated the queen.

Bumble bees are social bees and are characteristically black, yellow, and hairy. After mating in the fall, a queen will hibernate over the winter, while the workers and drones from the past season's colony die before winter. In the following spring, the queen begins a new nest, lays her eggs, and spends her time protecting them and sipping from a honey pot. She is often compared to a mother hen hatching her eggs. A favorite nesting place for bumble bees is an abandoned mouse nest.

When the larvae mature in about 10 days, they construct a cocoon for their pupal stage. After several weeks, female workers leave their cocoons to take up the work of building the nest. Males and potential queens are hatched later in the season. Bumble bees are important for the pollination of red clover, which is an important field crop in agriculture. Plants that bloom eight to nine weeks before clover are planted near clover fields to lure bumble bees to the area with a supply of food before the red clover comes into bloom. This ensures the bumble bees will be present when it is time to pollinate the crop.

The stingless bee flourishes in Central and South America. Before European honey bees were introduced in the Western Hemisphere, these bees supplied honey and wax to communities in these regions. The wax was also used as casting material for the molding of gold jewelry. There are several hundred species of stingless bees in tropical regions and their colonies range from several hundred to as many as 80,000 individual bees. They use a blend of wax, resin, and mud to build their nests, which may have walls as thick as eight inches. Eggs are laid in the nest with a store of food and the cells are sealed. New nests are created in preparation for the departure of a new, young queen from the old nest, and workers and males follow to join her.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ballistic galvanometer to Big–bang theoryBees - Bee Families, Solitary Bees, Social Bees, Honey Bees, Beekeeping, Killer Bees