Honey Bee Life Span: Life Cycle — Phases of Honeybees

Honey Bee Life Span

The life span of a honey bee depends on various factors. Worker honey bees have a life span of only six weeks during honey production seasons, when they are extremely active foraging for food, storing nectar, feeding larvae and producing honey. However, the death of a generation of workers does not cause the entire colony to perish.

The life span of a honey bee colony depends upon the survival of a variety of bees within it. If only the queen lives, for instance, a colony cannot survive, as she cannot produce honey or pollinate flowers on her own.

A honey bee colony is an organized society of three adult castes: queens, workers and drones. Each caste has certain responsibilities to the preservation of their hive. Queens, who are responsible for producing and laying eggs, live for an average of two to three years, but have been known to live five years. Domesticated honey bee queens may die earlier, as beekeepers «re-queen» the hives frequently. A single queen lays thousands of eggs throughout her life.

Queens produce unfertilized eggs that hatch into drones, or male honey bees. The main purpose of a drone is to mate with the queen, and their life span relates directly to this task. If a mature drone successfully mates with a queen, he will die soon after the mating flight. If he is unsuccessful in the mating flight, the drone will be ejected from his hive at the end of the active summer season and will eventually die of cold or starvation.

Worker bees are the smallest members of the colony, but have the largest number of individuals: a hive can contain 20,000 to 80,000 workers. The life span of worker honey bees ranges from five to seven weeks. The first few weeks of a worker’s life are spent working within the hive, while the last weeks are spent foraging for food and gathering pollen or nectar.

The life span of the honey bee is also determined by pollen consumption and protein abundance, as well as the honey bee’s level of activity. Queens, who spend their lives laying eggs inside the hive, could live for several years; workers who labor during busy seasons cannot survive as long.


Moss bumblebee: photo, description and lifestyle of a close relative of the honey bee

Bumblebees are social creatures and have an interesting lifecycle. They live in a nest ruled by a queen who is helped by smaller female (worker) bumblebees.

The lifecycle begins in spring, when rising temperatures awaken a queen bumblebee that has been hibernating alone in the soil. The queen will have spent the entire winter underground, using up reserves of energy stored as fat in her body. When she first emerges, she feeds on flowers, drinking nectar to gain energy. She will then begin to search for a suitable nest site. Frequent nesting sites include holes in the ground, tussocky grass, bird boxes and under garden sheds.

When she has chosen her nest, the queen will begin to collect pollen from flowers, to bring back to the nest. She forms a mound of pollen and wax (which she secretes from her body) and lays her first brood of eggs. She also collects nectar which she stores in a pot-shaped structure made of wax which is positioned in front of her mound. The queen keeps the eggs warm by sitting on her wax ‘nest’ and shivering her muscles to keep warm. Sipping from the nectar-pot gives her enough energy to incubate the eggs for several days until little white grub-like larvae emerge. These larvae are fed on pollen and nectar which the queen goes back-and-forth to collect from nearby flowers. Once they have eaten enough, after around two weeks, they spin a cocoon, inside which they develop into adult bees.

Early summer
This first brood of offspring are all ‘worker’ females, and will carry out work inside and outside of the nest. Some will guard or clean the nest, while others will forage for nectar and pollen from flowers. Some of the nectar will be consumed by the working bees, but much of it will be brought back to the colony to feed to other workers and the next batch of offspring. From this point on, the queen will not leave the nest. Instead, she will remain inside, laying more eggs and ordering her workers around.

Late summer
As the season progresses nests begin producing offspring which are not workers. New queens (females) and males are produced in order to allow the colony to reproduce. The male bees leave the nest and do not normally return. They do not collect pollen and spend their time feeding on nectar from flowers and trying to mate. New queens leave the nest and mate soon after. Mating behaviour varies between species but typically involves several males competing in one way or another. Most males never mate.

Once mated, new queens feed heavily on pollen and nectar, storing the energy as fat inside their bodies. This fat will be used to provide energy during a long hibernation. The old queen and her nest will naturally come to an end as summer turns into autumn. Only the new queens survive until the following spring, by hibernating underground.

The Cuckoo bumblebee lifecycle
Cuckoo bumblebees are a group of related species that are descended from ‘true’ or ‘social’ bumblebees. However, cuckoo bumblebees, like their namesake the cuckoo bird, use the nest of true bumblebees to raise their own offspring.

The female (there is no queen) cuckoo bumblebee enters the nest of the true bumblebee, and often hides in the nest debris for a while. Eventually, the cuckoo female may kill the social bumblebee queen, and lay her own eggs in the nest. The worker bumblebees will then unwittingly raise the offspring of the cuckoo bumblebee, without realising that they are not related to them. The cuckoo bumblebees become adult bumblebees that leave the nest and mate with others of the same species, before the females go into hibernation.


Moss bumblebee: photo, description and lifestyle of a close relative of the honey bee

Please note: Staff from Bumblebee Conservation Trust do not move bumblebee nests.

  • What bumblebees look for in a nest site

Nest sites vary between bumblebee species. Most of the more common species prefer dry, dark cavities and nests can turn up in a variety of unexpected places.

Some nest underground, in places such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and in compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make nests in thick grass, while others make nests in bird boxes, lofts and in trees. One of the species which nests in bird boxes and lofts is the Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). With this species you may often see ‘swarms’ of bees flying around the nest (visit our YouTube channel to watch some videos). This is perfectly normal, and these are male bees, which often fly around nests, waiting for queens to come out so that they can mate. Male bumblebees cannot sting, so please don’t be alarmed if you see this.

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Common carder bee nest

When searching for a nest, the queen will investigate the environment using both sight and smell. When she finds a potentially suitable site she will investigate by going into the hole. If it proves unsuitable she will continue searching until she finds a nest site. The low-flying zig zag flight of a nest-site searching queen is seen in spring and is very distinctive.

In gardens, bumblebees tend to nest in relatively undisturbed areas such as shaded corners. Some will also nest under structures such as sheds. They do not like to nest in areas with prolonged exposure to the sun as this can heat the nest too much.

Bumblebee nests vary in size depending on the species and time of year. A well-established nest may contain up to 400 bumblebees. Honeybee hives typically contain 50,000 bees so bumblebee nests are very small in comparison.

  • How do I provide nesting sites for bumblebees?

You can help bumblebees by providing them with somewhere to nest. The first step of course is to provide lots of the right kinds of flowers in spring. At this time of year the nest-searching queen will be attracted to gardens where she can find plenty of food to help her produce her first batch of eggs. For information on the best flowers to plant for bumblebees, visit our Bee kind tool .

Once she is ready to lay, the queen will start looking for a nest site. She flies low over the ground in a zig-zag pattern, stopping to investigate holes in the ground, or piles of leaves. It can be quite difficult to encourage bumblebees to nest in a specific place – even specially designed nest boxes have limited success. However, here is a design to build a suitable nesting site in case you want to give it a go.

What you need

  • A flowerpot (> 20cm in diameter), a piece of slate/tile and a bit of tube or pipe.


  1. Sink the upturned flower pot into the ground and use the slate/tile to cover any drainage holes to keep the rain out.
  2. Run a hose or pipe underground to the pot, leaving a prominent entrance. Be sure to make drainage holes in the pipe.
  3. Finally, fill with a generous handful of nesting material, such as old bedding from a pet mouse, guinea pig, etc.

Click here to download the full guide to making bumblebee nests in your garden.

  • Inside a bumblebee nest

Inside a bumblebee nest will be a queen, who lays almost all of the eggs. Around her, she will have a number of worker bees, who help to look after the nest, collect food, and raise new offspring. Unlike the distinctive honeybee nest, which has tightly packed hexagonal cells for raising offspring and storing honey, the inside of the bumblebee nest can appear quite messy and disorganised.

Bumblebee nests can look quite untidy

You might also find a number of dead bees and grubs near the nest entrance. This is because worker bees will remove dead and dying bees from the nest to keep it clean and free of disease.

  • What to do if you find a bumblebee nest

If you find a bumblebee nest, consider yourself very lucky! They aren’t very common, and can be difficult to find. Download our essential guide to bumblebee nests here .

We recommend that if you find a bumblebee nest, it is best to leave it alone and avoid disturbing it. If you do approach close to it, be sure not to breathe on the nest, as this can make the bees behave defensively, and they may sting. Please note that though bumblebees are not generally aggressive, they might get aggravated if you interfere with the nest itself. They don’t form swarms, but you may see a cloud of male bees flying outside the nest, as in the video below. They should just get on with life and do their own thing – doing a wonderful job of pollinating plants, wildflowers and your vegetables. Even the very largest nests produce very little “traffic” in and out, so you won’t see threatening numbers of bees at any point during the summer.

If the bees are living under your shed, and are coming up through holes in the floor, then this is probably because it’s the easiest way in and out for them. If you make a different hole, from the outside of the shed, and then block up the hole they were using, then they should happily take to their new route.

Bumblebee nests don’t live for long, so the nest should die naturally within a few months. After that time, the new queens will have flown from the nest to hibernate in the soil elsewhere.

It is possible that a different bumblebee queen will find and use the same hole next year. The old nest will die in the autumn though, and all the bees will have left or died. If you don’t want bees in the same place again you can block the entrance to the nest up after it dies down to prevent a new queen finding the nest site in later years.

Below is a video is a ‘drone cloud’ – a group of male bumblebees hovering outside a nest waiting for females to emerge so they can mate. This behaviour is only found in the Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). The males have no sting, so please do not be alarmed if you see this.

If you have bumblebees nesting in your loft or in the eaves of your roof, please read this article for information and guidance about Tree bumblebees.

Moving bumblebee nests

We very much hope that people will only try to move nests that are in a particularly inconvenient locations. Underground nests will be difficult to move, as you’ll create a considerable amount of disturbance as you dig down to the nest. These nests can also have long tunnels that lead to the nest, so can be difficult to find.

Staff from Bumblebee Conservation Trust do not move bumblebee nests . If you do need to move a nest you will either need to do this yourself or get help from someone experienced in doing so. Please note, female bumblebees can sting and are more likely to do so if their nest is disturbed. If you decide to move a nest, it is done at your own risk. Some honey bee-keepers will have some experience in moving bumblebee nests, but this is rare. Pest control companies often destroy the nests (although a few refuse to), so it’s best to avoid using their services for bumblebees unless absolutely necessary. A few companies now specialise in moving nests. While we are unable to recommend any of them, they can be found through search engines.

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To move a nest safely it is best to do it in the dark – when all of the bees will be in the nest and docile. They might buzz a bit but they won’t fly in the dark, so it’s safest to do it then. They don’t see red light well, so if you need to see what you’re doing, put some red plastic film/acetate over a torch or use a red L.E.D. rear cycle light.


Bumblebees are less likely to sting than honeybees and wasps are. However, disturbing the nest can make them behave defensively, and precautions should be taken to prevent stings occurring. While a full bee-keepers’ suit is helpful, it is not necessary. As a minimum, a person moving a nest should wear full length rubber ‘washing up’ gloves, and a long-sleeved top, and cover any exposed skin as best they can.
It has also been found that bumblebees can become alerted to the presence of an intruder if they are breathed upon. Accordingly, it is best to try to avoid breathing on the nest.

Moving nests in bird boxes

Some bumblebees, especially the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), nest in bird boxes and lofts. To move a colony in a bird nest box, follow these instructions:

  • Wear protective clothing, especially gloves.
  • Take a note of where the nest is and how you will reach it when it is dark.
  • Wait until all or most of the workers have returned – this is often well after dusk.
  • When activity quietens down, block up the entrance hole with flexible foam (e.g. from a sponge or scouring pad).
  • Seal up any holes you find around the box using tape, as bumblebees can easily use these to escape from the box when it is being moved.
  • Take the box down, without tipping it over, and keep it on a flat surface until you are ready to move it.
  • Carefully move the box to its new location which should ideally be within a few feet of the old site or over 1km away – see our nest FAQ for more info. It should be at least 5 ft. off the ground and attached to a surface that is not liable to vibration, as this can disturb the bees.
  • Remove the bung the next day, and the bees will leave to explore their new area. It is best to leave it until after midday to remove the bung.

You can read more about the fascinating lives of Tree bumblebees in this article written by Clive Hill. Click here to read it (pdf, 650 kb).

Nests in other places

Bumblebees sometimes nest in places from which it is difficult to remove the nest without killing it. Porches, wall cavities, air vents, eaves and roof soffits have all been recorded. Because of the difficulty in reaching into these places, removing the nests from them cannot be done without help from someone experienced in moving bumblebees.

In these cases, it is important to remember that bumblebees don’t cause any damage to homes. They do not eat wood (like wasps do), and don’t leave behind a big mess. If you can put up with living with the nest nearby, it should die naturally within a few months, and the bees will all leave or die at the end. If you don’t want bees nesting in the same place the following year, block up any entrances to the nest and other suitable nest spaces nearby. If the bees are being bothersome by entering and leaving the nest (e.g. in porches, where they usually fly at head height), you can try to re-route the entrance of the nest using our advice, below.

  • Re-routing bumblebee nest entrances

It is much easier to re-route bumblebee nest entrances to make the bees enter and leave in a different place than it is to move the nest entirely. This is especially useful if the entrance hole brings the bees into close proximity with people. To do this, get a length of flexible tubing that is at least 2cm in diameter. The type of tubing used in sink waste pipes works perfectly. Then, attach the tubing to the nest entrance. Make the junction between these as tight as possible, to avoid having bees coming out of the wrong place. Gaps can be plugged with soil. Then place the other end of the tube wherever you want the new entrance to be. Secure it in place as best you can, and place some ‘landmarks’ around it. The bees use landmarks to navigate, and whenever they leave the nest they will fly around the hole to memorise what features are around it. Anything can work as a landmark, but pebbles, plant pots, etc. all work well.

Now all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the bumblebees in your garden!


Moss bumblebee: photo, description and lifestyle of a close relative of the honey bee

Did you know? Bees see all colors except the color red.

Explore Bees

Bee Facts for Kids

  • Beekeepers use smoke to calm bees when they are collecting honey or relocating a hive.
  • Bees make honey to feed their young and so they have something to eat during the winter.
  • Killer bees have been known to chase people for over a 1/4 mile once they get excited and aggressive.
  • Certain species of bees die after stinging because their stingers, which are attached to their abdomen, have little barbs or hooks on them. When this type of bee tries to fly away after stinging something, part of the abdomen is ripped away.

There are about 20,000 different species of bees in the world. Bees live in colonies that contain the queen bee, the worker bee and the drone. The worker bee and the queen bee are both female, but only the queen bee can reproduce. All drones are male. Worker bees clean the hive, collecting pollen and nectar to feed the colony and they take care of the offspring. The drone’s only job is to mate with the queen. The queen’s only job is to lay eggs.

Bees store their venom in a sac attached to their stinger and only female bees sting. That is because the stinger, called an ovipositor, is part of the female bee’s reproductive design. A queen bee uses her ovipositor to lay eggs as well as sting. Sterile females, also called worker bees, don’t lay eggs. They just use their ovipositors to sting.

Bees see all colors except the color red. That and their sense of smell help them find the flowers they need to collect pollen. Not only is pollen a food source for bees, but also some of the pollen is dropped in flight, resulting in cross pollination. The relationship between the plant and the insect is called symbiosis.

Teachers and students alike can find additional bee facts and information on bee pest control at the official NPMA website.

Bumble Bees

Bumblebees are considered to be beneficial insects because they pollinate crops and plants. They are very social bees and live in large «families».


Unlike honeybees, bumblebees can sting more than once because their stingers are smooth and do not get caught in the skin when they fly away.

  • Size: 1″
  • Shape: Oval, bee shaped
  • Color: Black with yellow stripes
  • Legs: 6
  • Wings: Yes
  • Antenna: Yes
  • Common Name: Bumble bee
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Species: Bombus

Worker bees gather both pollen and nectar from flowers to feed to the larvae and other members of the colony.


Bumblebees often nest in the ground, but can be found above ground around patio areas or decks. They will sometimes build their nests in attics or under roof beams. If disturbed, bumblebees will buzz in a loud volume, and they will aggressively defend their nests.


As part of the aggressive defense of their nests, bumblebees will chase nest invaders for long distances. The bumblebee sting is one of the most painful stings. Swelling and irritation can last for days after you are actually stung.


  • Bumblebees can be prevented through inspection of potential nesting areas and removal of potential nesting materials.
  • Because bumblebees will sting when threatened, homeowners are advised not to address the infestation themselves. A pest management professional or beekeeper should be called in to help.

Find more bumblebee facts in addition to information on bumble bee pest control at the official NPMA website.

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees are solitary bees. They build nests just for themselves and only feed their own young. They get their name from their ability to drill through wood. Carpenter bee stingers are not barbed, so they are able to sting over and over again.

  • Size: 1″
  • Shape: Oval, bee shaped
  • Color: Blue-black
  • Legs: 6
  • Wings: Yes
  • Antenna: Yes
  • Common Name: Carpenter bee
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Species: Xylocopa

Worker bees gather both pollen and nectar from flowers to feed to the larvae and other members of the colony.


Carpenter bees bore through soft woods to lay eggs and protect their larvae as they develop. Female carpenter bees will chew a tunnel into a piece of wood to build a nest gallery. The bits of wood she chews and deposits outside the nest are called «frass». The tunnel openings usually look about one or two inches deep, but they can be up to 10 feet long! These tunnels usually have several rooms where the bees hold their eggs and food.


Carpenter bees do not pose a public health threat, but they can do cosmetic damage to the wood where they build their nests. Carpenter bees are beneficial because they pollinate plants that are ignored by Honeybees.


  • Carpenter bees can drill into almost any wood, but prefer bare wood, so painting and staining wood can sometimes deter them.
  • However, they will sometimes attack stained or painted wood, and their nests can be hard to reach, so a pest management professional or beekeeper should be called in to help.

Find information on carpenter bee pest control at the official NPMA website.


Honeybees live in large «families» and are found all over the world. The honeybee is the only social insect whose colony can survive many years. That is because they huddle together and eat honey to keep themselves alive during the winter months.

Honeybees pollinate more than 100 crops in the U.S.

Their wings flap 11,000 times per minute, which is why it sounds like they are «buzzing». Honeybees can only sting once, because their stingers are barbed and tear off when they try to get away.

  • Size: 1/2″
  • Shape: Oval, bee shaped
  • Color: Golden yellow with brown bands
  • Legs: 6
  • Wings: Yes
  • Antenna: Yes
  • Common Name: Honeybee
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Species: Apis

Honeybees produce honey from pollen and nectar of the plants they pollinate . They store the honey in honeycombs in their nests, which they use to feed their young in colder months.


Honeybee nests vary in size. They typically build their nests in tree crevices, but will occasionally build nests in attics or chimneys.


Honeybees do sting, but they only sting once. The sting can be extremely painful if the stinger is not immediately removed from the skin. Persons allergic to insect stings will have a more severe reaction.


Because honeybee colonies can be extremely large and removal can be very messy, only a pest management professional or experienced beekeeper can safely remove a honeybee nest.

Teachers can find more honeybee facts in addition to information and advice on teaching their kids about honeybee pest control at the official NPMA website.

Killer Bees

Africanized «killer» bees look a lot like regular honeybees, but they have different wing measurements. Africanized bees lives in South America and the Western and Southern United States. They have been known to chase people for over a quarter of a mile once they get excited and aggressive.

Even though they are called «killer» bees, their venom is no more dangerous than regular honeybees. However, these bees tend to attack in larger numbers, which poses a greater danger to humans, especially those who are allergic to bee stings.

Africanized bees can only sting once because their stingers are barbed and tear off when they try to get away.

  • Size: 1/2″
  • Shape: Oval, bee shape
  • Color: Golden yellow with darker bands of brown
  • Legs: 6
  • Wings: Yes
  • Antenna: Yes
  • Common Name: Africanized honey bees
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Species: Apis

Worker bees gather both pollen and nectar from flowers to feed to the larvae and other members of the colony.


Africanized bees have small colonies, so they can build nests in unique places. They have been known to live in tires, crates, boxes and empty cars.


Africanized bee venom is no more dangerous than regular honeybees — they just tend to attack in greater numbers, dramatically increasing the odds of having an allergic reaction to the venom.

If you are chased by Africanized bees, run in a zigzag pattern and seek shelter in a house or car. Do not jump in the water! The bees will just wait around until you come up for air.


  • Use caution when handling items on your property that could contain an Africanized bee nest.
  • Because of the aggressive nature of these pests, a pest management professional or beekeeper should be called in to help.

Students can find more facts about and information on killer bee pest control at the official NPMA website.

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