The Lifecycle and Behaviour Of Honey Bees

Bee Man Robert smoking bees

Recently, a couple of residents at EBV experienced a swarm of bees choose their apartment balcony tower as their temporary housing solution. EBV’s bee expert, Robert from Bee Sustainable assured our residents there was nothing to fear, in fact what was happening, was just nature at work.

So why are we telling you this? Well, we want to educate our audience on the natural life cycles of bees, their behaviours and the incredible work they do for all of mankind.

So, let’s dig a little deeper into some bee knowledge.

bees swarming in a cluster

The Benefits of Pollination

A honey bee plays a vital role in ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. These fascinating creatures are vital to sustaining healthy food sources around the world, through the process of pollination.

Our ecosystem is protected and maintained by these busy little bees, along with animal and plant species that rely on their pollination for food sources.

Pollination occurs when a honey bee collects nectar and pollen from the stamens (the male reproductive organ) and lands on top of a new flower, where the stigma (the female reproductive organ) is located. The pollen will stick to the hair of their legs and shake off once they reach the flower, commencing the fertilisation process. Once completed, the flower will begin to grow fruit. Over 65% of the fruit and vegetables that we consume is pollinated by bees.

Honey bees have been recorded to visit around 150 flowers per floraging flight. With over 15 flights taken a day, this equates to over 1,000 flowers pollinated daily – hence the term busy bee!

The Worker Bee Waggle Dance

Bees work in large colonies, consisting of around 2,000 worker bees on average. The role of worker bees is to find and gather food for the rest of the colony.

When a worker bee lands on a good source of nectar and pollen they recruit more worker bees to help collect the food. They do this through dance.

The worker bees will return to the hive where one bee puts on a show for the rest of the colony. Through dance, the regurgitation of nectar, and the lingering scent of the flower, the location of the food source is revealed. They then take flight and collect the food they need.

The waggle dance is not only adorable but is necessary as the bee is able to communicate the distance and direction of the flower from the hive. The bee will waggle back and forth moving in a straight line. It will then circle back and start the dance again. This process is continued, and the longer the middle line, the further the flower is from the hive.

The Queen Bee

Did you know that the queen bee is the largest and longest-living type of bee? Their lifespan is around 2-4 years, whereas a worker bee will only live up to 6 weeks on average.

Her role, being the only sexually reproductive bee, is to lay eggs all day to spawn the next generation of bees. When the time comes for a new queen bee to rule, the worker bees feed a number of larvae (baby bees) a special royal jelly. This royal jelly triggers a different development for the young larva, as it’s a richer food than what’s fed to worker larva. This allows the offspring to develop into a fertile queen bee.

The first queen bee to hatch will then instinctively kill the remaining egg cells so she is the only queen bee left in the hive. The existing queen bee, if she’s still alive, will usually be killed off by the worker bees or in some cases will be allowed to live out the rest of her natural life.

The new queen bee needs 5-6 days in the hive for her wings to open up and stiffen. She will then be tasked with a trial flight with her worker bees to ensure she is strong enough for her role and to make sure she doesn’t go missing from the hive.

Once this happens she goes on her mating flight.

Mating Flight

The mating flight takes place roughly nine days after hatching. The purpose of this flight (if you haven’t guessed already) is to mate with around 20-25 male bees, known as drones. This will allow her to collect enough sperm to last the rest of her life.

A drone’s existence is centered around their queen, their only role being to eat and mate. They die as soon as they have fulfilled their duty, or if they last until winter, they’re ejected by the worker bees.

At EBV, these mating flights usually happen around Merri Creek. A queen bee will lay some 2,000 eggs per day to produce worker bees for her hive. She then returns to her hive and the life cycle of the queen bee and her hive starts over!

close up of bees swarming

Bee Swarms

The swarming process of bees is a natural part of their reproductive life cycle. Colonies are often stimulated to swarm during springtime when the weather is warmer due to the abundance of nectar and pollen that’s released into the air.

The queen, together with her 20,000 odd worker bees, leave the overcrowded hive and clusters on a nearby object – usually a small tree or shrub. The swarm will often remain for a day or two while scout bees (worker bees) search for a new home or location. At EBV, this meant they landed on a high parapet separating two apartments.

People can often find a swarm of bees like this to be quite intimidating, but the reality is that during this time bees are exceptionally gentle and non-aggressive. They have just gone through the first week of their house-hunting period and their bodies are full of honey which makes them quite docile. Their only worry is being separated from the colony. Their priority is to make sure this doesn’t happen.

So what happened to the Bees at EBV?

Sadly, the scout bees at EBV had a rather difficult time trying to find their new home.

The good news? The bees moved lower down to a spot we could reach them, and now reside in a lovely weatherproof house in a garden building comb where they spend their days foraging for honey.
We love our bees here at EBV and continue to support the reproduction and life cycle of our fellow honey bee by working with experts such as Robert to ensure we’re doing our part to protect them.

Have you enjoyed learning about honey bees? Is there something that you’re learnt today that you didn’t know already? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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