European Honey Bee

Apis mellifera

Characteristics

SIZE: Also known as the western honey bee, European honey bees vary in size according to their type (queen, worker or drone), but all are under an inch long. Worker bees (10-15mm) are slightly smaller than drones (15-17mm). Queens are the largest (18-20mm).

COLOR: Like other bees, European honey bees are known for their yellowish color and characteristic black stripes along their abdomens.

BEHAVIOR: European honey bees undergo complete metamorphosis with four stages: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. Queens develop the fastest, typically in 15-16 days, followed by workers at 21 days and drones at 24 days.

Honey bees commonly feed on pollen and nectar from flowers, which can be returned to their colony and stored to create honey.

Western honey bees, like other bees, are known to sting. However, only female worker bees will sting and this typically only occurs if they feel threatened or provoked. While painful, most stings are harmless unless an individual has an allergy. In severe cases, anaphylaxis (an extreme allergic reaction) can occur and death could result, usually in association with respiratory dysfunction. However, this only happens in about one percent of cases, consisting mostly of adults over the age of 40 who have been stung in the head or face.

Habitats

European honey bees were introduced to North America in 1622. As their name suggests, they originated in Europe, Western Asia and Africa but have now spread to all continents except Antarctica. They are generally found near areas with plenty of flowers and food sources, including meadows, wooded areas and gardens.

They live in colonies numbering in the thousands. They are social insects, and each colony has a caste system that dictates the roles and duties the bees perform.

Queens are the only reproductive females in the colony, and they can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day. These bees develop after being fed a combination of pollen, nectar and royal jelly, a special food produced by young workers. They typically have larger, fuller abdomens than the other bees and a longer lifespan of two to three years.

Unfertilized bee eggs develop into drones. Drones are male honey bees, and their only role is to mate with the queen. They do not have stingers.

Worker bees are females that have been fed a typical diet of pollen and nectar. They are the most numerous in the hive, and they perform a variety of duties ranging from building and cleaning cells, and preparing them for eggs, to guarding the hive and foraging for food. Each worker bee has specialized pollen sacs known as corbiculas on its hind legs, which allow them to carry pollen back to the colony.

Tips for Control

Honey bees are known for absconding from the nest, or “swarming.” This occurs when a new queen emerges and takes a large number of worker bees to a new location with her. These swarms are frequently seen in trees and, while they can be unsettling, are generally harmless. The swarm may use a tree or other structure as a temporary home while workers search for a new suitable location for the colony.

If a hive or colony is present, large numbers of worker bees may be seen flying around the location and traveling in and out of its entrance.

Because honey bees are pollinators and valuable insects in the ecosystem, it’s important that they are handled with care. Any time an infestation is suspected, professionals should be called to ensure the situation is handled safely, both for the bees and the humans involved. If possible, hives will be relocated rather than destroyed. To do this, you can either call a beekeeper, or call Terminix® and we can help find a solution.