How Long Do Bees Live ?

Bee Foraging On An Easter Hyacinth
Bee Foraging on Hyacinth At Easter

“How long do bees live ?” It all depends. A typical beekeeperly answer. But everything really does depend on which month a bee is born in.

A summer bee will have a short life-span, sometimes just six sun-kissed weeks. A winter bee, on the other hand, can live for six whole months ! Why the big difference ?

When a Queen lays an winter bee egg in early September, for example, that bee will hatch in October and only graduate to exhausting forage activities in November. By then there is very little forage to be had: a smattering of ivy, perhaps, as the bees settle down for winter. So a winter bee will live longer as a result of having less wear and tear on her system from foraging. This sedentary life-style is reinforced by a sprinkling of  “fat bodies” (which are protein fat parcels stored in the bees’ head and abdomen to help them overwinter successfully) to bolster energy reserves.

A summer bee is relatively stream-lined: a bee hatched today will be set to work on a sequence of tasks, mundane hive chores including brood comb cleaning, egg & larval feeding, receiving food from other bees by trophallaxis and storing it in the honeycomb, making Royal Jelly to feed the eggs of Queen, worker and drone bee alike, fanning the honey to make its moisture content fall below the 20% level needed to prevent fermentation, wax manufacturing and – it’s a long list – on to foraging.

So today’s summer bee will probably expire, gloriously aloft on a clear blue sky with bulging saddle-bags of pollen, in May’s splendour.

As an insight into the sheer determination of a bee at work, take a look at this valiant forager, which I found taking a bit of a breather on the grass on Easter Sunday before climbing up a dead-nettle to scramble into the sky again, hiveward bound. Attagirl !

We’re all mortal. But if you could chose, which bee-lifestyle would you prefer ? A winter bee’s cosy, clannish existence, lasting from one calendar year into the next, or the summer bee’s relentless scramble into the sky, with a life expectancy as short and glorious as a WWII Spitfire pilot ?

4 Replies to “How Long Do Bees Live ?”

    1. All good points, Emily. I wonder if I should explain that bees confined to their winter hive by the weather can store up their excrement in their gut? Until the first mild day of Spring. Best not to hang your washing out to dry near a bee-hive on that particular day, though. No, perhaps I’d better not explain it. Oops !

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