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I’ve been asked quite a few times how long do bees live and the answer is certainly not cut and dry. I mean, bees are enormously long-lived creatures but some can live much longer than others.
The lifespan of a honeybee could be as little as 2 weeks for workers or as long as several years for the queen.
In order to understand the lifespan and life cycle of a bee, we also have to consider the species. Some types of bees are much more long-lived than others. In this article, I’ll go into more detail on the subject.
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Let’s start with the drones; these are the male bees and their sole purpose is to mate. Once they do this, they quickly die. However, mating aside, these male honey bees typically don’t live any longer than around 20 to 30 days.
The worker bees are always female and the most abundant within the hive. Their lifespan varies quite significantly and much of this is determined by when they were born and raised. For example, those born in the spring or summer would generally live for anywhere between two and six weeks. This short life is filled with activities such as foraging, taking care of the young, and making honeycombs.
However, if a female worker bee is born and raised in the fall then there is far less work to do during this time when the queen is no longer producing eggs. Instead of caring for the larvae, workers will huddle around the queen to keep her warm throughout the colder months and in this case, they might live for as long as 20 weeks.
So what about the queen? Well, she’s the longest-lived honey bee of the entire hive and generally speaking, will live for around two years. However, there are some reports of queen honeybees living for as long as five or six years! This typically happens when the queen is as healthy as possible and the colony isn’t exposed to any disease.
Another of the most commonly spotted bees in North America is the bumble bee. This species does not form massive colonies like the honey bee. Where honey bees can live in numbers that go into the tens of thousands, bumble bees usually only nest in the hundreds. In some cases, nests may only contain between 50 and 100 individuals.
The queen bumble bee doesn’t live as long as her honeybee cousins and usually only survive for one year. Over the winter, the queen will go into hibernation before emerging in spring to lay her already fertilized eggs and raise her young. Within her young are new queens and they will go through the same process as their queen, fattening themselves up and mating before going into hibernation and the cycle repeats.
There is a dispute between scientists and various studies as to how long a worker bumblebee will survive. However, typically, they live between two and six weeks but this largely depends on the species. There are around 250 bumble bee species found globally. One thing that scientists can agree on is that the longest-lived worker bumbles are those that are more active and spend more time foraging.
Finally, there are the male bumble bees or drones. Much like the honeybee, the males have the shortest lifespan. Normally, a drone bumble won’t live for any longer than two weeks and their main aim in life is to mate. Once they do this, they die!
Carpenter bees are an abundant type of bee with more than 500 species around the world. They are found everywhere apart from Antarctica and are very common in North America.
For the first year of their lives, carpenter bees are classed as solitary in as much that they do not live within a colony. Even when they do inhabit a nest, the numbers are very low compared to other bee species and there is only one female within the nest capable of reproducing; the queen.
Queen carpenter bees tend to live for around one year but there are variations on this. She will lay her eggs before summer and will typically live for the remainder of the season but it’s unlikely that any individual queen will see two winters.
The worker carpenter bees are all female and one of their primary jobs is to build the nest. Once she finds a suitable location, the female will bore a tunnel into which she will lay her eggs. Once the setup is complete, the drones will be responsible for keeping guard and protecting the nest.
Unlike male honeybees, drone carpenters don’t necessarily die once they have mated. In fact, it’s possible for them to mate with several females during the breeding season. Despite this, the males will still die after one season and, after hibernation, a new generation will be born.
When I speak to people, the general consensus is that bees don’t live for a very long time. For the most part, this is true with many individuals living no more than a few weeks. In some cases, their lives may be even shorter.
However, some bees, like the queen bumblebee, can live for a year in order to raise their young. There are even reports of some queen honey bees living up to five years although it’s much more common for them to live for around two years.
The length of time a bee lives depends on its species and its role within the colony. For example, drones’ main aim in life is to mate and after this, they’ll die, So, if you have ever asked how long do bees live, the answer could be one of many.