Bee's Behavior

Secrets of Honeybee Behavior: An In-depth Exploration

Introduction to Honeybee Biology

Honeybees are fantastic creatures with a lengthy history of interactions with humans. In this article, I will discuss honeybee behavior and will explore all aspects I studied, learned, and found from my experience. It is crucial to know the behavior of bees before starting hives for business purposes or just for a hobby. So I tried to collect all the step-by-step information related to bee behavior in this article and you may also click the links in this article to read in-depth information on that particular topic.

A colony of honey bees consists of 50,000-80,000 individuals in a healthy hive. These include thousands of female workers, hundreds of drones, and a single queen bee. The queen is the only fertile female bee in the hive, and her pivotal role is to lay eggs. The colony works as a team and communicates with each other through pheromones and dancing. Like other insects, honey bees undergo complete metamorphosis. This means they develop from egg to larvae to pupa and adult. The queen lays either fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Fertilized ones become workers, while unfertilized ones become drones. 

The workers have features like a stinger, pollen baskets, wax glands, and a long tongue known as a proboscis that helps them to do their tasks. They perform all the functions in the hive, from taking care of the brood to making honey. The drones don’t have a stinger but are larger than the worker bees. Their role is to mate with the queen. When a colony becomes crowded, it splits off in a process known as swarming.

Read more interesting facts about honey bees in the below article – 

Interesting Facts About Honey Bees

Anatomy of the Honey Bee

A honey bee has three body sections: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head sections consist of eyes, antennae, and mouth parts. 

A honey bee has five eyes: two large compound eyes on each side of its head and three simple eyes, also known as ocelli. The ocelli are arranged in a triangular pattern on top of the bee’s head. The compound eyes are easily visible on the sides of the bee’s head. The antennae are used for smelling and feeling.

The mouth parts comprise the mandibles (teeth) and a long tongue, known as a proboscis. The proboscis is used for sucking nectar, water, and honey. 

The Teeth are extensions or toothed edges on their mandibles. These serve the same purpose as teeth in the jaws of animals. They use the toothed mandibles to perform all the hive chores that require grasping or cutting. Mandibles open and close to bite, chew, clean the hive, manipulate wax, etc. All the bees in a colony( workers, drones, and queens) possess toothed mandibles, although they differ in size and shape. Surprisingly, the bees use their teeth first before the stingers or wings to chew their way out of the brood cells.

The thorax is where the legs and wings are attached. A honey bee possesses six legs and two pairs of wings. The abdomen contains essential organs such as the stinger, wax glands, honey stomach, and the respiratory system. 

The bee respiratory system comprises a tracheal system that spreads throughout the body. This system includes spiracles, tracheal sacs, trachea, and tracheoles. The air gets in and out of them through spiracles situated in the thorax and abdomen. The spiracles only allow air in and out at a time.

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Do Bees Feel Pain?

Life Cycle of the Honey Bee

The lifecycle of a honey bee comprises four stages: eggs, larva, pupa, and adult. Like other insects, they undergo a complete metamorphosis. The entire process depends on the type of honey bee( queen, worker, or drone). The queen takes 16 days to mature to adulthood, the drone takes 24 days, while the workers take 18-22 days. Fertilized eggs become female workers, while unfertilized ones become drones. Queens and drones are larger than worker bees. 


The queen bee lays eggs on hexagonal egg cells. It resembles a thin grain of rice. They take three days to hatch into larvae.


The larva resembles a small white grub. It has no legs, wings, or antennae. They are fed with royal jelly in the first three days (queen, workers, and drones). If a larva is destined to be a queen, it is fed with royal jelly throughout the larval stage. This is what promotes queen-like characteristics. The larval stage takes six days.


The larva spins a cocoon around itself and pupates. At this pupal stage, it develops into a recognizable bee with all the features( eyes, legs, wings, etc.). Worker bees cover the cells with beeswax. The pupal stage is what causes the difference in the life cycle of the three honey bee castes.


Young adult bees emerge from the cells by chewing their way through the cappings. The worker bees clean the brood cell and prepare for the next egg. 

The Social Structure of a Bee Colony

Honey bees are social insects meaning they live in well-organized family groups. They are highly evolved and engage in various complex tasks. Their behaviors in environmental control, communication, nest construction, and division of labor make them the most fascinating creatures in the world. A bee colony consists of thousands of workers, hundreds of drones, and a single queen bee. Their excellent organization brings smooth operations of various activities in the hive. The queen’s role is in production. In spring and summer, she lays up to 2500 eggs daily. Her large, long body distinguishes her from the rest of the colony. The worker bee handles all the tasks in the nest, from brood rearing to the collection of food resources. The work of the drone is to mate with the queen bee. 

How is Honeybee Communication?

As social insects that work and live together in a colony, honeybees need to communicate. Unlike humans, they do not use verbal language. They usually dance and use pheromones to share information and make requests. The dance language is used by an individual bee to communicate with others. They also communicate their mood to us through buzzing. Here are the most common dances they use:

The Dance Language of Bees

Round Dance

 A bee performs a round dance to inform other bees of nectar within 10 meters. It runs in small circles while performing this dance. It only communicates the direction of the food. 

Waggle Dance

In this dance, the bee walks straight ahead, shaking its abdomen vigorously and producing a buzzing sound with its wings. This dance informs other bees of the direction, distance, and quality of a nectar source more than 10 meters away. The length and speed of the dance movements communicate the distance. The intensity of the dance shows the sweetness and quantity of nectar. To show the direction, a bee aligns its body in the food location direction relative to the sun. 

Alarm Dance

This dance warns the foragers when a food source is contaminated. To dance, the bee vibrates vigorously and runs in a zigzag motion. 

Whirl Dance

This dance mobilizes the bees to leave the hive and swarm. In this dance, a bee runs in zigzags, shakes its body, and whirls its wings. 

Tremble Dance

Help tells the house bees that a large load of nectar has arrived in the nest for processing. A bee wiggles its wings and walks leisurely, making its body tremble.

Joy dance

Surprisingly, the bees celebrate victories as we do. They perform such a dance when for instance, a queen emerges from a cell. A bee places her legs on another bee and pulses her abdomen up and down. 

Chemical Communication in Bees

Chemical communication, or the use of pheromones, is the most significant and powerful way honey bees use to communicate. They use pheromones in all aspects of their lives, including reproduction, foraging, swarming, mating, and much more. The communication ranges from relatively localized messages with minimal impact to dramatic signals that affect the behavior of an entire colony. These are the most common types of pheromones.

Alarm Pheromones

These are released when a bee stings a human or animal. This attracts other bees in the location and causes them to behave defensively.

Forager Pheromones

These are released by older forager bees to slow the maturing process of nurse bees. This helps regulate the ratio of nurse bees to forager bees, which benefits the hive.

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Queen Pheromones

The pheromones emitted by the queen are most vital in a beehive. They inhibit the ovary development of worker bees and control the bees’ social behavior in the hive. A colony without a queen is very aggressive. 

Brood Recognition Pheromones

This type of pheromone is released by developing larvae and pupae. It communicates to the workers that the brood continues to develop in the brood cells. Through these scents, the larvae compel the workers to feed them. Like the queen pheromones, they inhibit the development of workers’ ovaries. The lack of pheromones signifies to the worker bees that something is wrong with the queen. 

Drone Pheromones

This helps to attract drones in Drone Congregation Areas(DCAs) to mate with queens. These locations are consistent year after year. 

Dufour’s Pheromones

These are present in eggs that are laid by the queen. The odor helps the workers to distinguish eggs laid by queens and those laid by workers. 

Nasonov Pheromones

Worker bees release Nasonov pheromones to help the foragers find their way back to the nest. They raise their abdomens and fan their wings to release the scent. 

Signals Used in Swarm Preparation

Swarming is a natural way of honey bee colony propagation. A strong, healthy colony will always prepare to swarm as soon as the conditions are right. When the colony becomes overcrowded, the old queen will fly away with about half of the colony to look for a new home. This happens a few days prior to the emergence of a new queen. While this is healthy for the bee colonies, it means a loss to beekeepers as half of the colony leaves with the old queen. Here is how to know a colony is preparing to swarm:

How do you attract a swarm to a bee box?

Presence of Queen Cells

You will find numerous queen cells along the bottom bars of the brood chamber. It shows the bees are preparing to raise another queen.

Increase in Drone Population

The queen increases drone laying so that the virgin queens will have a way to mate.

Reduced Size of the Queen

 As the days to swarm draws near, the workers starve the queen bee to reduce her size so that she can be able to swarm.

Foraging and Pollination Behavior

Foraging is a unique behavior in honey bees. They travel up to 5 miles from the colony to collect nectar, pollen, water, and resin. Honey bees will always forage so long as the conditions are right, there are blooming flowers, and have space to store honey. They go for more foraging flights when food resources are near. In a trip, a forager can collect nectar up to 100 flowers. 

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Factors that Influence Foraging Behavior

The foraging behavior is affected by the availability of suitable plant resources, ambient temperatures, and the presence of predators. Honey bees have preferences for some blooms more than others and prefer to forage on a warm sunny day. They usually commit to foraging when temperatures are about 19 degrees centigrade. The presence of honey bee predators such as hornets, yellow jackets, or other bee-eaters will make them avoid some sources. Pesticides on the flowers affect their navigation abilities causing delays in visiting the feeding sites. 

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Honeybee Navigation and Memory

Honeybees have excellent navigation skills. These help them forage up to a radius of 5 miles and easily find their way back to the nest. They learn their locality by sight accurately and gather information on vital features and landmarks in their environment. These landmarks include buildings, fences, trees, or other artificial objects. Once the navigation map is set in their memory, they don’t have to re-orientate themselves daily unless a beekeeper relocates the hive. 

They also have an internal honing device that operates like a GPS that they use to orientate themselves with magnetic variations around them. This is set in their memory. Once the internal map is set, they will use their memory to navigate and don’t orientate daily once they leave the hive. Once a beekeeper relocates a beehive, they get disoriented and must reset their navigation map. Beekeepers help the bees to reorientate in new locations by putting branches and sticks in front of the hive. With their remarkable memory, they can also recognize human faces.  

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The Importance of Pollination to Agriculture

Pollinators like honey bees play a vital role in agriculture and food systems. They help flowering plants reproduce and bear fruits and seeds. 80% of flowering plants in the universe require pollinators to reproduce. As bees and other pollinators move from flower to flower, they collect pollen from their hairy bodies and transport it to other flowers of the same species. This leads to fertilization and production of fruits and seeds. 35% of world food depends on pollinators to reproduce. Honey bees are considered the most effective pollinators due to their hairy bodies. The hairs pick pollen as they forage. They help to pollinate a variety of flowers in large numbers. In a single day, a single bee can visit hundreds of flowers. Self-pollinated plants also tend to produce more when pollinated by honey bees. Some of the crops that highly depend on pollinators include almonds, apples, passion, kiwi, watermelon, cucumber, blueberry, cashew, buckwheat, and many others. 

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Division of Labor in the Hive

As social insects, honey bee castes have different roles that help them to exist successfully in social colonies. In the peak months( spring and summer), the division of labor enhances maximum growth and food resource accumulation. In winter, teamwork helps them to survive through the cold months. 

Age-related Division of Labor

Worker bees perform tasks depending on their age. When they are young, they perform the role of a nurse bee by nurturing and feeding the bee larvae. They also house cleaning, tend to the queen, controlling the hive’s temperature. In addition, they take the task of making honey from incoming nectar, making combs, as well as feeding the queen. Older worker bees leave the hive to collect nectar and pollen. This is a dangerous and tiring job for bees. They become field bees at the age of 22 days. 

Different Roles of Worker Bees

The thousands of workers cooperate in nest brood rearing, food collection, and nest building. They possess specialized features such as wax glands, pollen baskets, and brood food glands that help them perform all the hive tasks. They feed the brood, feed and groom the queen, clean and polish brood cells, build beeswax combs, guard the hive, condition the hive, and clean it. They also collect nectar and pollen to make honey and bee bread, respectively. 

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What is bee nectar? and the role of bee’s nectar?

Queen Control of the Hive

The queen is the only sexually mature female, and her role is reproduction. She lays the greatest number of eggs in spring and summer. Another major role she performs is producing pheromones that help to unify the colony. The colony’s quality and strength largely depend on her egg-laying ability. Her genetic makeup contributes significantly to the temperament of the colony. 

Defense and Protection in the Hive

Honey bees are cooperative, and the colony’s strength depends on their teamwork. Defending their territory is vital to them, and they have developed the mechanisms to wade off enemies. Unfortunately, in recent years, honey bee colonies have been faced with many new challenges, such as Varroa mites. These have challenged their survival skills.

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Recognition and Identification of Hive Members

Honeybees can identify their nest mates. That’s why the guard bees will allow the worker bees to enter the hive and wade off robber bees. They check for certain pheromones to be present in all bees that live in a colony. Every colony has a unique odor. A new queen introduced in the hive must be protected until the workers get used to its pheromones. When merging two colonies, beekeepers separate them with a newspaper to give the pheromones time to merge. Honey bees are exposed to their colony odor, allowing the guard bees to distinguish the nest dwellers from foreign bees.

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Warding Off Threats to the Hive

The life of a honey bee is usually exposed to numerous risks. These include insects such as wasps and hornets, birds, mammals, and reptiles. They sting to protect themselves from their enemies. The sting injects deadly venom. The bees do not survive after stinging mammals with fleshy skin, such as humans. Their barbed stings remain attached to the victim’s body.  But they can retract the stingers and use them again when they sting insects. Stinging is honey bees’ defense mechanism provided by nature to protect them. They attack their enemies in large numbers, so they can kill their predators by stinging. 

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Protective Behaviors of Worker Bees

At the entrance of the hive, there is a section of worker bees known as guardian bees. These bees fly after and attack potential predators. They patrol the hive and obstruct intruders from entering. If an intruder happens to bypass the guard bees, it finds the internal defense. This consists of a strong group attack. The bees cover the intruder in large numbers and remain on it until it suffocates. Some bee species, like the Japanese honey bees, form a bee ball around insect predators such as wasps and flap their wings to form an intolerable, deadly environment for the predator. The heat and carbon dioxide that emanates from rapid wing fanning suffocates and kills the predator. Another interesting way that the bees use to protect the hive is the use of pheromones. When one part of the hive is attacked, the bees use pheromones to communicate what to do next. If a bee stings a victim, alarm pheromones are also released.

Honeybee Reproduction

The lifecycle of all insects, including honey bees, starts with eggs. Fertilized eggs become workers, while unfertilized ones become drones. Only the queen and drones have fully developed reproductive organs in a colony. These are the only ones that engage in reproductive roles. The drones mate with the queen one at a time to deposit their sperm. She holds about 100 million eggs which she uses in her lifetime and only fertilizes an egg when she is laying. In three days, eggs develop into larvae. The larva transforms into a pupa after six days before it becomes an adult. The length of the pupa stage depends on the bee caste. 

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Queen Mating and Swarming

There is only one queen bee in a honey colony. She is made rather than being born by feeding her with royal jelly throughout her developmental stage. The queen is busiest in the spring and summer months when the colony requires a maximum population. Amazingly, she mates with about 10-20 drones once in her lifetime. This behavior of mating is referred to as polyandry. It helps to increase genetic diversity in a bee colony and improves fitness and survival. Genetically diverse colonies have enhanced characteristics such as increased foraging activity, greater population size, and better resistance to diseases and pests. The queen bee can lay up to 2500 eggs daily in the peak seasons( spring and summer). This helps to establish her colony as well as replace the thousands of worker bees that are dying daily. The fertilized eggs become females, while the unfertilized ones become drones. She is the only female that lays eggs in a hive. She communicates with her hive mates through special pheromones.

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Reproductive Roles of Drones

The purpose of the drone in a colony is to mate with a viable queen to maintain honey bee generations. Mating does not take place in the hive. Drones in a given area assemble together in the places known as Drone Congregation Areas(DCAs) and wait for queens. By mating with drones outside the colony, the queen helps to increase genetic diversity in the hive. Mating usually happens on warm sunny afternoons In spring and summer. The drones that manage to mate with the queen die after copulation. The reproductive organs are torn apart from their body and remain in the queen’s body.

Do Male Bees Die After Mating? Honey Bee Mating Behavior

Factors Affecting Queen Replacement

If the queen suddenly disappears or dies, the workers will know this in about 15 minutes and start preparing for her replacement. The common causes of queen death are predator attacks and beekeepers’ errors. A beekeeper may allow the bees to raise a queen or introduce one in a cage. Here are the factors that affect queen replacement:


The queen’s productivity determines the strength of the colony. If she underperforms in her egg-laying duty, it will affect the colony’s health and yields. The worker bees may work ahead of you in replacement, but if they fail, consider introducing one in a cage. You can tell a non-reproductive queen by the presence of a spotty brood pattern, many drones, or no eggs at all. Many drones may be an indicator the queen was not well-mated.

Disease Infestation

Some honey bee diseases in a colony, such as chalkbrood, may require you to requeen the colony.

The temperament of the colony

Beekeepers are forced to requeen their colonies if they find themselves with highly defensive bees that are unpleasant to work with.

Beekeeper’s Choice

Some beekeepers choose to requeen proactively, especially commercial ones.  

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Interactions with Other Species

Mutualistic Relationships with Flowers

Bees fly from one flower to the other, collecting nectar and pollen from flowers which they turn into food. Nectar is a sweet liquid that flowers secret to attract bees and other pollinators. Pollen contains the male genetic material of flowering plants. They produce honey from nectar and make bee bread from pollen which they feed to the young ones. They get all the nutrients they need from flowers. As they forage, their hairy bodies collect pollen which they transfer from flower to flower of the same species. This helps the plant species to be pollinated, which benefits them. The bees get food to eat, while the plants get to reproduce through pollination.

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Competition with Other Pollinators

Honey bees are the main managed species globally for crop pollination and honey yield. A high honey bee colony population increases competition for forage with native pollinators. It also affects the structure and functioning of pollination networks in a natural ecosystem. This puts pressure on the wild species that are on the decline. Honeybees are known to be super–foraging machines and take pollen out of other bees and pollinators. In addition, the honey bee is a super-generalist and monopolizes a sizable fraction of floral resources. This disrupts the interactions between wild pollinators and plants.

Bee-Plant Coevolution

Honey bees have been pollinating flowers for millions of years. Evolution has equipped them to serve each other better. Bees possess flight muscles that create a buzz helping to dislodge pollen from flowers for easy collection. Some bees have developed an evolutionary trait known as floral constancy. This enhances a species to specialize in detecting a single flower species. Flowers have also evolved in their attraction skills. They attract bees with color, odor, and shape. Some signal pollinators via a color change to attract them only when necessary. Petals also take advantage of bee vision by displaying ultraviolet patterns.  Bees will always prioritize flowers with sweeter scents. A fragrant flower attracts them from a distance. By attracting bees to them, they increase the chances of pollination. 

Conclusions and Future Research Directions

The Importance of Honeybee Behavior Research

Honeybees are eusocial insects with well-organized and highly effective colonies. They collaborate in ways that are hard to understand. The individual behavior includes nest building, nursing the brood, temperature regulation, defense, housekeeping, foraging, and making honey and combs. The behaviors in the colony are usually hidden from our sight. Research by the scientific community has unveiled the hive business to the public. We have better understood the bees and their role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. It is good to know their unique interactions in and out of the colony. The fantastic creatures contribute immensely to the global economy and food security through plant pollination. The decline of managed honey bee colonies poses a threat to insect crop pollination. Scientific research has seen better management of bee colonies by beekeepers to help save the bee populations. Of all other animals, bees are the most dominant pollinators of crop plants.  

Gaps in Our Understanding of Honeybee Behavior

Extensive research is still ongoing on honey bee behaviors. There are research gaps that have been exhibited in the understanding of honey bee behaviors. More and more problems globally have seen more bee colonies dying. Some species of honeybees are already extinct. While nature is complicated, we must understand that bees and other pollinators are crucial.

Future Directions for Research

Research should be directed to honey bee pests, diseases, and pathogens globally. Many colonies are lost due to their infestations. Further research is also needed on crop pesticides and in-hive pesticide residues. Other areas include the effects of climate change on honey bee health and pollination. Due to the increased losses of bee populations, research on best bee management for honey bee health is also essential. Issues in bee health and management are emerging every day. There are major losses of colonies in winter. Research is needed on how to maintain vigorous hives to survive winter.

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