Honey Bees get their common name from the sweet yellowish fluid the make from the nectar of flowers and use for food. Honey Bees not only provide honey and wax, but they are of far greater importance as pollinators. They are also responsible for a large share of insect stings, although many stings blamed on “bees” are actually done by their extremely aggressive cousin, the Yellow Jacket.
Honey Bees are worldwide in distribution. Adult worker Honey Bees are about 1/2”-5/8” long. They are usually an orange-brown color with dark stripes on their abdomen. Their body is mostly covered with dense, pale golden hairs.
Honey Bees are social insects and live as colonies in hives, with mature colonies containing upwards of 80,000 individuals. Adults are represented by workers which are infertile females, a single queen and drones which are males and come from unfertilized eggs. The entire population of a Honey Bee hive overwinters, though in summer the workers only live about 5-7 weeks. There is only one egg-laying queen in the hive and she mates only once. The queen Honey Bee can lay as many as 2,000 eggs per day, and may live as long as 5 years. The queen produces many pheromones, which regulate the production of new queens and inhibit the development of worker ovaries. The young worker Honey Bees care for the young brood (larvae), build the honey comb, provide hive ventilation and guard the entrance of the hive. Older workers serve as the foragers to gather pollen and nectar.
Honey Bees are not aggressive and do not search out things to attack. Instead, they are defensive and will attack only whatever is threatening or causing harm to the hive.
Honey Bees swarm primarily when the colony size gets too large for the available hive space. They will also swarm when the queen begins to wane or fail. When this happens, new queens are produced and the old queen will leave with a large number of the workers, leaving the new queen to repopulate the old hive. Honey Bee swarms first move to a temporary site such as a tree branch or the post of a deck. The swarm will usually remain here for about 24-48 hours, until permanent quarters are located. Permanent quarters may consist of a bee hive, hollow tree, hollow wall, attics, etc., typically some place which is sheltered from the weather.
Honey Bees in a swarm are very docile and not likely to sting because they harbor no food stores or young and therefore have nothing to defend. Likewise, Honey Bees encountered away from the hive are unlikely to sting unless severely provoked, such as being stepped on. However, if the entrance to the hive is approached, the guard bees can become very aggressive. If stung, be very careful to not squeeze the stinger, as that will only inject more venom. Instead, use a fingernail or credit card to lift the stinger out from underneath. It is always recommended to consult a physician if stung, in case of allergic reaction.
Honey Bees are an essential part of agriculture and the natural ecosystem, so it is important to avoid using pesticides to kill colonies if possible. For both swarmers in the yard and for established hives that need removal, there are local beekeepers who will carefully relocate the colony. It is important to not attempt killing or removing the hive without proper training or protective equipment because of the risk of mass stings.
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