The Bee Life Cycle

A bee life cycle has 4 key stages, whether they be honey bees, bumblebees or solitary bees. These 4 key stages are:





There are, significant variations between the species, and even within the role of the bee in its colony.

So let's look at the life cycles for the different types of bees......

Honey bee life cycle

Honey bee on geranium.Honey bee on geranium.

Depending on the role within the colony, the lives of honey bees vary.

A queen honey bee is reared differently from worker honey bees and drones, and has a much longer life span than either (see my page 'How Long Do Bees Live').

Honey bee queens may live for up to four or five years. Unlike other members of the colony, she remains within the nest or bee hive almost all of her life, producing thousands of eggs, until she eventually produces a replacement queen. However, this is not the end of the life of the current queen. The existing queen will take off in a swarm with part of the colony, in order to establish a new nest, and more generations of honey bees.

The queen honey bee's life will only be cut short due to disease or mishap, or possibly she will be replaced by the colony if she lays too few eggs and is therefore under-performing for the colony.

Drones and workers, will live for only a few weeks, but possibly a few months, depending on their role in the colony and the time of year when they were born.

In any event, honey bee colonies in themselves, go through cycles. From the beginning when they are first establishing the colony in a new nest or bee hive, the colony will go through the processes of:

  • building combs,
  • gathering nectar and rearing brood,
  • producing a new honey bee queen,
  • swarming,
  • finding a new nest or introduction into a new bee hive.

And so on it goes.

Bumble bee life cycle

Bumble bee on EryngiumBumble bee on Eryngium.

Then again, the life of a queen bumble bee is very different from that of a queen honey bee.

She will live for the duration of 9 - 12 months, and unlike the honey bee queen, bumble bee queens must do all the work in the initial stages of establishing the colony.

Only when worker bees have been reared can colony tasks be shared, not that things get easier for the queen!

Like honey bees, workers and males also have short life spans, but even the queen bumblebee will not usually survive beyond a year.

It is the new queens only, who establish future generations of bumblebees. The new queens mate, then hibernate as impregnated queens, to emerge early the following spring.

Depending on the species, some may nest in the ground (for example, in abandoned rodent holes), whilst others may nest on the ground, perhaps on a tuft of grass, whilst others may seek out other holes and crevices, for example in trees or walls.  Some species are more adaptable than others.  For example, the species Bombus hypnorum made a nest in my compost heap, whilst next door in my neighbour's garden, another colony of the same species used an abandoned bird house.

 The solitary bee life cycle

Ashy mining bee.Ashy mining bee.

There are many different types of solitary bees.

Some species may, for example, over-winter as adults, whilst others may over-winter as full-grown larvae, and mature into adult bees the following spring.

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Below, you'll find more detailed information about the bee life cycle, according to species, on these links.

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