Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

A 1999 Cornell University study showed that managed honey bees hired by U.S. growers to pollinate their
crops amounted to just over $14.6 billion worth of food. As honey bees collect nectar and pollen, they disperse pollen from one plant to the next (pollination) and bring some of that pollen and nectar back to the hive for honey production. The honeybees then communicate good pollen sources to each other by dancing. When the worker bees get the signal, they go out and collect pollen and nectar from flowers, continuing the pollination process. The nectar brought back to the hive is "chewed" for about a half an hour. Then, the bees deposit the nectar into the cells of the hive to let the water evaporate. The bees hurry along the drying process by flapping their wings to fan the nectar. Once the honey is gooey enough, the honeybees cap the cells with wax for storage.

The Zoo’s hives are located in the New England Farmyard. Our observation hive, donated by the Backyard Beekeepers Association, is located at the entrance to the Farmyard. Look for the queen – she has a small yellow dot on her back. In the orchard, between the raven and the sheep, we have a standard hive. We hope to get honey from this hive in 2008.


Body reddish brown to black with orange-yellow rings on abdomen. Drone (male) is 5/8 inch long; drones only function is to mate, Workers (females) are 3/8 to 5/8 inches long, while the queen is 3/4 inch long.


Found throughout meadows, open woods and gardens, hives are located in hollow trees or kept by beekeepers.


Native range is Europe and Asia


Adults eat pollen and honey; larvae feed on honey and royal jelly, a white paste secreted by workers. All larvae are fed the jelly for three days, then just the future queens are fed the jelly while the rest are fed bee bread – a mixture of pollen and honey.

Life Span: 

Workers live an average 6 weeks in the summer; several months in the winter. Drones live on average 6 to 8 weeks in the summer. Drones die after they mate; unmated drones are kicked out of the hive each fall. Queens live 2 to 3 years on average, but can live up to 5 years.

Family Life: 

Bees have complex social behavior, with one queen at the center. Her job is to lay eggs; she can produce hives of up to 80,000 workers (all workers in one hive are the queen’s daughters). Workers collect pollen and nectar, produce honey, and maintain the hive by feeding the Queen and her larval offspring royal jelly.


Beekeepers have reported an alarming number of colony die-offs recently. Likely factors include mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning. Honey bee pollination contributes about $55 million to the value of crops in Pennsylvania alone.

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