Honey Bee

(Apis mellifera)




Facts about this animal

The honey bee is a highly social insect. Wild honey bees build elaborate nests , called hives, comprising a densely packed matrix of hexagonal cells made of beeswax, called a honeycomb, which are used for storage, and for housing the brood, and containing up to 20'000 individuals during the summer months. Domestic hives may have over 80'000 individuals. The bees have a complex social organisation and behaviour.

Each bee belongs to one of three specialized castes: “queens”, “drones” and “workers”. The queen is at the centre of the colony. Her function is to lay eggs, over 1'500 per day, and this during her whole lifespan of usually two to five years. She is larger (up to 20 mm) and has a longer abdomen than the workers or drones. She has chewing mouthparts. Her stinger is curved with no barbs on it and she can use it many times. The male drones have no stinger. They live about six to eight weeks. Only a few hundred - at most - are ever present in the hive. Their sole function is to mate with a new queen, if one is produced in a given year. A drone's eyes are noticeably bigger than those of the other castes. This helps them to spot the queens when they are on their nuptial flight. Any drones left at the end of the season are considered non-essential and will be killed or driven out of the hive to die.

Worker bees are infertile females, all the queen’s daughters, making up the vast majority of the hive's occupants . They do all the different tasks needed to maintain and operate the hive. When young, they work in the hive doing comb construction, brood rearing, tending the queen and drones, cleaning, temperature regulation and defending the hive. Older workers are the so-called called field bees, which forage outside the hive to gather nectar, pollen, water and certain sticky plant resins used in hive construction. Workers born early in the season will live about 6 weeks while those born in the fall will live until the following spring. Workers are about 12 mm long and highly specialized for what they do, with a structure called a pollen basket (or corbiculum) on each hind leg, an extra stomach for storing and transporting nectar or honey and four pairs of special glands that secrete beeswax on the underside of their abdomen. They have a straight, barbed stinger which can only be used once. It rips out of their abdomen after use, which kills the bee.

Adult honey bees feed on 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. The bees communicate good pollen sources to each other by dancing. 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.

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.

Did you know?
that the honey bee was domesticated first around 3000 BC in Egypt? At that time the bees were kept in hives made of straw and unbaked clay.


Name (Scientific) Apis mellifera
Name (English) Honey Bee
Name (French) Abeille européenne
Name (German) Honigbiene
Name (Spanish) Abeja europea
Local names Bahasa Malay: Lebah
Bahasa Indonesia: Lebah madu
Croatian: Medonosna pcela
Czech: Vcela medonosná
Danish: Honningbi
Dutch: Honingbij
Estonian: Meemesilane
Hungarian: Mézelö méh, háziméh
Italian: Ape europea
Polish: Pszczo?a
Portuguese: Abelha-européia
Swedish: Bi, tambi, honungsbi
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Richard Heidler



Range Several subspecies of wild honey bees live in Central and Southern Europe, the Near East to Central Asia, and Africa. Domesticated bees are found also in the Americas and othe rparts of the world.
Habitat Found in a wide range of habitats from desert oases to subalpine mountain ranges, including meadows, open woodlands, fynbos, and cultivated land.
Wild population No data
Zoo population No data

In the Zoo

Honey Bee


How this animal should be transported

For air transport of adult individuals, Container Note 61 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Jon Sullivan

Why do zoos keep this animal

Zoos keep honey bees for educational reasons because children love honey and know the Adventures of Maya the Bee, but have know real knowledge of the lifestyle of bees and of their ecological importance as pollinators. Collection and extraction of the honey may be part of the educational activities.

Zoo often place bee hives in the immediate neighbourhood of bee-eater aviaries, allowing the birds to predate on these insects.