Eusocial bees live in large hives, each of which has a single queen, together with workers and drones.
The life cycle of bumblebees begins in the spring when the queen bee rises from hibernation. At this time the queen bee is the one who does all the work because there are no worker bees to do the work yet. She searches for a place to build her nest and she builds the honeypots. She also does the foraging to collect nectar and pollen. Bumblebee colonies die off in the autumn, after raising a last generation of queens, which suvive individually in found hiding spots. Interestingly bumblebee queens sometimes seek winter safety in honeybee hives, where they are sometimes found dead in the spring by beekeepers, presumably stung to death by the honeybees. It is not known whether any succeed in winter survival in such an environment.
With honeybees, which survive winter as a colony, the queen begins egg laying in winter, to prepare for spring. This is probably triggered by day length. She is the only fertile female, and deposits all the eggs from which the other bees are produced. Except for her one mating flight or to establish a new colony, the queen rarely leaves the hive after the larvae have become full grown bees. The queen deposits each egg in a cell prepared by the worker bees. The egg hatches into a small larva which is fed by nurse bees (worker bees who maintain the interior of the colony). After about a week (depending on species), the larva is sealed up in its cell by the nurse bees. After another week (again, depending on species), it will emerge an adult bee.
The larvae and pupae in a frame of honeycome are referred to as frames
of brood and are often sold (with adhering bees) by beekeepers to other
beekeepers to start new beehives.
Both workers and queens are fed royal jelly during the first three days of the larval stage. Then workers are switched to a diet of pollen and nectar or diluted honey, while those intended for queens will continue to receive royal jelly. This causes the larva to develop to the pupa stage more quickly, while being also larger and fully developed sexually. Queen breeders consider good nutrition during the larval stage to be of critical importance to the quality of the queens raised, good genetics and sufficient number of matings also being factors. During the larval and pupal stages, various parasites can attack the pupa/larva and destroy or mutate it.
Queens are not raised in typical horizontal brood cells of the honeycomb. They are specially constructed to be much larger, and have a vertical orientation. As the queen finishes her larval feeding, and pupates, she moves into a head downward position, from which she will later chew her way out of the cell. At pupation the workers cap or seal the cell. Just prior to emerging from their cells, young queens can often be heard "piping." This is considered likely to be a challenge to other queens for battle.
Worker bees are infertile females. Worker bees secrete the wax used to build the hive, clean and maintain the hive, raise the young, guard the hive and forage for nectar and pollen. In honeybees, the worker bees have a modified ovipositor called a stinger with which they can sting to defend the hive, but the bee will die soon after.
Drone bees are the male bees of the colony. Drone honeybees do not forage for nectar or pollen. The primary purpose of a drone bee is to fertilize a new queen. Drones mate with the queen in flight. They die immediately after mating.
In some species, drones are suspected of playing a contributing role in the temperature regulation of the hive. Drone bees have no stinger, since a stinger is actually a modified ovipositor.
Queens live for an average of three years, while workers have an average life of only three months.
Honeybee queens release pheromones to regulate hive activities, and worker bees also produce pheromones for various communications.
Honey is produced from nectar collected from flowers, which is a clear liquid consisting of nearly 80% water with complex sugars. The collecting bees store the nectar in a second stomach and return to the hive where worker bees remove the nectar. The worker bees digest the raw nectar for about 30 minutes using enzymes to break up the complex sugars into simpler ones. Raw honey is then spread out to dry, which reduces the water content to less than 20%. Once dried, each honeycomb is sealed with wax to preserve the honey. Honey itself is so sweet that neither bacteria nor yeasts may grow on it.