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Honey and Bees

Apis mellifera

Importance to Oregon

There are over 500 species of bees in the state of Oregon. A large majority of these species help pollinate the unique crops that grow in Oregon. Honey bee colonies are very large and long lasting hives that can be easily moved to other crops and locations. Farmers are able to rent bee hives from outside businesses or other farmers in order to ensure that their crops are being pollinated at a rate that will provide the appropriate yield of their crop.

History of Bees and Honey

Honey bees were brought to America in the 1620s when European settlers came to the United States. Honey bees were and still are sought after for their ability to pollinate many varieties of crops as well as their production of honey.

Western Honey Bee

Apis mellifera, better known as the “Western Honey Bee”, is the most commonly known pollinator to the general public.

Wool-Carder Bee

Wool carder bees are an exotic breed of bee that are very aggressive and territorial. The bees have five “spines” on their last abdominal and they will use them to bump other bees off of a plant or flower.

Pugnacious Leaf-Cutter Bee

Leaf cutter bees are the same size as a honeybee but they have large brushes of hair on their undersides. They also have very large “mandibles” which is a part of their mouth. Leaf cutter bees have their name because they chew round circles in the leaves of plants.

Life Cycle of a Honey Bee

The life cycle of a honey bee is broken down into three different stages. The three stages are the larval, pupal and adult phases. The queen bee is the only egg laying bee in an entire hive. She can lay either fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs become either worker bees or queen bees. Unfertilized eggs become drone bees. Eggs in the hive hatch 3 days after they were laid. Worker bees, drone bees and queen bees all have different jobs in the hive.Worker bees, queen bees and drone bees all have a similar development period and the few differences result in a thriving and successful hive!

Worker Bees

Worker bees hatch from a fertilized egg and are the female bees. After the female bees hatch, they spend around 6 days in the larval stage. In the larval stage, the bees are fed between 150-800 times per day by the adult worker bees. At this time, fat bodies are being built so that the bee has an adequate amount of storage for lipids, glycogen, amino acids and mitochondria for the bee during the pupal stage. After about 8 or 9 days, the cells with these larva are capped and the larva begin to grow. The pupal stage is the most important part of a bees growing period. This is when the wings, abdomen, internal organs, and muscles are begin to form. Like mentioned before, at this point in the growth of the bee is when the fat bodies like lipids, glycogen, amino acids, and mitochondria are used to help the pupa become an adult bee. After 20-21 days in the pupal stage, the bee chews through the capped cell and begins it’s hunt for its first feeding. Once the bee has come out of the cell, it must find food within a few hours or it runs the risk of not becoming a healthy and productive bee in the hive. The first job of the worker bees include things like feeding and cleaning larvae, cleaning the hive cells, building comb, guarding the hive from predators, patrolling the work of other bees, taking pollen from forager bees, or storing, curing, and packing pollen. Worker bees live between 15-38 days in the summer. In the winter time, the very well fed and healthy bees can often live for 140-320 days.

Drone Bees

The bee population of a hive is made up of 15% drone bees. Drones are the only male bees in the hive and they hatch from unfertilized eggs. Their diet is similar to that of worker and queen bees except for drone bees’ diet has an increase amount of pollen and honey. The main purpose of drone bees is to mate with the virgin or newly mated queen bee. Drone bees leave the hive six days after emerging from their cell. Drone bees die shortly after they mate with the queen. The average life span of a drone bee is 8 weeks.

Queen Bees

Queen bees are also hatched from unfertilized eggs. The only difference between the development of the two bees are what they eat while they grow. The queen bee is fed her diet for the entirety of her development stage. In the final two days of her larval stage honey is added to her diet. This addition increases the sugar content of the diet as well as a hormone called “juvenile hormone.” This hormone helps the female bee when developing the anatomy of a queen bee. Once the queen bee is developed her job is to mate with drone bees and lay eggs for the rest of her life span. The normal life span of a queen bee is normally 2-5 years. In that time period, she will lay around 200,000 eggs a year.

Harvesting Honey

Watch this video on Small hive harvesting – Portland, OR!

Honey is harvested in a pretty simple way. The bee box is opened up and the boards are individually removed. Once the boards are removed, the honey bees are put onto another part of the hive so that the honey can be scraped off. Once the bees are comfortable in their new location in the bee box, the honey is scraped off of the boards to be processed. Honey is processed into jars or glasses for consumers to purchase. Harvesting honey is a fairly easy process but an important thing to remember is to stay calm and move slowly around the bees and the bee box.

Pests and Diseases

Just like any other living organism, honey bees face multiple pests and diseases that put their health at risk.

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites are parasites that take over a honey bee hive and feed on the products of adult bees, pupae, and larvae. These Varroa mites can kill individual bees but they can also attack the entire colony causing a whole colony of bees to collapse.

One way to get rid of the Varroa mites is by putting a half cup of bees in a mason jar with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar. If you shake the jar, all of the mites will fall off of the bees and you are able to rid the bees of any harmful mites.

Small Hive Beetle

Small hive beetles have been in the United States since 1998 but they are originally from the sub-Saharan Africa. These beetles can be found in almost all fifty states. The small hive beetle larvae feed on honey and pollen. The adult beetles destroy damaged honey and the honeycombs.

Tracheal Mite

Tracheal mites are microscopic parasites that live in the windpipe of bees. In order to see these mites and determine how many have done damage, you have to use a microscope. If a colony of bees has been infected by tracheal mites, they will begin to die, the live bees will not cluster correctly and the rest of the hive will die during the winter months.


Honey is used as a natural sweetener for things like tea or baked goods and can also be found in medicinal products such as cough syrups or drops.

Raw honey

Raw honey can be used to sweeten drinks such as hot or iced tea and in baked goods like scones or pastries. Raw honey is often eaten by itself as a natural vitamin.

Cough Syrup

Honey is added to medication like cough syrups because it soothes the irritated part of the body.

Vocabulary Terms

Where the queen bee, drone bees and worker bees all live. This is also where the larva grow.

What a bee is called when it hatches from the egg.

Life stage of organisms where transition from immature to mature insect happens.

AITC Resources

Busy Bees