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Get to know the European Honey Bee

(Apis mellifera)

Honey bee

Click here for images of Bee Swarms & Hives

Appearance

  • European honey bees are one of the most identifiable insects and are the most commonly domesticated bee species in the world.
  • They are inconsistent in colour but are usually brown with a banded dull yellow and brown abdomen.
  • The head, thorax and abdomen are heavily covered in hair. Around the eyes and legs and are also hairy.
  • Adults grow to approximately 1.3 cm – 1.6 cm in length.

Life cycle

  • The queen is larger than the workers and male drones. The queen is responsible for egg laying and for controlling the hive using pheromones Nymphs (an immature form of an insect that does not change greatly as it grows).
  • Eggs hatch and develop into queens, workers and drones between 16 – 24 days.
  • The average lifespan of a queen is 3 – 4 years.
  • Drones usually die upon mating or are expelled from the hive before the winter.
  • Workers may live for a few weeks in the summer and several months in areas with an extended winter.

Habitat

  • The European honey bee is common around suburban and urban areas. They are often seen in gardens. European honey bees can be found foraging on the flowers of many different native and introduced plant species.
  • These extremely social insects live in large hives dominated by a single queen.

Good – The European honey bee pollinates flowers in order to make honey. Early European settlers introduced European honey bees to ensure a good supply of honey.

Danger to humans and first aid

European honey bees defend their nest aggressively. If a bee is driven to sting, the action is fatal as it rips out the bee’s lower abdomen. The sting, with the venom gland pumping, is left in the victim.
The European honey bee sting causes intense local pain and swelling. If the victim is allergic to bee venom, a sting may cause more severe symptoms and they should seek immediate medical attention.

If you find a swarm/hive of European honey bees, do not approach it. Contact your local Beekeepers’ Association, see link below.

Beekeepers’ Associations – Australia

Note: The use of honey based baiting systems for European wasps is illegal in all States and Territories of Australia.