Honeybee: Classification, Morphology, Types, and Lifecycle

Honeybees, an arthropod species, play a vital role in the production of honey and the pollination of crops. They are highly social insects, forming colonies or hives where a single queen bee takes charge of egg production while numerous worker bees engage in diverse tasks such as collecting nectar and pollen, nurturing young bees, and constructing and maintaining the hive.

The significance of honeybees as pollinators cannot be overstated, as they provide crucial pollination services for numerous agricultural crops. Moreover, honeybees are instrumental in the production of various bee products, including honey, beeswax, royal jelly, and propolis.

By actively engaging in pollination and bee product production, honeybees contribute extensively to the ecosystem and agricultural industry, ensuring the thriving of plant species and the availability of valuable bee-derived resources.


  • Kingdom:        Animalia
  • Phylum:          Arthropoda
  • Class:              Insecta
  • Order:              Hymenoptera
  • Family:            Apidae
  • Genus:             Apis
  • Species:           Apis mellifera

There are several subspecies of Apis mellifera, which are adapted to different regions and climates around the world. Each subspecies may have unique characteristics, such as behavior, appearance, and honey production.

Morphology of Honeybee

The honeybee exhibits a distinctive morphology, comprising specialized body parts that actively facilitate its functions within the hive and surrounding environment. Here are the salient features of honeybee morphology:


The honeybee’s head, characterized by its substantial size, accommodates essential sensory organs.

  • Compound Eyes: Positioned laterally, the honeybee possesses sizable compound eyes that bestow exceptional vision and adeptness in detecting movement.
  • Antennae: Positioned amidst the compound eyes, the honeybee features two segmented antennae proficient in touch, smell, and the detection of chemical signals.
  • Proboscis: Extending from the bee’s head, the proboscis assumes the form of a lengthy tube-like structure employed for the consumption of nectar and water.


 Situated in the middle section of the honeybee’s body, the thorax bears the responsibility of locomotion and housing vital organs.

  • Three Pairs of Legs: The honeybee boasts three pairs of articulated legs, expertly utilized for walking, gripping, and manipulating diverse materials.
  • Wings: Within the thorax lie two pairs of wings that enable honeybees to deftly fly and hover.


Occupying the posterior region of the honeybee’s body, the abdomen encompasses critical organs and structures.

  • Wax Glands: Positioned on the underside of the abdomen, specialized wax glands exude beeswax, extensively employed by worker bees in the construction of honeycomb cells.
  • Stinger: Positioned at the abdomen’s terminus, the honeybee’s stinger, a modified ovipositor, serves as a defensive apparatus. Stinging often results in the bee’s stinger being lost, leading to subsequent fatality.
  • Hairs and Glands: The entire body of the honeybee is adorned with delicate hairs, instrumental in the collection and dispersal of pollen. Furthermore, an array of glands produces pheromones utilized for communication and coordination within the colony.

Overall, the honeybee’s morphology ideally suits its role as a social insect, effectively navigating its environment, facilitating intra-hive communication, and executing vital tasks essential for colony survival.

Types of Honeybees

  • Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera): The Western honeybee reigns as the most prevalent species worldwide, playing a pivotal role in commercial honey production and crop pollination across diverse regions.
  • Eastern Honeybee (Apis cerana): Native to Asia, the Eastern honeybee, smaller in size compared to its Western counterpart, contributes to honey production and pollination, although its commercial utilization is less widespread.
  • African Honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata): Often referred to as the “killer bee,” this subspecies of the Western honeybee, recognized for its aggressive tendencies and swarming behavior when disturbed, primarily thrives in Africa, having extended its presence to other parts of the globe.
  • Stingless Honeybee (Meliponini): Embracing numerous bee species dwelling in tropical regions, the stingless honeybees lack a stinger and produce relatively smaller quantities of honey in comparison to their counterparts.
  • Bumblebee (Bombus spp.): While not classified as a honeybee, the bumblebee emerges as an indispensable pollinator of both cultivated crops and wildflowers. Boasting a larger size and a furry appearance, bumblebees contribute significantly to ecosystem vitality.

Castes of Honeybee

Queen Bees

In a honeybee colony, a single queen bee commands authority. With an elongated abdomen and a larger physique than worker bees, her primary responsibility involves prolific egg-laying. Queen bees play a vital role in upholding the social structure and ensuring the colony’s reproductive triumph. Their longevity can span several years.

Worker Bees

Constituting the majority of the colony, worker bees, being sterile females, perform a multitude of indispensable tasks. Their responsibilities encompass nurturing young bees, foraging for nectar and pollen, constructing and maintaining the hive, and safeguarding the colony. The lifespan of worker bees varies from several weeks to months, contingent upon seasonal factors and their specific roles within the colony.

Drone Bees

Drones, the male members of the colony, are larger than worker bees but smaller than queen bees. Their primary function revolves around mating with queens from other colonies. Drones lack stingers and the capacity to collect food. Typically, they exist for a few months, confined to the breeding season of summer, after which they face expulsion from the colony. 

Each honeybee type assumes a distinctive role and exhibits corresponding behaviors within the colony, collectively contributing to the overall prosperity and survival of the colony’s intricate network.

Comparison between Queen, Worker, and Drone bee

CharacteristicQueen BeeWorker BeeDrone Bee
Body ShapeElongated AbdomenRounded AbdomenElongated Abdomen
Reproductive RoleLays EggsSterile FemaleMates with Queen
LifespanSeveral YearsSeveral Weeks/MonthsFew Months
Food CollectionNo CollectionCollects Nectar and PollenNo Collection
Hive MaintenanceNo MaintenanceBuilds/Maintains HiveNo Maintenance
Defense MechanismNo Sting/DefenseDefends Colony with StingNo Sting/Defense
Number per Colony1Several ThousandHundreds
Comparison between Queen, Worker, and Drone bee

Lifecycle of Honeybee

The lifecycle of a honeybee encompasses several stages, including egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Each stage is marked by distinct transformations and responsibilities, ultimately contributing to the survival and productivity of the hive.

Honeybee: Stages of Life history and Castes
Honeybee: Stages of Life history and Castes

Egg stage of Honeybee:

  • The honeybee life cycle commences with the egg stage, marking the beginning of their journey.
  • The queen bee takes charge of laying fertilized eggs, carefully placing them in individual cells within the honeycomb.
  • These small, oval-shaped eggs measure approximately 1.5 millimeters in length.
  • The queen possesses the ability to determine whether an egg will be fertilized or unfertilized.
  • Fertilized eggs hold the potential to develop into female bees, whether they become industrious worker bees or powerful queen bees.
  • Unfertilized eggs, on the other hand, have the capacity to mature into male bees, also known as drones.
  • Vertically laid at the base of the cells, the eggs settle comfortably within their designated spaces.
  • The hatching period of eggs varies, influenced by environmental conditions and the specific honeybee species.
  • Generally, the egg stage spans around 3 days, although this timeframe may fluctuate.
  • Once the eggs hatch, they progress into the subsequent stage of the honeybee life cycle: the larval stage.

Larva stage of Honeybee:

  • After the egg stage, honeybees embark on the transformative larval stage, constituting the second phase of their life cycle.
  • Newly hatched, the honeybee larva takes the form of a small, legless creature resembling a grub.
  • Nurtured by diligent nurse bees, the larva receives sustenance in the form of a protein-rich secretion known as royal jelly.
  • Worker bees, responsible for producing royal jelly, play a crucial role in fostering the growth and development of the larva.
  • Safely ensconced within a honeycomb cell, the larva experiences rapid growth throughout this stage.
  • As the larva expands in size, it periodically sheds its skin, a process referred to as molting, to accommodate its increasing dimensions.
  • Utterly reliant on the worker bees for sustenance and care, the larva remains under their diligent watch.
  • The worker bees diligently clean and maintain the larval cells, ensuring a healthy and hygienic environment.
  • The duration of the larva stage differs depending on the caste of the honeybee.
  • For worker bees, this stage typically spans approximately 6 days, while queen bees undergo approximately 5.5 days of larval development. Drones experience a larval stage lasting approximately 6.5 days.
  • As the larva approaches the end of its stage, it skillfully weaves a cocoon around itself, employing silk produced from its salivary glands.
  • Once the cocoon is fully formed, the larva undergoes a transformative metamorphosis, transitioning into the next phase of its life cycle: the pupa stage.

Pupa stage of Honeybee:

  • The pupa stage represents the third crucial phase in the honeybee life cycle, immediately succeeding the larva stage.
  • After enveloping itself in a cocoon, the larva seamlessly transitions into the pupa stage.
  • Within the protective confines of the cocoon, the pupa undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis, metamorphosing from a larval form to a mature adult honeybee.
  • This stage witnesses remarkable structural transformations as the bee’s body develops and takes on distinct characteristics.
  • Enclosed entirely within the cocoon, the pupa remains relatively motionless during this transformative period.
  • The pupal development relies on hormonal changes and inherited genetic instructions passed down by the queen bee.
  • To safeguard the pupa’s transformation, worker bees seal the cell using wax, providing essential protection.
  • The duration of the pupa stage varies based on the bee’s caste and subsequent development.
  • Worker bees generally undergo a pupal stage lasting approximately 12 days, while queen bees complete theirs in roughly 8 days. Drone bees experience a pupal stage of about 14 days.
  • Within the cocoon, the pupa progressively develops critical body parts such as wings, legs, antennae, and compound eyes.
  • Nourishment for the pupa’s development comes from absorbing nutrients from the cocoon, aiding its growth.
  • Once the pupal development concludes, the adult honeybee emerges by chewing through the wax cap that encased it.
  • Initially soft and pale, the emerging bee quickly hardens and darkens as its exoskeleton dries.
  • Having completed its transformation, the honeybee enters adulthood, assuming specific tasks within the hive based on its caste.

Adult stage:

  • The adult stage signifies the final phase in the honeybee life cycle, following the pupa stage.
  • Upon emerging from the cell, the adult honeybee is fully developed and prepared to fulfill its role within the hive.
  • Featuring a protective exoskeleton, the adult honeybee possesses distinguishable body parts, including wings, legs, antennae, and compound eyes.
  • Three distinct castes of adult honeybees exist: queens, workers, and drones, each carrying unique responsibilities.
  • Queen bees, surpassing others in size, bear the crucial duty of sustaining the hive’s population through egg-laying.
  • Workers, smaller in size, tirelessly engage in various hive activities, such as nurturing the brood, gathering nectar and pollen, constructing and repairing combs, and defending the hive.
  • Drones, larger than workers yet smaller than queens, focus primarily on mating with virgin queens from other colonies.
  • Lifespan varies among adult honeybees based on their caste. Queens can live several years, though their egg-laying ability diminishes over time. Workers generally survive a few weeks during summer but have a shorter lifespan in winter. Drones typically live for a few weeks.
  • Adult honeybees employ a sophisticated system of chemical signals and dance-like movements, known as the waggle dance, to communicate food source locations.
  • Playing a vital role in flower pollination, adult honeybees actively contribute to the reproduction of numerous plant species.
  • Operating within a highly organized social structure, adult honeybees diligently carry out their specific tasks, ensuring hive survival and productivity.

Binod G C

I'm Binod G C (MSc), a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology who works as a biology educator and enjoys scientific blogging. My proclivity for blogging is intended to make notes and study materials more accessible to students.

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