Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

Bill has kept bees for years. His interest is more in how the bees live and work rather than the honey produced.
He is a keen observer and the following is one result of such observations.

The worker honey bee only lives for about six weeks and it looks like a waste of energy and resources as far as the bee hive is concerned and does not fit with Darwin's theory of evolution, as Mother Nature hates a waste of resources.

Queen honey bee can live for three or even four years: A drone (the male honey bee) dies when he mates or when the season comes to an end and he is no longer needed.


He is then ejected from the hive and starves to death. The worker on the other hand, who labours for the well being of the colony, has a life span of no more than about six weeks during the Summer months. She works for a time at housework in the hive and only four or so weeks foraging, garnering food for the whole hive including stores for the winter. It is generally supposed that the worker is worn out by her labours but perhaps this is too simple an explanation. The queen also labours in the summer months, producing her own body weight in eggs every twenty-four hours in order to replace the tens of thousands of short lived workers. The drone too is busy during his time. Whenever the weather is suitable for mating, he is constantly flying, searching for virgin queens. Without any rest from the moment he leaves the hive until he returns or mates.

It could be that the reason for the workers’ short life span is the relationship between the foraging honey bee and the flower.
Bee at Flower

The bee depends on the flower for food and the flower depends on the bee for fertilisation. This is symbiosis, in common language it means “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. It is an agreement between flowers and bees that was formed millions of years ago and is vital to both bees and flowers and, for that matter, to all life on earth, for without flowers and bees there would be a dramatic shortage of plant life which feeds the majority of most animal life forms on earth. This symbiosis is vital for life on earth. The relationship between bee and flower is not simply distributing random pollen, it has to be the pollen of the specific species. The foraging bee must stick with one species of plant and this relationship must be tightly locked. I believe it has been locked and securely fixed by natural selection in the DNA of both bees and flowers.

The flowering time of each particular plant is a brief few weeks, it has to be synchronised with the life span of the new forager bees. The bee begins her foraging life, working the flowers of a particular plant and only visits plants of the identical species and no others for the rest of her life. When that plant stops producing pollen the foraging lifetime of the bee also comes to an end, her job is done, her life is about to end. As new plants come into flower, new bees will be starting to forage. So we have new flowers needing the fertilisation by pollen of the same particular species and new foraging bees that will work only on that group of plants and die as the plant stops producing pollen.

It is normal to see different bees carrying different coloured pollens into the hive. It is a sign that all is well. The bees need different pollens to keep them healthy. Just as humans need different foods for a healthy diet. Individual bees bring in only one type of pollen, each bee faithful to the symbiotic agreement with a plant. As with all theories, proper scientific research would be needed to confirm this theory.

If this theory is correct then the short life span of a working honey bee seems to have a much more reasonable explanation and is more in line with Darwin’s theory of the conservation of the most fitted, rather than the other often made suggestions such as “Bees being Worked to death”.

Another observation made over last few days appears to support my thoughts. I had moved a hive eighteen inches or so to one side.
Hive entrance

The entrances on my hives are three inch wide and at one end of the hive. After moving the hive, returning bees landed where the entrance had been, at the other end of the box. Daily observations showed almost all the bees were landing at the position of the old entrance, then walking to the new position. It took nine or ten days before bees started to return directly to the new entrance positioning in any large numbers. There was a gradually reduction in bees landing where the old entrance had been, an ever increasing numbers flew directly to the new entrance. It appears that the old bees were dying off and new foragers were immediately using the new hive entrance position.

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