How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?

Honey bee queen with workers in attendance.
Honey bee queen with workers in attendance. Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient,

Social bees live in colonies, with individual bees filling different roles to benefit the community. The most important role is that of the queen bee because she is solely responsible for keeping the colony going by producing new bees. How long a queen bee lives and what happens when she dies are two issues that greatly affect the colony she rules, but a queen bee's lifespan varies depending on the type of bee.

Honey Bees

Honey bees are probably the best known social bees. Workers live only about six weeks on average, and drones die immediately after mating. Queen bees, however, are quite long-lived compared to other insects or even other bees. A queen bee has an average productive lifespan of two to three years, during which she may lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. Over her lifetime, she can easily produce over 1 million offspring. Though her productivity will decline as she ages, the queen honey bee can live up to five years.

As the queen ages and her productivity declines, worker bees will prepare to replace her by feeding royal jelly to several young larvae. When a new queen is ready to take her place, the workers usually kill their old queen by smothering and stinging her. Although this sounds rather callous and gruesome, it's necessary to the survival of the colony.

Splitting the Colony

Aging queens aren't always killed, however. Sometimes, when a colony becomes overcrowded, the workers will split the colony by swarming. Half the worker bees fly from the hive with their old queen and establish a new, smaller colony. The other half of the colony stays in place, raising a new queen that will mate and lay eggs to replenish their population.

The Bumblebee Queen: One Year and Done

Bumblebees are also social bees. Unlike with honey bees, where the entire colony lives through the winter, in bumblebees colonies, only the queen bee survives the winter. The bumblebee queen lives for one year.

New queens mate in the fall, then hunker down in a sheltered location for the cold winter months. In the spring, each bumblebee queen establishes a nest and starts a new colony. In the fall, she produces a few male drones and allows several of her female offspring to become new queens. The old queen dies and her offspring continue the lifecycle.

Stingless Bees

Stingless bees, also called meliponine bees, live in social colonies as well. There are at least 500 species of stingless bees known, so the lifespans of stingless bee queens vary. One species, Melipona favosa, is reported to have queens that remain productive for three years or longer.


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Hadley, Debbie. "How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Hadley, Debbie. (2020, August 27). How Long Does a Queen Bee Live? Retrieved from Hadley, Debbie. "How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).