Honeybee worker on flower
Scientific Name
Apis mellifera
Apidae (cuckoo, carpenter, digger, bumble, and honey bees) in the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps)

In 1985, the honeybee was made Missouri's official state insect. This social insect is not native to Missouri but is managed by humans to provide pollination services to many food crops, including fruit trees. Today, more than ever, we rely on honeybees to pollinate many crops, as well as for the sweet honey that only they can make.

To distinguish honeybees from the many other types of bees in our state, note that the workers carry pollen in basketlike structures on their legs. Also, honeybees are one of two types of bees with hair on their eyes. Females, the worker bees, possess stingers that are barbed and can only be used once; when the bee flies away, part of her abdomen tears out and remains attached to the stinger, and she dies within minutes.

Learn more about honeybees and other apid bees (family Apidae) on their family page.

Download a handy pdf to help you quickly ID Missouri's bees.

Other Common Names
Western Honeybee
European Honeybee
Honey Bee

Length: ½ to ⅝ inch (workers); drones and queens are larger.

Where To Find
image of Honeybee Distribution Map

Statewide. Both managed and feral populations occur throughout Missouri.

Honeybee workers are usually seen as they forage in flowers for pollen and nectar. Nests are usually located in tree cavities or in beekeepers' boxes, not in the ground. The nest comb is suspended vertically and consists of parallel double-layered sheets of hexagonal cells. These are made from wax secreted by worker bees. A nest may be active for many years.

Foraging workers are female honeybees, which visit flowers to drink nectar and pack pollen into the basketlike structures on their hind legs. Returning to the hive, they regurgitate the nectar, which other workers store and process into their food, honey. The nutritious pollen is unpacked and fed to the larvae. Cross-pollination of flowers occurs when pollen clinging to the hair of bees is transported from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another. Because honeybees usually visit flowers of the same species during a foraging trip, pollen typically gets moved between flowers of the same species, which increases the likelihood of fertilization.

Nonnative insect introduced to North America long ago. Many crops require pollination by honeybees. They produce honey, beeswax, and other products.

Since the 1970s, bee populations in Europe and North America have been declining rapidly. Called Colony Collapse Disorder, this complicated syndrome seems to involve varroa mites, viruses, pesticides, and other factors. A significant amount of effort has been put into understanding the underlying cause of these declines, as $15 billion of US crops are completely dependent on honeybee pollination.

Life Cycle

Each honeybee colony has a single queen, which lays eggs for the entire colony: females (which develop into sterile workers or into new queens, depending on what they are fed as they develop); and drones (fertile males). Most bees seen outside the hive are female workers, which collect nectar and pollen to feed the young. The workers also build and maintain the hive.

A queen honeybee's only function is to lay eggs. She may live several years and produce many thousands of eggs. New queens are produced annually in healthy colonies. At that time, the original queen leaves the nest with a swarm of workers to establish a new colony, while the new queen stays in the old nest with the remaining workers. Honey and pollen stored in nest cells nourish the adult bees in winter.

Beyond honey and beeswax, humans rely on bees (directly or indirectly) for about a third of our food supply. Pollination by honeybees is crucial or beneficial for a great many crops. Alfalfa needs insect pollinators in order to set seed, and livestock, including dairy cattle, need alfalfa. Simply put, plants need pollinators, and animals need plants.

Bee stings, like those of wasps, are not considered medically dangerous to humans, but some individuals are allergic to bee venom and may have a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction if stung. It's good to know the signs of anaphylactic shock, because exposure to a variety of substances (such as peanut butter, shellfish, medications, and more) may trigger certain people who are at risk for anaphylaxis.

Honeybees are an Old World species and were introduced to North America by Europeans in the 1600s. For thousands of years, humans have managed honeybees as livestock, providing bee boxes as homes. In turn, honeybees produce harvestable honey and pollinate both domestic and wild plants.

While honeybee pollination is essential to the modern-day production of many crops, honeybees are not able to pollinate all plants. Many species of plants require visitation by specific native bee species. For example, plants in the nightshade family (including potatoes, tomatoes, and bell peppers) require non-honeybees, such as bumblebees, that can vibrate their wing muscles at a specific frequency needed for the plant to release pollen. A diverse native insect community has been proven to lead to higher seed set of plants in both crop systems and natural communities than does a low-diversity or honeybee-dominated community.

Ecologists recognize the historic role that honeybees played in enabling people to develop large-scale agriculture and monocropping, which has had many negative effects on natural communities worldwide. Also, honeybees compete with native insect pollinators for resources, frequently to the detriment of our native species.

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About Land Invertebrates in Missouri
Invertebrates are animals without backbones, including earthworms, slugs, snails, and arthropods. Arthropods—invertebrates with “jointed legs” — are a group of invertebrates that includes crayfish, shrimp, millipedes, centipedes, mites, spiders, and insects. There may be as many as 10 million species of insects alive on earth today, and they probably constitute more than 90 percent all animal species.
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