We are often asked how long individual honey bees live. Summer bees live for 3 to 6 weeks, whilst winter bees can live from 3 to 6 months. This adaptation to life in a temperate climate is key to the survival of the colony over the long winters, during which foraging, and hence the rearing of new generations of workers, is impossible.
What, then, are the physiological mechanisms responsible for this difference in longevity?
To fill in the gaps in our knowledge on this subject, the lifespan of honey bee workers was studied as a function of the strength of the colony and the birthrate of young bees. Colony strength has no influence on the average lifespan of bees.
It is well known that the brood rearing activity shortens the lifespan of the workers, but we suggest a model in which young adults also exercise a regulatory effect on the lifespan of their older sisters. Our studies show that the presence of young worker bees shortens the lifespan of their nest mates.