Honey bees are social insects. Their colonies includes a queen, drones and workers. Honey bees have been producing honey for over 100 million years.
Honey bees produce honey as a food source which they store in the hives and consume during the long winter months when there are no flowers blooming and there is no nectar around. They produce so much honey, more than they can eat and this allows there hives to be farmed and the honey made available to humans.
Honey bees will sting if provoked, but most are unwilling to. A Honey bee can only sting once, then it dies. However, the queen honey bee is capable of stinging multiple times, but she does not use this capability at all.
All honey bees live in colonies where the workers will sting intruders as a form of defence and alarmed bees will release a pheromone that stimulates the attack response in other bees. The different species of honey bees are distinguished from all other bee species by the possession of small barbs on the sting, but these barbs are found only in the workers. The sting and associated venom sac are also modified so as to pull free of the body once lodged and the sting apparatus has its own musculature and ganglion (a tissue mass) which allow it to keep delivering venom once detached.
Queen Honey Bee
The queen honey bee is the largest bee in the colony and the only bee capable of laying eggs. A larva which is about 2 days old will be selected by the workers to be reared as the queen. She will emerge from her cell 11 days later to mate in flight with approximately 18 drone (male) bees.
During this mating, she receives several million sperm cells, which last her entire life span of nearly two years. Ten days after mating, the queen honey bee will begin to lay eggs. She is capable of laying up to 3,000 eggs in one day.
Drone Honey bee
The Drones of the colonies are all males. They have no stingers and they do not collect pollen or food. Their main purpose is to mate with the queen. This may seem like an easy job, however, if the colony becomes short of food, they are the first to be kicked out! Unlucky really.
Worker Honey Bees
The workers are all females that are not developed for mating. They are the smallest bees, but there can be around 50,000 – 60,000 of these workers in one single colony.
The life span of a worker bee can vary depending on the time of year.
Honey bees that are reared in September – October usually live through the winter. Those reared earlier in the year live between 28 – 35 days. Workers have many jobs. they feed the queen and larvae, guard the hive entrance and help to keep the hive cool by fanning their wings.
Eggs are laid singly in a cell in a wax honeycomb, produced and shaped by the workers. Larvae are initially fed with royal jelly produced by worker bees, later switching to honey and pollen. The exception is a larva fed solely on royal jelly, which will develop into a queen bee. The larva undergoes several moltings before spinning a cocoon within the cell and pupating.
Young worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae. After this, they begin building comb cells. They progress to other within-colony tasks as they become older, such as receiving nectar and pollen from foragers. Later still, a worker leaves the hive and typically spends the remainder of its life as a forager.
Worker bees also collect nectar to make honey. In addition, honey bees produce wax comb.
The comb is composed of hexagonal cells which have walls that are only a fraction of an inch thick, but support 25 times their own weight.
Honey bees flap their tiny wings around 11,400 times per minute, which produces their distinctive humming sound.
Honey Bee Communication
Honey bees are known to communicate through many different chemicals and odours, which is common in most insects, but also using specific behaviours that convey information about the quality and type of resources in the environment and where these resources are located.
Two Honey bees dance on the upper surface of the comb, which is horizontal (not vertical, as in other species), and workers orient the dance in the actual compass direction of the resource to which they are referring to.
Honey is a sweet and viscous fluid produced by honey bees (and some other species of bee), and derived from the nectar of flowers. Honey is significantly sweeter than table sugar and has attractive chemical properties for baking. Honey has a distinctive flavour which leads some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners.
A main effect of bees collecting nectar to make honey is pollination, which is very important for flowering plants.
The beekeeper encourages overproduction of honey within the hive so that the excess can be taken without endangering the bees. When sources of foods for the bees are short the beekeeper may have to give the bees supplementary nutrition.
Honey is laid down by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy.
In the hive the bees use their ‘honey stomachs’ to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. It is then stored in the honeycomb. Nectar is high in both water content and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment (conversion of carbohydrates into alcohols or acids). After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. Bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb which enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. The reduction in water content, which raises the sugar concentration, prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by the beekeeper, has a long shelf life and will not ferment.