Honey bee

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a kind of bee from a superfamily (Apoidea), honeybee family (Apidae).

Honey bees live in extensive communities – colonies of bees. Colonies from a sociological point of view resemble families with a mother and her children – drones and worker-bees. Worker-bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers, which is later turned into honey. At least two generations of bees live together in active cooperation. No honey bee can live alone for a longer period of time, it relies on help from its mates.

Honey bee belongs to a large order of insects called Hymenoptera. Some bees are reclusive but the bees occurring in our area create communities called colonies. Colonies are communities consisting of one mother (the queen), in summer about 40000 to 60000 worker-bees and a few hundreds to a thousand drones during the breeding period. One colony consists of about 40 000 to 70 000 individuals. Their bodies consist of a head and abdomen. Bees have lapping mouth parts, that are used to pick up nectar. They have two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. They have a little special honey stomach used to store pollen and nectar. Their outer corpse is made of chitin and is covered with hair.

Honeybees came from Africa.

The development of honey bees.

Bees develop through metamorphosis. There are lot of stages until an egg becomes a grown bee. Eggs turn into larvae in three days, during this time they grow fast thanks to royal jelly, which is fed to them during the first three days. They are later fed pollen and nectar. The length of a development varies. For mothers it is 5 days, for worker-bees it is 6 days and drones are developed in 7 days. Afterwards they cap the larvae. This stage takes mothers (queens) and worker-bees 2 days and drones 3 days. The following stage of a cocoon is the last one. After this stage bees are fully grown. It takes mothers (queens) 6 days, worker-bees take 10 days, and drones 11 days. If the temperature is high (35°C) the whole process takes 16 days (mothers), 21 days (worker-bees), 24 days (drones). Lower temperature causes the process to take longer. The mother (queen) lives for 2-6 years, worker-bees live for 1-4 months (in summer it is only a few weeks), drones live for about 30-60 days. Queens are 22mm long, drones are 20mm long and worker-bees are 16 mm long. Mothers are darker and easily recognizable thanks to a long abdomen with a noticeable ovipositor. Worker-bees have a sting and they are striped. Drones are longer than worker-bees and they do not have a sting. Mothers(queens) produce a specific smell (pheromones), that stops worker-bee larvae from evolving into a new mother. Once the queen gets older the pheromones get weaker and worker-bees start building comb cells where they raise numerous future mothers(queens). When the queen gets old, she lays eggs and the first one to hatch kills the others. The mother flies away from the beehive with a few worker bees. This action is known as swarming. This new swarm settle down on a nearby tree. That is when we see branches of trees being covered by hundreds of bees. The first ones to leave the swarm are the ,,observers“ their job is to find a suitable area for their new beehive. If they find a suitable place the rest of the swarm follows them. Then they build new combs in a hexagon shape where the mother lays small white eggs. Meanwhile in the first beehive the new mother with drones are going on a nuptial flight (also known as wedding flight) The mother comes back alone because the worker bees do not allow the drones to come back, they either kill them or expel them. The mother lays around 2500 eggs every day. Honey bees live in organised communities and they are very dependent on each other. A bee that has been left alone dies after a short period of time even if it has enough nutrition. Their way of life requires perfect division of labour and cooperation. This community resembles an individual organism.

Bee products

Bees produce various biologically valuable products such as honey, bee venom (apitoxin), propolis and vax. Honey helps treating problems with digestion, breathing, blood circulation and is commonly used as a sweetener. Bee stings aside from the pain have many positive effects. It helps with rheumatic diseases. Propolis has very strong antibacterial and antiseptic properties and is often used for healing wounds and in dentistry. Pollen is often used in cosmetic products and drugs. Wax is used for car cosmetics and used to be used instead of paraffin in candles.

Economic aspect

While collecting nectar, bees involuntarily pollinate flowers. The pollen gets stuck on short hair, that cover bee’s legs then the pollen sticks to a flower’s sticky stigma. The pollen they collect is later transferred into their pollen basket. Bees produce wax in a shape of scales. They create wax thanks to glands located in the lower part of their abdomen. It is used for building combs. Bee’s menu consists of pollen, nectar and metheglin

If bee stings a warm-blooded animal or a person they die because together with their sting their venomous gland gets torn off.

Wild bees usually live in forests and create their beehives on trees or rocks. But mankind has provided them with artificial beehives for centuries so they eventually adapted to live in synthetic hives, where humans take care of them regularly. Beehives consist of various vertical wax combs, which consist of small hexagon-shaped units. Worker-bees are responsible for building and maintaining the beehive.

The life of worker-bees

Every worker-bee has a short life span, but even during this short period of time they have an enormous amount of duties. First three days after hatching worker-bee cleans the combs and prepares them for the mother to lay eggs. Then for about 10 days the worker-bees take care and feed the larvae. Meanwhile they develop wax glands and start to build and maintain the beehive. They also collect pollen and nectar from other bees, which they later process. After their 12th day they fly away from the beehive to collect water, nectar and pollen, simply all things needed for the life of bees.

Worker-bees report to each other about the abundance of pollen and nectar and about their distance from the beehive. Worker-bees that come back to the beehive perform a waggle dance thanks to which they communicate. Their orientation point is the sun, even if it is cloudy.

The brain

Studies from Australian RMIT University have proven with an experiment using colours, that bees can perform simple mathematical operations and they understand the value of 0.

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