Honey Bees

(Apis mellifera Linnaeus)

Is it Honey Bees, or Honeybees?

Both work when talking about these busy bees.

Of the 20,000 known species of bees, there are 7 species of Honeybees world wide (around 40 subspecies).

As the world's most popular insect, there is much to write on, but for the sake of this web page, I will try to keep it to the basics.

This bee species is native to the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa and in the early 1600s, the insect was introduced to North America, with subsequent introductions of other European subspecies two centuries later. Since then, they have spread throughout the Americas.

Among species of bees identified, the Honeybee is the only one that produces honey.

Honey Bees are social insects, living in colonies of up to 80,000 bees....... each with its own purpose. When the colony out grows its hive, a queen will swarm off with several thousand worker bees and establish a new Queendom, leaving the old hive for a young queen to call her own.

What is life like for Honey Bees?

Honey Bee

It depends upon what its status is when born. If it is a female, it will be most likely to become a worker bee . The life of the worker bee involves the making and maintenance of the nest. The youngest worker bees clean the empty cell and tend to the larvae.

It is the worker Honey Bee you are most likely to encounter outside as it gathers nectar, pollen and water for the young in the hive.

A bee will fly in random patterns to collect the nectar, but tend to concentrate their efforts on like flowers on any given trip. This is how we get clover honey, lavender honey and other specialized honey.

This busy little bee can visit up to 2,000 flowers in a day.

In one trip, a worker will visit between 50 and 100 flowers. She will return to the hive carrying over half her weight in pollen and nectar. One worker bee will produce about 1/12Th of a teaspoon of honey in the course of her lifetime.

When she has all she can carry in her specialized pollen pouches, the bee will make a 'beeline' for the nest.

While foraging for nectar and pollen, bees inadvertently transfer pollen from the male to the female components of flowers. This way they help the fertilization of many of our crop-bearing plants.

Honey bee cluster in hive

The success of a beehive depends largely on the Queen Bee. When a queen is old or dead, the worker bees will select only a few of the larvae to develop into queens. The selected larvae have special cells to grow in and are fed royal jelly. A queen will emerge from her cell in only 16 days after the egg has been laid.

She will eat honey to gain strength.

If there is more than one queen in the nest the queen bees may fight until death or a queen may leave or 'swarm' from the nest with other workers to establish a new colony. A newly established queen bee flies out of the hive and will mate with one or several "drones." Most likely, this one mating event will allow her to lay eggs for the rest of her life.

A queen bee may lay up to 2,000 eggs a day and up to 1,000,000 in her lifetime.

Life expectancy of a queen is three to four years.

Worker Honey Bees are always female bees. under developed females. The stinger is actually an under developed ovipositor. Instead of laying eggs, she has a barbed stinger. Workers do everything from caring for the queen, the nursery, collecting food, to protecting the colony.

Worker bees live for 6 weeks during the busy summer, and for 4-9 months in the cold and less active winter months.

The "drones" are male bees that have developed from unfertilized eggs. They do no work and are stingless. Their only job is to mate with the queen. An unmated queen will lay drone eggs. She will only lay worker eggs if she is fertilized. In autumn, when the honey flow is over, so is the need for drones.

Though research shows that drones will indeed collect food, the workers will allow the drones to starve to death when the egg laying season finishes, and they would eat too much of the stored honey if allowed to live over the winter.

Honey Bee

Honey Bees communicate through the language of dance. Honey bees are able to direct other bees to food sources through the round dance and the waggle dance

Honey Bees collect flower nectar and convert it to honey which is stored in their hives. The nectar is transported in the stomach of the bees, and is converted to honey through the addition of various digestive enzymes, and by being stored in a "honey cell" and then partially dehydrated.

Nectar and honey provide the energy for the bees' flight muscles and for heating the hive during the winter period. Honey bees also collect pollen which supplies protein and fat for bee brood to grow. Centuries of selective breeding by humans have created honey bees that produce far more honey than the colony needs.

The Honey bee's primary commercial value is as a pollinator of crops. Orchards and fields have grown larger; at the same time wild pollinators have dwindled. In several areas of the world the pollination shortage is compensated by migratory beekeeping, with beekeepers supplying the hives during the crop bloom and moving them after bloom is complete.

Wintering Over:

The period from September to December might be considered the beginning of a new year for a colony of Honey Bees. The condition of the colony at this time of year greatly affects its prosperity for the next year. In the fall a reduction in the amounts of nectar and pollen coming into the hive causes reduced brood rearing and diminishing population.

Depending on the age and egg-laying condition of the queen, the proportion of old bees in the colony decreases. The young bees survive the winter, while the old ones gradually die. Propolis (sap) collected from the buds of trees is used to seal all cracks in the hive and reduce the size of the entrance to keep out cold air. When the temperature drops to 57° F,(30 c) the bees begin to form a tight cluster.

Honey bees and honeycomb

Within this cluster the brood (consisting of eggs, larvae, and pupae) is kept warm-about 95° F (35 c), with heat generated by the bees. the internal temperature may be as low as 68–72 °F (20–22 °C) on very cold winter days.

The egg laying of the queen bee tapers off and may stop completely during October or November, even if pollen is stored in the combs.

During cold winters, the colony is put to its severest
test of endurance.

Under subtropical, tropical, and mild winter conditions, egg laying and brood rearing usually never stop. Their metabolic rate remains normal as they cluster together to maintain a hive temperature of around 90 to 93 degrees. Worker bees will create a cluster with the queen bee at the center.

The worker honey bees flex their wing muscles - although they do not actually use or flap their wings - to generate heat. The ball is constantly moving as the bees on the outermost edge of the cluster move inward to warm themselves and those on the inside move out.

The cluster will remain over brood to keep it from becoming chilled and dying and will also move to areas of honey stores in order to eat.

As temperatures drop, the bees draw closer together to conserve heat. The outer layer of bees is tightly compressed, insulating the bees within the cluster. As the temperature rises and falls, the cluster expands and contracts.

The bees within the cluster have access to the food stores. During warm periods, the cluster shifts its position to cover new areas of comb containing honey.

Honey Bee

In the temperate zone, Honey bees survive winter as a colony, and the queen begins egg laying in mid to late winter, to prepare for spring. This is most likely triggered by longer day length. She is the only fertile female, and deposits all the eggs from which the other bees are produced. Except for a brief mating period when the queen honey bee may make several flights to mate with drones, or if she leaves in later life with a swarm to establish a new colony, the queen rarely leaves the hive after the larvae have become full grown bees. The queen deposits each egg in a cell prepared by the worker bees.

The egg hatches into a small larva which is fed by nurse bees (worker bees who maintain the interior of the colony). After about a week, the larva is sealed up in its cell by the nurse bees and begins the pupal stage. After another week, it will emerge an adult bee.

Both workers and queen honey bees are fed "Royal Jelly" during the first three days of the larval stage. Then workers are switched to a diet of pollen and nectar or diluted honey, while those intended for queens will continue to receive royal jelly. This causes the larva to develop to the pupa stage more quickly, while being also larger and fully developed sexually.

During the larval and pupal stages, various parasites can attack the pupa/larva and destroy or damage it.

The average lifespan of the queen in most subspecies is three to four years.

The lifespan of the worker Honey Bee varies drastically over the year in places with an extended winter. Workers born in the spring and summer will work hard and live only a few weeks, whereas those born in the autumn will stay inside for several months as the colony clusters.

On average during the year about one percent of a colony's worker bees die naturally per day. Except for the queen, all of the colony's workers are therefore exchanged about every four months.

Creation at its best is Grand to Behold.

How to Attract Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

Pollen Sacs

Bumble Bees

Ground Bees

Squash Bees

Leafcutter Bees

Orchard Mason Bees

Protecting Pollinators.

Pollination Primers.


Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Butterflies and more. Pollinators are everywhere. To learn more on "GARDENING FOR WILDLIFE", subscribe for your free copy today.

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