Introduction to Honey Bees

Introduction to Honey Bees
02/06/2018 Margarida Moreira


Honey is one of the most valued and appreciated natural substances known to mankind since ancient times. There are many types of honey mentioned in Ayurveda. Over 300 different varieties are available to us in Europe (e.g. asphodel, sweet chestnut, citrus, vitex, eucalyptus, honeydew, heather, lime, thyme, mint, rapeseed, sage, strawberry tree, sulla flower, savory, elder, and thistle). But the question is: how everything begins?

A sweet, golden (or brown) viscous liquid is produced by honey bees (example: Apis mellifera, Apis cerana, Apis nigrocincta etc). The bees collect the nectar of flowering plants and save it inside the beehive – serving as a food supply for times of scarcity.

Honey Bees

Honey bees have three castes: workers, queens (both females) and

males drones.

  • Drones: the queen or a laying worker bee lays an unfertilized egg. Drones develop in 24 days and they can sum up to 500 per hive. This cast does not collect nectar or protect the hive and therefore does not have a stinger. A drone’s primary role is to fertilized a receptive queen. Mating occurs in flight, which accounts for drones’ need for better vision (larger eyes). A successful intercourse results in the death of the drone. The penis and associated abdominal tissues are ripped from the drone’s body after the sexual intercourse.
  • Workers: the queen fertilizes eggs from stored sperm resulting in female workers. Workers are the smallest members of the colony, develop in 21 days and are the largest group (20,000 – 80,000 individuals).
  • Queen: is the dominant reproductive female in the hive. The workers bees feed a single female larvae on an exclusive diet of “royal jelly” to create a queen. Queens develop in oversized cells within 16 days. Normally there is only one adult, mated queen in a hive. All the bees that belong to the same hive will follow and protect the queen bee. Its physiology, morphology (bigger, functional set of ovaries and a spermatheca that stores sperm after mating. The queen’s sting is not barbed like workers bees’.), and behavior are different from worker bees. The Queen’s role is to produce eggs (might lay 2,000 per day).

Royal jelly is a protein-rich secretion from the glands in the heads of worker bees and is fed to all drones and workers during the first 3 days of development, while the queen is fed throughout its development.

Life Span

⦁ Workers: range from five to seven weeks (only 6 weeks during honey production seasons). The first few weeks of a worker’s life are spent working within the hive, while the last weeks are spent foraging for food and gathering pollen or nectar.
⦁ Queen: lives on average two to three years, but have been known to live five years. Note that a domesticated queen may die earlier, as beekeepers “re-queen” the hives frequently.
⦁ Drones: as previously mentioned, the main task of a drone is to mate a queen. If a mature drone successfully mates with a queen, he will die soon after the mating flight. If it is unsuccessful in the mating flight, the drone will be rejected from his hive at the end of the active summer season (leading to its death by cold or starvation).

The lifespan of a colony depends upon the survival of a variety of bees within it (e.g. a colony can’t survive if only the queen lives, for instance, because she is unable to produce honey or pollinate flowers on her own) and is determine by pollen consumption, protein abundance and level of activity.

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