The Honey Bee: Friend or Foe
Originally found in Asia and the Middle East, honeybees travelled with early European colonists to North America. In the 1800s, honeybees became a common household name and today they live close to human settlements. Honey bees are one of the most organized societies in the insect world.
A honey bee colony is constituted of three castes of bee:
– a queen bee, which is normally the only breeding female in the colony
– a large number of female worker bees, typically 30,000 to 60,000 in number
– a number of male drones, ranging from thousands in a strong hive in spring to very few during dearth or cold season.
The queen sits on the very top of the hierarchy and is responsible for the direction of the whole colony. She is the only sexually mature female in the hive and all of the other female worker bees and male drones are her offspring. She is the only one who can mate and lay eggs. All the other females are sterile. The queen delegates to every individual of the colony what to do, designating which ones are responsible for the collection of nectar and pollen from the flowers (foragers), who are the honey comb builders (they have a special wax gland) and who is going to guard the colony against invaders. The queen does not work. All she does is give orders to everyone in the colony (she communicates by pheromones), mate and lay from 1,500 to 2,000 eggs every day. For that, her weight and buildup stands testimony to her capacity to laying so many eggs. The queen bee is recognized from her long body and a longer abdomen. The reason she is so big and is the only fertile bee in the colony is because she is the only one fed Royal Jelly and all the other bees are fed honey. She has a curved smooth stinger, while worker bees have straight barbed stingers. They live for an average of 2-4 years while all the other bees live from 6-16 weeks, depending on the season of the year. When the queen gets old and loses the ability to produce pheromones, which is used to communicate with the other bees, or breaks a leg or an antennae, she is killed by a mob of bees and a substitute queen replaces it.
There are numerous in a bee colony. Almost all the bees in a hive are female worker bees. If it is a mature colony they can amount up to 60,000 strong. It is these bees that make such a neat society. As soon as the sun is up, they are out and about, working in different functions in the colony and also protecting their settlement. They are always working hard to make honey and to support their family. They are responsible for gathering nectar and pollen, building honeycombs, nursing the larvae and protecting the colony. They cannot mate or lay eggs.
Field bees (foragers) collect nectar from the flowers and bring it to the hive, where more worker bees take the nectar in their mouths, place it into the chambers to cure and after it is ripened, it converts into honey. In the process of collecting nectar and pollen, they pollinate the flowers.
Most of our customers think that the bees that are in their houses and trees are the same ones they heard in the news or read on line that are having problems. They are NOT THE SAME. CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder is the disease that is affecting bees RAISED BY PROFESSIONAL BEE KEEPERS but everybody confuses them with PEST BEES that dwell in structures and trees. That means they are NOT pollinating crops like their sister bees that are raised by professional bee keepers with the specific purpose of honey extraction and to rent the boxes that the bees are raised to crop farmers, for pollination of some vegetables, legumes or fruit trees.
Drones are the largest bees in the hive (except for the queen), at almost twice the size of a worker bee. They do not work, do not forage for pollen or nectar, are unable to sting (they are stingless), and have no other known function than to mate with new queens and fertilize them on their mating flights. They are defenseless and have to be protected and fed by the workers bees. A bee colony generally starts to raise drones a few weeks before building queen cells so they can supersede a failing queen or prepare for swarming. When queen-raising for the season is over, bees in colder climates drive drones out of the hive to die, biting and tearing their wings. Nevertheless, drones have an important role in the hive.
Field bees collect nectar from flowers and bring it to the hive, where more worker bees take the nectar in their mouths and start making honey. It is nectar that is converted in honey. When the honey is ripened, the nest is sealed with wax. The honey is stored for winter months, when honeybees have nothing to feed on.
Field bees take pollens to their nests. Pollens stick to their hind legs are carried away to their nests. An interesting fact about honeybees is they collect nectar from chosen varieties of flowers. Since they limit their visit to certain varieties of plants, they are able to play a crucial role in cross pollination. If the honeybees collect nectar from different varieties of plants, they would play no role in pollination.
It provides honey that has great nutritional value. People keep these bees to get honey but nesting of bees in human settlements is seen as infestation. Since worker bees can harm and injure human and animals, they are seen as foes. But they aren’t. They want to live peacefully like other living organisms. If you see a beehive close to your home, don’t panic. Take it as a friend and find a solution that is acceptable to both you and honeybees to get rid of the beehive. It can be relocated to a place safe for honeybees.