Honey Bees – An Overview
Honey bees are social insects that live and work together in a colony. They gather nectar from flowers to make honey to feed the colony.
There are 20,000 different kinds of bees in the world. One species, the honey bee, produces so much honey that there is enough to feed the entire bee colony, with enough left for people to collect. Honey bees have been bred by humans for centuries. There are three honey bee races that are often kept by beekeepers. Italian bees have brightly colored bodies and prefer warmer weather. Gray-haired Caucasian bees are native to Russia. They can live in colder weather. Carniolan bees come from Austria. They are dark-colored with gray hairs.
In every honey bee colony, there are three castes of bees: the queen, the male drones, and the female workers.
The queen lays the eggs in honeycomb cells. Queens five for up to four years, but beekeepers usually replace them every year as they lay the most eggs in their first year. The male drones mate with the new queen when she makes her mating flight. As soon as they have mated, the drones die.
The female workers have many jobs during their six weeks of life. They feed the other bees and larvae. They store the nectar and build the honeycomb. They guard the hive and ripen the honey. And they forage or search for nectar, pollen, and water.
Eggs hatch into larvae inside honeycomb cells. When the larvae are grown, worker bees close the honeycomb cells. Like butterfly larvae, bee larvae spin cocoons around themselves and gradually change into worker, drone or queen bees. Then they chew their way out of the cocoons.
Making the honey
Honey is made by bees. Bees are insects with six legs and four wings. They make honey and wax, and pollinate our plants and trees. They make honey from nectar which they collect from flowers. They eat the honey in winter when them are no flowers to collect nectar from.
People have always collected honey from bees in the wild. Wild bees live in holes in trees or in gaps under rocks. Most bees, however, are kept in hives so that people can collect the honey easily.
People who keep bees are called apiarists. They wear special hats and gloves to protect them against bee stings. Inside the hives are upright wooden frames. The bees make wax in their stomachs. They use the wax to make a honeycomb on each frame. The honeycomb has hundreds of six-sided compartments called cells.
Every hive has a queen bee. She eats a special, rich food called royal jelly which makes her large. Male bees are called drones. They fertilize the queen. The queen lays lots of eggs. Each egg is laid in one of the cells in the honeycomb.
Female bees are called workers. They collect nectar from flowers. They may fly many miles to find it. When they return they perform a dance to show the others where the nectar can be found.
The worker bees store the nectar inside their stomachs in a honey sac. They pass the nectar to the other bees, through their mouths. This turns the nectar into honey. Then the honey is stored in the honeycomb cells. The bees seal the cells with wax to keep the honey safe.
Worker bees gather nectar and carry it back to the hive where it is ripened into honey.
Each morning, worker bees scout for flowers that produce a lot of nectar called honey flora. The scouts use a special dance to tell other foragers where to find the honey flora. The foragers suck the nectar from the flowers with their proboscis and store it in pouches inside their bodies, called honey sacs. They also collect pollen to eat. The flower pollen rubs off onto their body hair. They comb the pollen from their hair with their legs or antennae and store it on their back legs.
Back at the hive, foragers pass the nectar to other worker bees’ mouths. Enzymes in the bees’ mouths will help turn the nectar into honey.
The nectar is placed into honeycomb cells. (Other cells have been chosen as brood cells for raising larvae.) The enzymes cause the sugars in the nectar, called sucrose, to change into honey sugars, called glucose, fructose, and maltose. To get rid of extra moisture in the ripening honey, workers move their muscles to create heat and fan their wings to move more air around.
When the honey is ready, workers close off the cells with beeswax to stop moisture or air getting in and spoiling the honey.
Most flowering plants need to be pollinated to grow seeds. Many plants pollinate themselves but as bees travel from flower to flower pollen sticks to the hairs on their bodies. The pollen then rubs off on another flower and can pollinate it. In this way, bees can cross-pollinate one plant with another of the same species. This makes the plant stronger.