Honey Bees are majestic little creatures and are descendants of the Apini tribe. Just as domesticated chickens originated from the forest floors of Thailand, the domesticated honey bee comes from the Philippines, Indonesia and the surrounding countries.
The only species of Honey Bee not to originate in South East Asia is the Western Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera.)
The Western Honey Bee is believed to have originated in Africa, where it spread to Europe, Asia, Oceana, and beyond. In fact, the only place Western Honey Bees are not found is in Antarctica.
Today we are going to take a look at the European Honey Bee, along with a typical colony hierarchy.
Types of Honey Bees
There are roughly twenty thousand bee species that have been identified to date. And yes, they are close relatives of wasps. In fact, bees are also closely related to ants and hornets too.
But let’s focus on the European Honey Bee today.
There are three types of bee in a European Honey Bee colony, which is further divided into house bees (remain in the hive) and field bees (leave the hive to forage for nectar.)
The Queen Bee
The Queen Bee is the ruling female in a Honey bee colony. She is the mother of all of the bees in the beehive, of which nearly all are daughters. Worker bees select which larvae that will become a Queen. It is believed that the chosen larvae are fed Royal, which ultimately helps them become a Queen!
However, different schools of thought have different ideas about how a Queen is chosen. Typically, there is only one Queen Bee in a colony. When a new virgin Queen is born, she will leave the hive in search of drones to mate with before setting up a hive of her own.
The Worker Bees
These are the bees you see buzzing around your garden flowers. A worker bee’s job is to collect pollen and nectar to take back to the hive. Yep! These are the hardest working bees in a colony.
Worker bees are all female and have a lifespan of just 6 weeks. That’s a short life to achieve what they need to.
They control what happens in the hive. Some of their jobs include Housekeeping, guarding, and feeding the queen, drones, and larvae. We know that nectar is turned into honey. But what about pollen?
Pollen is a protein rich powder that honey bees mix with nectar to make ‘bee bread.’ This bee bread is then fed to the larvae to help them grow and develop.
Drones are male honey bees. They neither have stingers nor do they collect or gather pollen and nectar. Their primary role is to mate with a virgin Queen bee.
It’s a thankless job that ultimately ends with death. When a queen lands, male bees insert their endophallus (penis-like structure) to inseminate the Queen.
Once the drone ejaculates and tries to pull out, his endophallus is ripped off, splitting his stomach open and remaining in the Queen. This is then removed by the next drone to mate with her before his fate is sealed too.
The Queen bee will mate with several drones that provide her with all the sperm she needs to fertilise up to 100 million eggs!
Standard Honey Bee Characteristics:
Honey bees belong to the class Insecta and are classified as insects. They are part of the sub-family Apinae. Members of the Apinae family produce and store sugar in a liquefied form, also known as honey.
Honey bees are roughly 15 mm in length and are range from light brown to soft yellow. Though the body colour of honey bees varies within different species, some honey bees have jet black bodies (the Iberian Honey Bee to name one.)
Bees are known for their stripes, which serve the purpose of sending a signal to predators that they are armed with the ability to sting. Pretty neat right!
The fine hairs on their body are what help with pollination. Pollination is a bee’s way of rewarding a plant in exchange for its sweet nectar, and vice versa.
European Honey Bees
As the name suggests, European Honey Bees originated in Europe. They were introduced to North America in 1622 during the era of exploration. European honey bees and Western honey bees are the same, just with a different name.
The typical worker bee of a European honey bee will be around 10-15 mm in size. The drone is approximately 15-17 mm. And Queen Bees are the largest, ranging from 18 to 20 mm.
European Honey Bees have the same yellow colour with black stripes along their abdomen. They have a four-stage metamorphosis process, which is: Egg, Larvae, Pupae, and adult.
The Queen bee has the fastest growth. Typically she will reach her adult state within 15 days. Followed by workers at 21 days, and drones at 24 days.
European honey bees are social insects, and each of them has roles and duties to perform. A typical Queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day. When they hatch, baby bees are fed a combination of pollen, nectar, and royal jelly. A special food which is produced by the young workers to feed the Queen and her babies.
European Honey Bees tend to be found in areas with plenty of flowers and freely-available food sources. Think along the lines of meadows, woodlands, and gardens.
Here are some of the interesting Honey Bee Facts:
To make one pound of honey, Honey Bees have to collect nectar from about 2 million flowers.
For one bee to make one pound of honey it would have to fly three times around the world, which is roughly 90,000 miles.
A typical honey bee will visit around 100 flowers a trip.
The medium of communication for honey bees is dance.
A drone will not have a stinger and will do no work. Their only job is to mate with the Queen bee (and lose his penis along the way! ouch!)
Honey Bees are fascinating creatures with more importance to ecosystems than we give them credit for. It’s all too easy to think that a bee is a bee and just makes honey.
Yes, honey bees make honey. But that’s not all they do. From Royal Jelly and Beeswax, to pollinating and harvesting, the life of the European honey bee is one that is short, hard, but completely invaluable.