Bees are four-winged, flower-feeding insects. Honeybees and bumblebees are the most common. Bumblebees are larger and stronger than honeybees. Bees are beneficial insects because they produce honey and pollinate crops.
The queen is the mother of the hive. There is only one queen and each day she has to lay the 1000 or so eggs that will develop into new honeybees. Her strong pheromones (body smells) keep the colony working together and prevent the worker bees from trying to lay eggs.
The drones are lazy boys. Their only work is to mate with a queen and only the fittest few will get this pleasure. Otherwise they sit around the hive being looked after by the workers or hang round on the bee equivalent of street corners waiting for a young queen to come by. All summer they luxuriate. But when the weather gets cold the workers drive these passengers outside to die. And yes, its true that when a drone mates with the queen he dies in the act – but he dies smiling. The drone bees are male and do not have a sting.
The worker bees are female, but they do not breed. It is the thousands of worker bees who keep the colony going. From the day they are born they slave away without complaining; cleaning and guarding the hive, feeding the developing bee brood (babies), building the honeycomb, and collecting nectar to process into honey stores for the long winter when there are no flowers. The workers keep the hive cool in summer and warm in winter. And they communicate very efficiently too – they can tell their sisters where to find the best flowers, and the amount and quality of the nectar they will find there. They can tell if the queen is safe and if that new bee trying to creep in is a stranger from another hive coming to steal their precious honey.
The honeybee goes through a number of development stages before becoming an adult. Whether it becomes a queen, a worker or a drone, all honeybees must make the transition through the four stages of metamorphosis; egg, larva, pupa and adult. The queen lays her eggs in the cells of the honeycomb. Fertilised eggs become workers (or a new queen) while unfertilised eggs become drones. The worker bees work hard feeding the rapidly growing larvae. Finally, the honeycomb cells are capped over so the larvae can spin their cocoons and pupate in private.
When the transformation from pupa to adult is complete, the young bee emerges from the cell to take its place in honeybee society. The process from egg to adult can take as little as 16 days for a queen, 21 days for a worker or as long as 24 days for a drone. Once a worker emerges, her life span can vary from just a few weeks to almost a year depending on the season, the food available and the work she has to do. The new worker bee is soft, fluffy and rather undeveloped. Over the next weeks various specialised glands will mature determining the work she does in the colony. The work includes cleaning, feeding the young brood, packing nectar and pollen in the cells, building wax honeycomb, guarding the colony finally graduating to nectar, pollen, propolis and water collection.
Honey is a thick liquid produced by certain types of bees from the nectar of flowers. While many species of insects consume nectar, honeybees refine and concentrate nectar to make honey. Indeed, they make lots of honey so they will have plenty of food for times when flower nectar is unavailable, such as winter. Unlike most insects, honeybees remain active through the winter, consuming and metabolizing honey in order to keep from freezing to death. Early humans probably watched bears and other mammals raid bee hives for honey and then tried it themselves.
Bees collect nectar from flowering plants and store it in their honey sac in their abdomen where, by the action of the enzyme invertase, it is partially converted to honey. When back at the hive, they pass it on to the house bees who continue this change after which it becomes honey. The honey is put into cells but because its water content is too high the bees need to fan dry air over it to evaporate excess water until its sugar content is about 80% at which point it is ready to be sealed into the cells by capping with wax. If stored in an “unripe” condition the honey will ferment. The average load of a foraging bee is 40mg. and may be taken from 100 to 1000 flowers. Each trip lasts between 1/2 - 1 hour and the bee might make 10 trips per day. Honey is used by the bees, along with pollen, to feed the colony. The bees will collect honey until the hive is full or the weather prevents them, this is exactly what the beekeeper wants as he can estimate how much honey the bees need to over- winter and how much he can take for himself.