Originally, honey bees existed only in Eurasia. However, over the years, humans have spread them throughout 4 other continents so can be found pretty much anywhere in the world.
People tend to forget the importance of these small, fuzzy creatures who help keep life humming along. It’s quite unfortunate but with knowledge comes power, so let us enlighten you about these amazing beings.
Honey Bees — The Types
Honey bees live in hives (as you probably know) but did you know that there are three different types of honey bees? Well, there are. Namely the queen, worker and drone. Let’s look at each one in turn.
The Queen Bee
You can tell which one is the queen thanks to her smooth, long abdomen that reaches past her wings.
What Does She Do?
The queen’s role in the hive is production. Typically, she is the sole fertile female in the “family” — yes, she’s a very busy woman!
She will start to lay eggs (as many as 2000 every day) at the beginning of spring after the workers have brought the first load of pollen back. This carries on until the middle of autumn (usually when the pollen is no longer around).
Queens can live for as long as 5 years but it’s pretty normal for them to only last 2 or 3. As you might imagine, the younger queens are more proficient at laying (like humans, who get continually less fertile the older they get).
You’ll find that beekeepers usually add another queen into their hive annually to ensure the continuity of their colony. Of course, the more experienced the beekeeper, the better they will raise their queens. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that beginners buy high-quality queens from great producers.
Drones are the male caste of honey bees. Their only role is to fertilise the young queen — hard life, right?
You can identify them somewhat easily because they are bigger yet shorter than workers. Plus, they have amazingly big eyes that connect on the top of their head with large antennae. Typically, they sport a smaller mouth than the workers and queen.
How Do Drones Eat and Survive?
Drone’s cells are usually bigger than those of the worker bee. And, oddly enough, they develop from eggs that are not fertilised.
They don’t make wax, nor do they collect nectar or pollen. Instead, they eat from the honey cells in the hive. Although, sometimes drones will beg the worker bees to give them some nectar or pollen to snack on.
A Day In The Life of a Drone Honey Bee
Their day is divided into parts that consist of resting, eating and guarding mating sites. These are referred to by bee experts as drone congregation areas.
A Drone’s Lifespan
Drones will cease to be when the summer season starts to turn since the food supply is severely diminished.
Just before winter comes about, the drones are forced out of the hive and workers guard the colony so they can’t return. However, if the hive has lost their queen, laying workers are born to produce more drones. Bear in mind that this is not good for the hive and most colonies don’t survive if this needs to happen.
We thought we’d save the smallest of the bee castes for last — the workers. Even though they’re tiny, there are more of them than drones.
Interestingly, all workers are infertile females. However, in some situations (i.e. where the queen is useless), they will lay unfertilised eggs that (as you know) turn into drones.
What Are Worker Bees In Charge Of?
As their name suggests, they work, meaning they perform all of the much-needed tasks in the colony. What are these, we hear you ask? Keep reading to find out:
- They make the wax and turn it into a honeycomb.
- They collect pollen and nectar.
- They turn the nectar into honey.
- They secrete royal jelly which the queen and larvae feed on.
- They form the caps for the mature larvae cells.
- They take the debris out of the hive.
- They remove dead bees from the hive.
- They guard the hive against attacks.
- They ensure “homeostasis” within the hive (temperature, ventilation, etc).
Worker Bees’ Distinctive Features
It’s fairly easy to figure out which bees are the workers since two eyes sit on the sides of the head, and three others on the vertex. Not to mention that their tongue is extremely long so they can easily extract nectar from the flowers.
Worker Bees — Their Lifespan
Typically, they only survive for a maximum of 6 weeks, reaching their “adult” state at the end of autumn.
All of them stay inside the hive for 2 weeks at the beginning of their life to do chores. After this, they’ll be field bees who forage for food in the surrounding areas. Finally, they will ensure the queen bee is warm throughout the winter.
The Number One Question, Answered — Do Honey Bees Sting?
It will be pleasing to know that their barbed, hooked stinger is purely for defence. So, unless you hurt (or scare) them, they won’t hurt you!
As it stings, the venom sac (attached to the honey bee stinger), gets pulled out of their abdomen and they die extremely quickly after. Since this is the case, they put off stinging for as long as possible and are not a naturally aggressive species.
Honey Bee Conservation
Of course, we couldn’t talk about honey bees without discussing conservation since it is such a huge, worldwide issue.
Wherever you can, plant flowers and build safe environments so our bees can flourish and continue to provide us with the food that many take for granted.
It doesn’t take an awful lot of effort to help them (just some easily accessible flowers, boxes shielded from the elements and so forth), so it do for yourself, your children, your community and all of humankind.
Happy honey bees equals a happy, healthy life.