Life of Honey Bees
A honey bee is a member of the genus Apis. Apis is the Latin word for bee. Seven species are recognized today. Honey bees are one of the twenty thousand types of bees known. They produce honey and live in colonies made of wax. Bees are kept and maintained by many people. The study of bees, especially the honey bee, is called mellitology.
Honey bees seem to have originated from Southeast Asia. Most of the species known today are found there. In each colony, there are a Queen bee, worker bees, and drones. Drones are the males. The Queen bee lays the eggs. The drones are used for mating. The worker bees work to produce the honey. Each colony will have only one Queen bee, but fifty to sixty thousand workers, and six hundred to one thousand drones. Queen bees do not mate with drones from their own colony.
The life cycle of a honey bee is made up of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. An egg is laid by the Queen bee in a wax cell of the honeycomb made by the worker bees. Eggs are very small and look like poppy seeds. One side has an opening for the male sperm to enter. This stage lasts for three days. Then the larva appears.
The larva is also very tiny. For the first two days, the larvae eat royal jelly. By the third day, those who will be Queen bees continue to eat the royal jelly. The rest of the larvae eat water, honey, and pollen. The Queen bee is in the larval stage for five and one-half days. Drones remain larvae for six and one-half days. Worker bees remain larvae for six days.
In the pupa stage, the bee's body looks like a worm with three noticeable parts to its body. The Queen bee stays in this stage for seven and one-half days, worker bees for twelve days and the drone fourteen and one-half. In the adult stage, the bees are fully grown. Drones are produced by the mother only, the Queen bee. The workers and Queen bee have a male and female parent.
The Apis mellifera is the most common type of bee to be farmed. Mellifera means 'honey-bearing' in Latin. This type was not native to the Americas but was brought by the early colonists. The bees did not cross the mountains in the west by themselves but were carried by Mormon settlers to Utah in the 1840's. These honey bees were also brought to California by ship.
Worker bees have different tasks depending on their age. Young worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae with royal jelly which they produce. They are called nurse bees. When they can no longer make the royal jelly, they take on the task of building the cells. Later, they take in the pollen and nectar from the bees which go out to get it from the flowers. They also guard the hive. Lastly, a worker bee becomes a forager, a bee which goes out to gather the pollen.
Groups of bees called swarms consist of a mated Queen bee and many worker bees. They move together to form a new colony. Worker bees have already scouted out a new location and do a special dance to show the direction of their new home. The swarm begins to build a new wax honeycomb. This manner of creating a new nest is not found in any other type of bee.
In cold climates, the worker bees crowd around the Queen bee in the center of the hive to keep her warm. They change places frequently within the hive, so all may stay warm. In the winter, they eat their honey to keep warm. Honey bees get all their nutrition from pollen and nectar. On hot days, forager bees will collect water from streams and ponds to cool the hive.
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