Bees always look so busy! Have you ever wondered what they are doing? How is it that they make such wonderfully sweet honey? If you keep bees, it is important for you to understand bees and how they work. Then you can manage them properly and get the most benefit from your work.
Bees live in groups. A group of bees that lives together in the same hive is called a colony. There are three types of bees in a colony: the queen bee, the drones and the workers. Most colonies have a work force of one queen bee, hundreds of drones, and many thousand worker bees.
The queen bee is the only bee in the colony that can lay eggs. She is very important because she keeps the colony populated.
The drone is a male bee which lives for about 24 days. His only task is to mate with a young queen bee. After this, the drone dies.
The worker is a female bee but she does not reproduce. She is the hardest working member of the hive. Even though she is the smallest in the colony, the worker bee does all the work in and out of the hive. The worker bee has a sting, and pollen baskets on its hind legs.
You can recognize the queen bee by her size. She is larger than the worker bees and longer than the drones. Her wings are shorter than the other bees. She has a wider body, longer legs, and is a brighter colour. She has no pollen baskets on her hind legs and her sting is slightly curled.
But you won’t see much of the queen bee. She goes out of the hive for two purposes. If the entire colony decides to permanently leave the hive for some reason, the queen also leaves. This is called swarming. The other time the queen leaves the hive is when she is ready to mate. After the queen bee lays her eggs, she mates with about ten drones. She collects sperm from them and stores it in her stomach. With this sperm, the queen bee fertilizes her eggs in the hive.
After the eggs hatch the worker bee feeds the larvae. It is also the job of the worker to feed the queen and the drones. Next, the workers build the comb. The comb is a wax structure made of small, six sided cells. The cells are little storage units. In these cells the workers raise young bees. The cells are also used to store honey and pollen. After about three weeks, the worker develops a sting and is ready to leave the hive.
Honey production begins when worker bees leave the hive to collect nectar from the flowers of plants and trees. The bees collect nectar in a sac attached to their body and bring it back to the hive. In the hive the bees pass the nectar around, swallowing and spitting it out many times. By doing this, the workers change the nectar into a thicker liquid that has more protein and less water. The workers empty this liquid into the comb cells and fan it with their wings to get rid of excess water. This makes the liquid even thicker. Eventually it becomes honey. Once the honey is ripe, the worker bees seal the comb cells with a thin layer of wax which prevents the honey from fermenting. The bees use honey for food when it is needed in the future.
As you can see, the hive is a “honey factory” full of bees who work hard all day. If you provide a building–your hive– and some help along the way, your factory will make sweet honey while you wait!
If you or anyone in your family is allergic to bee stings it is not advisable to raise bees. Allergic reactions associated with bee stings can be severe. When a person has an allergic reaction the following symptoms develop: itchy hands and feet; rash (red, itchy bumps) on body; swollen throat; and difficulty breathing.
Stings cause minor swelling on most people but this is normal and does not indicate an allergy.
- This script was written for the Farm Radio Network by Marina Biasutti, Milton, Canada. It was reviewed by Carlos Sanchez, a beekeeper who has worked in Peru and Canada.
- The production of this script was made possible with the generous support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada.
- Bee-keeping, 1990, Training in agriculture-Booklet 237. INADES-Formation, Kenya. All graphics from this source.
- Introduction to beekeeping, First edition, 1988. Swaziland Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, P.O. Box 162, Mbabane, Swaziland.
- Beekeeping handbook, B. Clauss, 1982. Ministry of Agriculture, Private Bag 003, Gabarone, Botswana
- Beekeeping in the tropics, Agrodok 32, May 1991. Agromisa, P.O. Box 41, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
- Information on honey, Chart 2, Dr. Nicola Bradbear, 1986. International Beekeeping Association, Hill House, Gerrards Cross, Bucks., SL9 0NR, UK.