Image of bee foraging

Bee Basics

Semi-social Insects / Social Insects

Semi-social Insects

The colony is there only during the summer season.

Bumble Bees and Wasps

Bumble Bees:

Plump, furry, with black and yellow bands around the body.

Wasps:

Slender insect with yellow body with black bands around it.

These insects have similar life histories. During August many queens are reared mated and then each one finds a warm corner where she hibernates for the winter.

In February or March each queen seeks out a suitable place to build a nest and from a tiny beginning the nest builds up as the young wasps and bumblebees are born.

The queen is a builder, a forager and a nurse until the first lot of young are reared. Then she confines herself to laying eggs and the workers take over all the other duties.

Social Insects

The Colony is there all year round.

Honeybees

Honey Bees

Body shape is like the Wasp but the colour is different.

The body is brown or black with lighter coloured bands encircling it.

The Colony is the collective name for all the bees in the nest or hive. Its size varies depending on the time of year. It is at its smallest from November to February and at its largest between June and August. Each colony is divided into three Castes, Queen, Worker, and Drone.

Queen:

The queen is the mother of the colony. She is about 25mm in length and has a long tapered abdomen. Each colony has only one queen. She lays eggs from which queens, workers and drones are born. She is fed and tended by her court of workers and spends all her time laying eggs, one in each cell.

The cell from which she is born is different from the other cells. It is cone-shape and hangs down on the face of the honeycomb. It is called a Queen Cell. Queens can live for five or six years but they are at their best during the first two or three years of life.

Worker:

The worker is a female bee. She is shorter than the queen, about 20mm in length. Her ovaries are not developed therefore in normal circumstances she cannot lay eggs. Workers do all the work in the nest or hive. Their stage of development determines what area of work they do e.g. very young bees feed the older grubs, then as their food glands develop they feed very young larvae.

The next stage is beeswax making and so on. They spend about three weeks working in the hive before becoming foragers, gathering nectar from which honey is made and pollen.

Workers live for only six weeks during the active season but those born in late September and October live for six months because there is no foraging at that time of year and little brood to rear.

Drone:

The drone is the male bee. He is bigger and stouter than his sisters. He is not quite as long as the queen but looks bigger because of his shape. His function in life is to mate with the young queen.

Drones are born each year from about mid-April to the end of July and in August when the supply of nectar starts to diminish they are driven from the colony by the workers and killed.

Because of their size they serve to provide heat in the brood nest but they do not perform any work in the colony. Therefore when the end of the foraging season comes they are no longer tolerated.

The drone's life span is an average of twenty one to thirty two days during Spring to mid-Summer. However during late Summer and Autumn they can survive up to ninety days

Honeybees in the wild live in trees, roofs, walls or any other place that provides shelter. Under the control of the beekeeper they live in a hive.

Hive

A square or rectangular box generally made from wood. No top or bottom is attached but a separate floor is placed underneath the box and a ceiling (called a crown board) on top. A shallow box covered with rainproof material is inverted over the top to form a roof. The Hive contains Bar Frames.

Bar Frames

are wooden frames on which the bees build honeycomb. There are two sizes Deep and Shallow. Eleven deep frames are used in the bottom box of the hive called a Brood Chamber. The shallow frames are used for storing honey in the supers.

Honeycomb

is a sheet of six-sided tubes called cells made from Beeswax. The bees use these cells to store food and rear young bees. The beekeeper fixes a sheet of beeswax embossed on each side with the shapes of the cells. The frames are placed into the brood chamber and the bees build each cell up from this base.

Brood Chamber.

This is the box that holds the nest area of the honeybee colony. Here the bees store food and rear young bees on the frames of beeswax. Brood is the collective name for the developing stage of the bee from the time the egg is laid until the adult bee emerges from the cell.

Supers

Are boxes similar to the brood chamber but only about half the depth. They also hold eleven frames but generally only ten are put in and the space between each frame is increased a little. They are put on over the brood chamber to provide storage space for the honey and are removed at the end of the season so that the honey can be drawn off.

Honeybees collect nectar, pollen and water. They eat honey and pollen. They also need clean water especially when rearing young bees.

Honey is a sweet liquid made by honeybees from nectar gathered from plants. Honeybees have a special sac for carrying the nectar. It is found in the upper part of the abdomen. As the nectar passes through the pharynx, or mouth of the bee, an enzyme is added which starts the process of converting nectar to honey.

When the bees arrive back in the hive the nectar is passed to three or four house bees who ripen the nectar, reducing the water level to 18% and turn the nectar into honey. Then they pack it into the honeycomb and seal it over with beeswax to keep out the air.

Pollen

A powder-like substance produced by flowers. It is the male part of the reproductive system of plants. It also provides the protein in the bee's diet. It is an essential ingredient of the food given to the young bee grubs.

Nectar

This is a sweet liquid secreted by plants. It provides the carbo-hydrate in the bee's diet.

Water.

This is used to dilute the honey before bees eat it or are able to feed it to young larvae. Like pollen it is essential for bees to have ample water when rearing larvae.

Beeswax

Honeybees make beeswax. They produce it from glands found on the underside of the abdomens of the workers. Each tiny wax flake is pushed out and moulded by the bee with her mandibles into whatever shape she requires

In the course of the honeybees' visits to the flowers of many plants and trees to gather nectar and pollen the latter clings to the hairs on their bodies and is transferred from one flower to the female part of the next flower.

This is called pollination, which is followed by fertilization after which the seed or fruit of the plant begins to form. These are essential processes in the plant's reproduction. Honeybees are therefore very important in nature as pollinators. They will only visit flowers of the same species e.g. if they are working apple blossom they will not visit dandelion even though it may be growing nearby.

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