Types of Honey Bees
Honey bees are social insects that live in colonies consisting of a single queen, hundreds of male drones and 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees. Each honey bee colony also consists of developing eggs, larvae and pupae. The colonies depend upon diversity of population for survival, as each bee member of the colony is important and plays a role in the survival of that colony.
Queens are the only members of a colony able to lay fertilized eggs. An egg-laying queen is important in establishing a strong honey bee colony, and is capable of laying up to 2,000 eggs (both fertilized and unfertilized) per day. Being the only sexually developed female, her primary function is reproduction. The queen bee’s body is normally much larger than other bees, especially during the egg-laying period when her abdomen is greatly elongated. Her wings cover only about two-thirds of the abdomen and she has no pollen baskets or functional wax glands. Her stinger is curved and longer, but it has fewer and shorter barbs. Her only job is to mate and lay eggs. The stingers are not used to defend the colony; If there is a rivalry between queen bees to occupy a colony, they use it against each other. The one who kills the other wins the battle and becomes the new queen.
Within the first or second week the queen bee takes her nuptial flight. She flies away from the hive and produces a chemical odor called pheromone which attracts the drones. The drones follow the queen unless they are able to mate with her during the flight in the air. The queen mates, usually in the afternoon, with about seven to twenty drones at an altitude above 20 feet. After mating, the queen returns to the hive and begins laying eggs. She can lay eggs in the cells made of beeswax built by the worker bees. The queen is constantly attended and fed royal jelly by the worker bees. The number of eggs she lays depends on the amount of food she receives and the size of the colony’s worker force capable of preparing beeswax cells for her eggs and caring for the larva that will hatch in 3 days. She lays eggs of which are born workers bees, drones or queen bees. The eggs meant for queen bees are laid in larger cell. Larvae which shall become queens are also fed royal jelly instead of ordinary beebread. The queen can live for several years—sometimes up to 5 years, but average productive life span is 2 to 3 years. A queen is replaced by a new queen after her death. When the queen substance secreted by the queen is no longer adequate, the workers prepare to replace (supersede) her. If the worker bees are unable to find a queen, the colony perishes.
Worker honey bees are the largest population within a colony forming about 95% of the colony. They are entirely female, smallest in size and essential members of honey bee colonies. They are called worker bees because they work hard all their lives. They are sexually undeveloped females and under normal hive conditions do not lay eggs. Workers have specialized structures including food glands, scent glands, wax glands, and pollen baskets, which allow them to perform all the labors of the hive in order to ensure preserve survival of the colony. They clean and polish the cells, feed larvae, feed the brood, feed and care for the queen, remove debris, gather nectar, build and care for beeswax combs, make honey from nectar, guard the entrance from intruders by using their sting, and air-condition and ventilate the hive by fanning their wings during their initial few weeks as adults. Later as field bees they forage for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis. Worker bees use their straight and barbed stingers to defend the colony although only once because after attacking the intruder, the barbs attach to the victim’s skin, ripping the stinging worker bee’s abdomen, resulting in its death. Their life cycle goes through a complete metamorphosis. The average life span of worker bees during summer is about approximately six weeks.
Drones are male honey bees; they form about 5% of the total population and have only one task: to fertilize new queens. They do not have stingers; neither to they collect nectar nor produce honey. Mating occurs if there is a need of replacement or when the queen dies and is done outside the hive usually in midair. After mating, they die soon after because they have a barbed sex organ and their body is torn apart after inserting their sexual organ into the queen bee. Some honey bee colonies will eject surviving drones during fall (when the mating season is over); they are no longer required and food for the colony becomes limited. An average life of the drone is two months.
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