The Type of Bees

Page 4 BeesThe Queen bee

The Queen is the centre of the hive: She accompanies every-swarm that you see. The Queen is also the largest bee and her body is specially formed for egg-laying-so that the eggs can be placed a little above the centre of the cells in the honeycomb. Before depositing her eggs, she inspects each cell to be sure it is properly cleaned by the workers. Just think of her effort and industry!

When, for any reason the colony needs a new Queen; extra royal jelly is fed to chosen larvae in the cells. The first young Queen to emerge from the pupa destroys all other developing Queens in the cells, then sets out on her mating flight after five to twelve days. After mating the young Queen has much to do. With her eggs fertile, she must return swiftly to the hive. The old Queen will have left with a swarm beforehand. The new Queen, closely surrounded by worker bees who feed and groom her, can lay up to one egg every minute day and night.

The Drones

Drones are the future fathers of the bee colony (rather a very small number of them will be). Shorter than the Queen, drones are larger than the workers. They have no accomplishments other than being patient. They cannot make wax, have no proboscis for collecting pollen or nectar, and have no pollen pikes on their legs. They are never called on to defend the hive so they have no need for a sting.

Drones rarely feed themselves – instead, they hold out their tongues and a worker bee places food on it. They are truly gentlemen in waiting. They are waiting for the day when a young Queen will fly from the hive. When a new Queen flies from the hive she joins the drones, who are already circling in drone congregation areas: The swiftest drones will catch and mate with the Queen, but their life is short. After mating, they will float back to earth and be dead by the time they reach the ground: They have helped to bring new life to the colony and their work is finished. The remaining drones return to the hive either to be driven out or to die there during the winter or when a shortage of food occurs.

Worker bees

The main section of the hind pair of legs has special spines for holding pollen or propolis (a kind of gum). The centre legs are the bees’ main support, but all six legs are variously equipped with brushes, combs an spurs with which to brush pollen from the eyes, clean the antennae, wipe dust from the wings and pack pollen spines. The tongue and mandibles are used to lick and collect pollen grains from the anthers of flowers, with the result that the pollen grains are moistened with honey and stick together. The pollen is then transferred to the hind legs and held firmly until the forager enters the hive, when it is then packed in cells in the honeycomb.Page 4 Honecomb pics

Worker bees have two heavy spoonshaped jaws which work sideways. The jaws are used for collecting pollen and chewing wax. The abdomen has two important organs – the wax glands and the sting. Wax glands are special cells on the under side of the last four segments of the body. Wax is discharged through these special cells in tiny scales, which are then moulded and used in comb building, capping and the cells.

Life in the hive

In her lifetime, the Queen can produce more than one million eggs. At first, after the eggs are hatched, all the larvae are fed on royal jelly – a milky white fluid made by a gland in the nurse bees’ head. This rich food helps larvae to grow strongly. After three days, the workers’ diet is changed mainly to pollen and nectar, while the Queens continue to be fed on royal jelly.
On the eighth day, the larva spins itself a silken cocoon and during the next week or two makes the great change from pupa to adult. It gnaws its way out of its cocoon and, as it gains strength, joins the workers in their task of foraging or engineering, nursing the young, converting nectar into honey, cleaning the hive and waiting on the Queen. So the life cycle goes on!

The language of the bees

Bees cannot talk. Their language is one of vibration. To indicate distance, the scout bee uses an audible code of buzzes, on a 200 cycle per second note with a pulse rate of 35 to the second. The length of time on a wagtail run and the number of pulses of sound in each buzz indicate distance.

Next page: ‘Harvesting honey’

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