Bees are grouped together with ants, wasps, and related insects into the order of Hymenoptera. This order includes not only those insect forms which live in colonies and carry on division of labor, but numerous forms that live alone as well. The members of the order show close relationship both in body structure and in the way they perform their life activities.
The life history of the bee is a fine example of community life and mutual help. Each member of the colony works for the good of all, and this habit has resulted in great success, as well as remarkable development for each individual. Instinct alone accounts for the high degree of division of labor in the beehive.
How do bees serve man?
The bees serve man by making honey which is a very good source of medicinal values. They live in colonies. Each member of the colony has a special task to do in order to survive. Some bees get food, others reproduce, and still others protect the hive from its enemies. The duties are different and one group never tries to do the job of another group.
Three types of bees
There are three types of bees in any colony—the queen, the drone, and the worker.
- Queen bee – The queen bee, who is nearly twice as large as the worker, has a long pointed abdomen, but no pollen basket or comb. Its function is the production of eggs to continue the colony. In one day, it may produce as many as three thousand eggs which have a combined weight twice that of the queen. One queen may produce as many as one million eggs per year, and it often lives from five to ten years. Although it is called a queen, it is in no sense the ruler of the hive, but rather its common mother.
- Drone bee – The drone is larger than the worker and smaller than the queen. It has a thick broad body, large eyes, and very powerful wings. Drones develop from the unfertilized eggs. This is called parthenogenesis which means “birth without fertilization.” The drones do not have pollen baskets, stingers, or wax pockets. During the summer a few hundred drones are tolerated by the colony because one of them must function as a mate for a newly-hatched queen.
- Worker bee – The workers are by far the most numerous members of the hive. They are underdeveloped females, smaller than the drones. They have the ovipositor (egg depositor) modified into the stinger. There are usually from 10,000 to 100,000 workers in a hive. With the exception of reproduction, all the varied industries and products of the hive are the business of the workers. They perform many different kinds of work as well as providing the hive products. In summer, they work themselves to death in three to four weeks, but bees hatched in the fall may live five or six months because there is less work for them to do in the winter.
- Wax – This is secreted from the abdominal segments of workers, after they have gorged themselves with honey and have suspended themselves by the feet in a sort of curtain. As the wax is produced, it is removed by other workers, chewed to make it soft, and then carried to still others who build it into a comb which will be used to store honey.
- Comb – The comb is a complicated structure, composed of six-sided sections in two layers. It is arranged to leave no waste space and to give the greatest amount of storage with the use of the least material. Not only it is used for storage of honey and bee-bread, a food substance made from pollen and saliva, but it is also used for rearing young bees. The eggs are placed, one in a cell, by the queen and sealed up by the workers. The comb containing eggs or young bees is called brood comb.
- Honey – This is made from the nectar of flowers taken into the crop of the bee. Bees change the cane sugar of flowers into the more easily digested fruit sugar and then empty it into the comb cells. There it is left to ripen and thicken by evaporation before being sealed. The removal of honey by man does not harm the bees if about thirty pounds are left for their winter use. This is enough to feed an average colony of 40,000 bees for an ordinary winter.
- Propolis – This is also called bee glue. It is a brown substance gathered from the sticky leaf buds of some plants. Propolis is used to smooth the interior of the hive, to help attach the comb, to close up holes and cracks, and to varnish the comb.
The over-all body of the bee is a remarkable example of adaptation of structure and function. The body regions are distinct. The head is attached to the thorax by a flexible neck, and the thorax to the abdomen by a slender waist.
Apiculture is the rearing of bees by man for the products of the hive. A number of individual lives are kept in a shed-like building called anapiary.