All the Facts That You Want to Know About Honey Bees

In the zoological classification, honey bees belong to the Hymenoptera group. Honey bees are from Apidae family, Apis genus and Apis mellifera species. While bees maintain their lives by collecting pollen, nectar, water, and propolis from nature, they donate valuable products with numerous benefits for human beings. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is 1.2 cm long. The head and chest are more or less hairy and usually yellow in color depending on the species. Two large compound eyes and three simple eyes are located at the top of the head. The two olfactory senses help the visual senses. Honey bees are living organisms and work together to ensure the continuity of life in the hive.

There are worker bees, queen bees, and drones in a hive. Worker bees have undertaken all the tasks in the hive, and from the moment they leave the cell they grow, their duties in the hive change in proportion to their development. Worker bees are interested in all kinds of work in the hive during their lifetime. The first three days pass as a hive cleaner. Although the queen and worker bees have stings, drones that do not produce honey don’t have any. The queen bee, which stores the sperm of the drones in the sperm sac in her body, leaves her eggs in the honeycomb eyes while the female bees develop with the fertilized eggs and the male bees are formed from the eggs that fall without fertilization. The queen bee becomes the queen by feeding on the royal jelly secreted from the salivary glands of the worker bees since the larvae.

The history of beekeeping goes back to tens of thousands of years when people lived in cave life. Paintings drawn in caves dating to 7000 BC, bee fossils from ancient times and similar historical finds confirm this view. The first humans naturally benefited from their honey by killing bees nesting in tree cavities and rock cavities. In the historical development, from the stone age onwards, hives were made of cork and tree stumps, and then clay. As a result, hives used today have been developed. Real beekeeping started with people taking some honey and leaving some honey to bees without killing the bees nesting in tree cavities. Since the gene centers of bees are Middle-Eastern countries, the emergence of apiculture has been in these countries. However, the mention of bees in the stone inscriptions in Boğazköy, dating back to the 1300 BC and dating from the Hittite era, shows that beekeeping dates back to ancient times in Anatolia.

Beekeeping for Honey Production

Apiculture, which has been primitive for a very long time until the last few centuries, has undergone a development process up to today’s beekeeping in the light of many scientific discoveries and developments. Inventions such as the determination of queen bee mating in the air in 1787, the explanation of bee reproduction biology in 1845, the discovery of the framed hive in 1851, the discovery of the basic honeycomb molds in 1857, the invention of honey filtering machine in 1865, the invention of larva transfer technique in 1882, and the presence of artificial insemination in queen bees in 1926 all contributed to the today’s beekeeping.

Knowledge and experience are needed for technical beekeeping. Otherwise, it is not possible to make technical or even ordinary beekeeping. Before starting to beekeeping, the bee family (colony), family members and other issues related to the living order of the colony should be learned. Beekeeping without knowledge and experience, aside from economic gain, results in failure. When starting to beekeeping, the region to be made should be selected well, the vegetation and climate of the region should be suitable for beekeeping. Bees use flower nectar to produce flower honey. Nectar is a special food composed of 80% water. The bees use their long tubular tongue to collect the nectar from the flowers and keep it in their bellies. Bees actually have two bellies. One of them is used to collect nectar and the other one is normal.

The bees can store nectar up to 70 mg and when it is full, it weighs as much as the bee itself. Bees should visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their bellies where they store nectar. Honey bees return to the hive and transfer the collected nectar to other worker bees. Worker bees suck nectar from the bellies of honey bees with their mouths. These bees chew nectar for half an hour. During this time, the enzymes convert the sugar in the nectar into simple sugar so that it becomes digestible for the bees and it is protected against bacteria in the hive. After this stage, the bees distribute the nectar to the combs where water evaporates and dark syrup is formed. Bees use wings as a fan to dry the nectar more quickly. When the honey reaches sufficient consistency, the bees cover the hexagonal cells in the honeycomb with wax. Bees live collectively. The bees that are separated from their society die without being able to survive.

There is a highly organized division of labor among the members of the community. They are very attached to their nests. They are very attached to their nests. Bees that do not lose their flying ability due to any reason such as severe storms, hail, rain, fire, etc., necessarily return to their shelters in the evening. Bees can stay in their hives as long as they remain healthy and be able to serve their community by working. The bees who have lost the ability to work due to wear and tear, aging and disease and the bees who were born poorly weak or crippled and cannot serve their society are left to die by being ruthlessly thrown out of the hive. There is never favoritism, favor, and tolerance in bee society. Even the queen bee, the most valuable asset of the hive is killed and thrown out of the give if she loses her ability to work due to reasons such as old age, disability, illness, etc., and does not fulfill her duty.

Honey Bee Hives

Bees have a very sensitive sense of smell. They have also very sharp eyes that allow them to recognize a flower from far away. Compared to its gentle and elegant structure, it has a very strong feeling like Hercules, which is not yet fully learned, and has wonderful tongues that allow it to absorb the essence of honey by opening, extending and expending according to its own desire. Ensuring a regular and peaceful life with these capabilities that ensure their lives, the community, like a family and a civilized nation, know each other, help each other, guiding and well understood and fused in all matters. The group of bees, which live together collectively with the above-mentioned features and have a very tight and robust division of labor, is called the Bee Family or the Bee Colony. Members of a bee family vary between 10-100 thousand bees which change according to the season, weather, honey extract, and flower sources. Bee families live together in a hive. Every breed of bees has its own task. This task is done by the relevant bees as no warning is needed. Bee families are evaluated according to the number of bees in the hives.

a-) Hives with more than 60 – 150 thousand worker bees are very strong,
b-) Hives with 40 – 60 thousand bees are strong,
c-) Hives with 20 – 40 thousand bees have medium strength,
d-) Hives with less than 20,000 worker bees are called weak hives.

Every bee family has its own unique smell. Every bee that comes out returns to its own hive. The bee who wants to enter another hive does not let by the guards at the door who realizes that it is foreign by its smell. If they fight and they can’t remove it, they’ll kill it. In some cases, and very rarely, guards can accept a foreign bee who comes with honey extract and pollen on his crop.

Honey Bee Types

Queen Bees

The queen bee is formed as a result of the special feeding of a fertilized egg which has been left in the eyes of the honeycomb in the larval period, more frequently and with richer food (royal jelly) than the larva that will be a worker bee. It reaches the adult from the egg in 16 days. Then, adult queen bees fight fiercely until only one of them remains in the hive. This new queen attacks the old queen of the hive. She leaves the hive with a flock to form a new colony. This is called giving sons in beekeeping. In this way, the bee colony is divided into two. There is only one queen in each of the bee colonies, and this queen bee is larger than the other females. The main task is to lay eggs. Reproduction occurs only through the queen bee, other worker bees cannot mate with males. Apart from ovulation, the queen secretes important substances that ensure the integrity of the colony and the functioning of the system in the hive. A quality and young Queen Bee can lay around 2000 eggs a day if other hive conditions are favorable. It is also the head of bees. It plays an important role in mating.

When the queen leaves the main colony with a swarm of bees to establish a new colony, the first queen candidate from the hatchery tries to destroy the other queen candidates. If two queen candidates hatch at the same time, they will fight to the death. The queen (to maintain genetic diversity in the colony) usually mates in the air with more than one (polyandry) drone. These mating flights can be repeated for several consecutive days. The queen then begins laying eggs and does not leave the hive (except for flights to establish a new colony). Normally the queen has enough sperm in her fertility sac (spermatheca) to fertilize all the eggs she will lay in her life. Drones die during mating.

The queen leaves unfertilized eggs in drone cells. If other bees do not allow the queen to mate or if the sperm sac is empty, the queen can lay unfertilized eggs in the worker bee cells. The process of transforming unfertilized eggs into drones is called parthenogenesis. Sometimes a colony is left without a queen and it is difficult to raise a new queen. In this case, some worker bees, also known as “false mothers”, begin to lay drone eggs. It is very difficult to place a real queen in a colony of false mothers.

The queen bees can live up to 5 years. However, many beekeepers change the queen every year or every two years. When the queen accidentally dies or the laying of eggs slows down, the worker bees begin to raise a new supersedure. When the new queen emerges from the hatchery – even though no new colony has been established – she begins to mate and lay eggs. The new queen ignores the mother queen and the mother queen disappears after a while.

Worker Bees

Hive cleaning is very important for the health of bees and larvae. The bees carry out everything they deem unnecessary in the hive, kill insects that are too big to be carried and enter the hive from outside and do some kind of embalming by covering them with propolis. Propolis is characterized by the inability to contain bacteria. So it is an ideal substance for embalming.

The bees are practically nannies for a week after the third day. Upon the activation of some secretory glands in their bodies, they turn to the care of larvae. The bees take care of the larvae for 3 to 10 days. Some of the larvae fed with royal jelly and some fed with honey and flower powder. The worker bees can go up to 5 kilometers from the hive. From the 10th day, the wax glands begin to develop in the womb of the workers and the worker bees are able to make wax. Worker bees are now construction workers building honeycomb with wax. Bees continue to produce honeycomb for 10 days. But on the 20th day of their birth, they change duties again. This time they serve as a guard at the hive entrance. There is a change in the body of the bees and the sting glands begin to produce poison, and the guard bees guard the hive door to prevent intruders from entering. For the remainder of their six-week life, the bees become a balloon collector investigating the flowers. All worker bees are female but have no reproductive ability and do not mate with drones.

Male Bees (Drones)

They are larger than females, but they do not have stings and organs to collect food for themselves. Their only function is to fertilize the queen. The drones can become adults for several days after the worker bees.

Morphological Structure of Honey Bees

The honey bee is divided into sub-species (breeds) that can be separated by small visual and behavioral differences. In the bee family, queen, drone and worker bees have different developmental and anatomical characteristics. The eyes, sensory organs and feeding organs are found in the head. The head is attached to the chest, the second part of the body, with a finely playful neck. The chest and abdomen consist of segments. The bee has a pair of honeycomb-shaped compound eyes and three simple eyes. Each of the simple eyes consists of thousands of small units. The compound eye consists of 3,000 simple eyes for queen bees, 4,000 for worker bees, and more than 8,000 for drones.

The head has a pair of sensors. They provide the sense of smell, taste, and touch. In addition to their senses, the nerve endings in the sensors can detect wind speed and air temperature. The senses of the bees are so sensitive that they smell the honey from a distance of 2 km. The mouth structure of the bees consists of four parts: upper lip, upper jaw, lower jaw, and lower lip. The tongue is between 6-7 mm and varies according to bee breed. The head is the part where important secretions are produced in terms of its internal structure. The secretory glands of worker bees secrete royal jelly at a young age and later release enzymes that break down sucrose in honey. The glands in the jaw secrete queen bee pheromone in queen bee and alarm pheromone in worker bees.

The chest is the center of motion of the bee. It consists of four segments, on which there are three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. There are hard hairs called pollen brush on the middle legs of the bee. They allow the pollen in the flowers to be transferred from the chest and front legs to the hind legs and collected into the pollen basket on the hind legs. These pollen baskets serve to transport pollen to the hive. The wings are in the form of very thin membranes supported by chitinated vessels. Two pairs. Thanks to the hook on the rear wings in flight, the two work together, providing flight and steering. The speed of the bee during the flight approaches 50 km / h.

The abdomen consists of 9 segments in the adult bee and contains internal organs such as stomach, intestine and reproductive organs, wax glands and needles. A pair of right and left wax glands (wax mirror) in the segments thicken during the wax making the process and gain the ability to secrete wax. The waxes secreted on the mirrors as liquids solidify into the wax pockets and become small flakes. The bees cling to each other in chains and leak the wax with special movements. The wax flakes, which are brought to the mouth with the help of the feet, are softened and kneaded and thus used in the making of honeycomb eyes. Candle glands are destroyed in worker bees who have completed the waxing period and turn into cell lines. There is an odor gland (nasanophil gland) consisting of large cells on the inner surface of the 7th abdominal segment of the bees and near the front edge of the back plate.

Ecology and Habitat of Honey Bees

Ecological contributions of bees are realized through fertilization of flowers and their contribution to pollen transport in male and female flower organs. In fact, the number of plants that do not require fertilization is extremely limited. According to a study, 90% of the world’s food is obtained from 82 varieties of plants and 77% of them are in need of fertilization by bees.

Propagation of bees (about 5 km) and collector characteristics (pollen-flower extract, fruit juice) from very large areas also raises the issue that they can also collect some harmful substances. For example, the environment polluted by exhaust fumes and dumps with pharmaceutical, industrial, chimney residues in highway environments can make bee products extremely unhealthy for humans and bees themselves. Research has shown that most of these toxins accumulate in wax.

It is known that the pollen of some plants is harmful to bees, that the bees normally stay away from this pollen but can turn to these plants in case of famine that causes starvation. Honey bees’ lack of aeration and moisture as well as diets that do not meet the vitamin, mineral, and protein needs of them in human habitats can also harm their health by damaging the bee biology. Another factor that affects the health of bees is the internal and external parasites and the applications against them.

The hive should be clean and suitable for the biological needs of bees in terms of factors such as access to adequate and continuous water, rain, wind, extreme heat and cold as well as vegetation. The hives should be placed at least 30–40 cm above ground level. Humid and airless hives lead to the development of different fungal, virus and bacterial diseases.

Bee Diseases

Honey bees may also be exposed to diseases and pests that may have economic or health effects on humans. Bee diseases can be caused by bacterial, fungal, parasitic and virus-induced or nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition, and maybe diseases that concern only offspring or adults only, or both. In addition, ants and other predators may attack the beehives.

In bee diseases, anything that affects and disrupts the quality of life of the bee can be the cause of disease and harm. These include environmental factors, nutrition, and humidity, the condition of the hive lift-off, hot-cold, pollutants, chemicals, pesticides. The fact that bees are deprived of a clean environment and water resources, having to drink water from polluted, sewerage, etc., and carrying dirty mud and bacteria on their feet in their hives results in the development of septicemia and juvenile rot diseases in beehives. The presence of moisture in the hive base and inland areas can lead to fungal diseases and lime diseases.

Savaş Ateş

I like eating honey a lot. We have a huge interest in bees and how they make honey. I have visited honey farms. I have talked to a lot of honey sellers. I read a lot of books about them. I want to share my knowledge with you.

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