Honey Bees

Honey Bee Scientific Name: Apis mellifera

Honey Bee Facts

The average American will consume over one pound of honey each year.  Although this amount may seem miniscule when compared to other food consumption, it takes on greater meaning when you consider that it take a worker bee an entire lifetime to create ½ teaspoon of honey.  For centuries humans have utilized Honey Bees for their honey and beeswax.  Originating from the southern parts of Asia, the Honey Bee is not native to America and it is believed that Europeans purposefully brought them during exploration and colonization.  Traders and pioneers continued to take the Honey Bee throughout all of America.  Like many species, the Honey Bee has relied on humans for its relocation, and continues to be domesticated by humans today.

Although there are several thousand species of the bee, the Honey Bee has only seven known species.  Unlike wasps and yellow jackets, Honey Bees generally do not pose a huge pest problem and are less likely to sting unless provoked.  In recent years the American (or western) Honey Bee was accidentally crossed with the African Honey Bee, creating a new hybrid Honey Bee commonly known as the ‘killer bee.’  These bees are very aggressive and immune to many common diseases bees face.  If you suspect a killer bee infestation call a professional.

Honey Bee Identification

It is rare to see a single Honey Bee; members of the hive will create a swarm of several thousand when migrating or a handful can be seen collecting nectar.  While many bees look similar, the Honey Bee is smaller than 1’’—smaller and slimmer than a bumblebee.  Like other bees, the Honey Bee has a hairy body of black and yellow.  Each bee has three main components, the head, abdomen, and thorax.

The hive is made up of three classes of bees: the queen, workers, and drones.  To a passerby each class may look the same, but there are small differences that distinguish each.  The workers are between ½’’ and ¾ ’’ – they have small eyes and strong wings that are used to fan the hive constantly.  The workers are all non-producing females that have the responsibility of collecting nectar.  The workers make up the majority of the hive.  Drones, on the other hand, are male and come from unfertilized eggs; their primary responsibility is to help the queen reproduce.  The most distinguishing feature of the drone is their eyes, which are almost double the size of the worker.  Although the drone’s body is not as large as the queen, it is still huskier than the worker’s slim body.  There is only one queen in the colony, but she is the largest bee and responsible for reproducing for the entire hive.

Honey Bee Habitat

Honey Bees can survive all year round, but thrive in areas where vegetation is plentiful.  Meadows, grasslands, woodlands, and similar areas are ideal for the Honey Bee thanks to the many flowers and plants.  Creating their nests/hives in sheltered areas, it is not uncommon to find a Honey Bee hive under the eaves of a house or near a shed.  Though hives are generally off the ground for protection, fallen logs can also provide adequate shelter.  During the winter bees depend on their stored honey and can keep themselves alive for several months by consistently fanning their hive for warmth.  In recent years, experts have seen more and more colonies collapse for unclear reasons.  This phenomenon is known as CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) and has affected up to 70% of hives in America.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why bees are dying off so quickly, but many believe that it has to do with more unpredictable weather and changes in agriculture throughout their habitats.

Life Cycle of Honey Bees

The queen acts as the mother of the hive, responsible for mating with drones during flight and laying enough eggs to sustain the colony.  Fertilized eggs will hatch to become workers and the next queen, while the queen’s unfertilized eggs will become male drones. The queen lays the eggs in the cells of honeycomb and young worker bees are responsible for watching the eggs and feeding them as they hatch into larvae.   Larvae will feed on royal jelly and then honey/nectar.  One larva is chosen from the eggs to be the next queen; she will only feed on royal jelly.  The larvae spin individual cocoons inside their shell, pupate, and emerge adults.  The remainder of their lives will depend on their class.  The majority of adults will be workers whose jobs will consist of carrying for young, guarding the hive, and finding nectar.  A Honey Bee’s life is relatively short after adulthood.  Depending on climate and food availability, the bee can live between several weeks up and up to several months.  If the worker bee feels threatened, it will use its stinger, which is attached to a sachet of venom.  Once the stinger is detached from the body, the Honey Bee will die.

Honey Bees and Humans

As stated, Honey Bees and humans have gone hand in hand for centuries.  Early on, Honey Bees were recognized for their importance, and have been travelling with humans to new destinations ever since.  From Asia to Europe to America, Honey Bees have been domesticated and nurtured for their honey and beeswax.  Beekeepers and manufactures are responsible for the refined honey that humans consume on a daily basis.  Generally the Honey Bee will not bother humans unless they feel personally threatened or the hive is in danger.  If the hive feels threatened, bees can send out signals and pheromones that will put the bees into attack mode.

Honey Bees as Pests

If left to their natural habitat, Honey Bees do not usually pose a huge problem to humans.  When bees do create their hive on your property, it may be necessary to seek professional help in removing it.  Garages, trees, awnings, sheds, etc. are all examples of possible nesting areas, especially if your property has a lot of vegetation close by.  First you should assess – are you dealing with normal summer bees here and there, or do you have an active hive and where is it located?  As bees can pose a serious problem to curious children or those allergic, you should invest in spray, available commercially, or call for professional removal assistance.