(Apis mellifera)

Order Hymenoptera

Family Apidae

European Honeybee, Inglewood, Western AustraliaThe honeybee is a social insect and is easily recognised by the yellow and black stripes on its abdomen.  The honeybee happens to have one of the most complex social behaviours among the bee world and is considered to be one of the most important insects on the planet.

Some plants rely solely on bees for survival, without them there would be no fruit, vegetables or seeds. It is estimated that nearly a third of our daily diet comes from crops pollinated by honeybees. The European honeybee is the best known of the bee species and the African Honeybee (aka Killer Bee) the most feared. The honeybee lives in a nest that can house up to 50,000 bees. The nest includes the workers (females), drones (males) and of course the queen.

Meet The Family

Honeybee, Insect, Western AustraliaThe Worker Bee : The worker bee has a life span of around six weeks, but within those weeks she has a variety of chores to do. In her first week of life, her duties are limited to keeping the nest clean. She later takes up nursing and nest building before taking on the more responsible job of guarding the nest. When the bee is about three weeks old she finally begins collecting pollen for the colony.

The worker bee is blessed with special sacs on its legs to carry pollen, but some honeybees will go to great lengths to cover themselves in pollen (check out the pollen covered bee in the photo). A worker bee must visit over 4,000 flowers just to make a tablespoon of honey (no wonder they have a short life!).

The Drones: The drones are the males of the colony and are considered harmless as they don’t have a sting. The drones take part in the mating process of the queen bee. When a new queen bee has been chosen or should we say, “won the fight”, a mating ritual takes place. The victorious queen takes flight high in the sky with the drones and in a spectacular flying ball of bees, the queen mates with as many drones as she can, to collect and store a good mix of sperm. The sperm will last for the lifespan of the queen. Unfortunately for the drones, their work is completed and they die after mating.

The Queen Bee: The queen plays a less active role in the colony but the most important. It is her job to lay eggs and she lays up to 2,000 a day. The queen produces a substance called pheromones which keeps the worker bees sterile and more importantly stops the development of new queens (can’t have that!).

Unfortunately for the queen she only lives up to five years and has a limited amount of pheromone. So when the levels drop, the hatching larvae in the queen cells, develop into strong fertile females who will eventually force the queen out. The old queen either leaves the nest to start a new colony or she perishes in the outside world.

Meanwhile back in the nest, there is a group of potentially fertile queens ready to lay claim to the nest. As there is only room for one queen in a colony, it all comes down to a fight to the death. The last bee standing takes on the role of the new queen. The first thing on the list for the new victorious queen is the mating ritual. This is where the drones come in.

The Nest

Home sweet home to the bee is the nest. The nest is usually found inside the hollow of a tree. A hive is the man-made version of a nest. The nest is made up of several combs of waxen cells. The wax is produced by the bee who then uses it to create a six-sided cell which form the combs. Some combs contain honey and pollen whilst a third type known as the brood comb contains the larvae.

It’s All A Matter of Communication

Bees use an unusual form of communication, dance. Yes, that’s right, bees do a boogie or ‘waggle dance’ to let others in the colony know about the days happenings. Whether it is about where the best food source is or to simply let them know about a predator, the bees will communicate it through dance. Click here to learn more about the dance of the bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Since 2004, literally billions of honeybees have been dying across America. The death toll has concerned many scientists and entomologists, as these small creatures have the responsibility of pollinating over $15 billion worth of crops in America each year. The reason for the sudden death of the honeybee has been linked to the Colony Collapse Disorder. A phenomenon which sees hives left with a queen, a few newly hatched adults and plenty of food, but not one worker bee (who are responsible for pollination) left, they have simply vanished!. Alarming statistics have revealed that Colony Collapse Disorder has struck between 50 percent and 90 percent of commercial honeybee hives in the U.S. Some experts are claiming the disease is linked to Australian Honeybees. Click here to learn more about Colony Collapse Disorder.