Honeybees and their hives

Honeybees and their hives

Apart from Antarctica, Honeybees are found the world over.

From the same family as ants and wasps, they live on a variety of nectar and pollen. Honeybees live in colonies and are very social insects living amongst thousands of worker bees, hundreds of drones and a single queen.

After collecting nectar, which creates our yummy honey, their bodies break down sucrose, which is in nectar, into two simple sugars, fructose, and glucose.

Placing it tidily into a honeycomb cell the bees then beat their wings rapidly over this sweet liquid to spread out the moisture, which helps to thicken the substance. When the process is complete the bees seal the cell with beeswax.

Worker bees, make up 99% of each colonies population and are all female. They are the most hardworking occupants of the hive. Only living for 45 days from birth the worker bee is given different jobs to do during her lifespan. From tending to the queen, cleaning the hives, searching for food, guarding the colony against predators to building the honeycomb.

Bees on a honeycomb

If you’ve ever been stung by a bee then you will know how painful it is but try and spare a thought for the bee. The stinger of the bee is barbed so when the bee defends itself, or the hive, her stinger will become stuck in the skin of its victim. She is then unable to pull it out and unfortunately dies trying to free herself from the stuck stinger. At this point, the venom will still be pumping into the sufferer. As a result, honeybees are very gentle – they don’t wish to die any more than you want to be stung.

Drone bees are all male and their job is to mate with queens from other hives. Living up to 90 days, if they do not mate, they are easily identified by their big round eyes and large bodies. Please note – drones are unable to sting.

There is only one queen bee per hive and being the only fertile member of the colony she lays around 1,500 eggs per day during spring and summer. After laying her eggs the queen does not leave the hive again unless the colony is looking for a new home.

Should the colony need a new queen bee, they will pick a healthy larva, hatched from the current queen. The worker bees then feed the larva royal jelly which helps the larva grow into a new queen.

Honeybees do not always live in a man-made hive but will also make their home in a hollow tree or fallen log. However, they always make the inside of the hive - making their own special wax, called beeswax, they create perfect cubbyholes, called hexagons. These tiny holes are called cells and are used to store pollen, eggs, and honey.

Once the hive is complete the bees seal the hive with a substance called propolis to protect against diseases. Propolis is a mixture of beeswax, honey, and tree resin. This substance is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial and helps to disinfect the hive.

To encourage the honeybee why not try planting crocuses, hyacinths, wild lilac and hostas in your garden as these are great bee attractors.

Written by Angela and Chris



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