Bees lives in a well organized, sophisticated society. There are about 20,000 different species of bees in the world. In Bubba Farm, we are keeping one bee species in our apiary, commonly known as “Western Honeybee”, or its scientific name Apis Mellifera.
Each bee colonies comprise a staggering at least 10,000 bees, each performing different roles in order to ensure the smooth running, growth of their colony. The lifespan of the bees varies, depending on the role of an individual bee within its colony. Let’s take a look at those roles and what they mean for one of the most sophisticated and organized animals on our planet.
These are the majority of bees in a hive and are all infertile females (left in the picture). Each of these worker bees may live for only six or seven weeks. After emerging from its cell, the immature young bee is set to work immediately. The first task in her file cycle is as a cleaner, preparing the empty cells ready for the queen to lay her eggs. Within a few days she is able to feed the larvae with pollen and nectar brought in by the older foraging worker bees. As her glands mature she is next able to cap the larvae and honey cells, plus build new honeycomb within the hive.
Two weeks into her life she will transfer pollen and nectar from foraging bees and be able to store this food in the cells. Nearly mature and with her sting formed after 18 days of life, she will become an entrance guard. With her mandibles strong now, she will patrol the entrance to check returning foragers and to evict any intruder. Sniffing each bee, she will know if a bee from another colony is attempting to intrude her hive and if need be will kill the intruder with her sting. However, in doing so, she will die also. She will also at this time take her first short flights just outside the entrance of the hive.
Three weeks into her life and fully mature, she becomes a forager. For the next three weeks she will collect nectar, pollen, propolis and water bringing it into the hive to pass on to her younger sisters to store. As a forager she has to survive hazards outside the hive of other insects and birds and if successful she will have lived in total six weeks. Her three weeks as a forager will have seen her fly many kilometers carrying her own body weight in nectar and pollen and at this time after all her hard work she will die of exhaustion.
For the beekeeper the queen is very important for the laying of eggs to increase the size of the colony. The more worker bees within a hive, the greater the amount of honey is stored that we can later harvest. The queen is larger than all the other bees and can be spotted due to her elongated body and short wings (center in the the picture). She likes to stay hidden in the darkness of a hive, so to aid spotting her most beekeepers mark her thorax with a colored mark.
Royal jelly secreted by the worker bees is fed to the larvae in a queen cell, once emerged she will fly within 3 days to mate. Mating in flight with up to 12 drones, she will have received enough sperm to last her egg laying life. Having mated she returns to the colony and starts her egg laying cycle. To lay an egg the queen backs into a freshly cleaned cell and attaches the tiny rice shaped egg to the back hall of the honeycomb cell. At the height of her productivity she can lay up to 2000 eggs per day.
Queens can live for 3 to 4 years, but it is accepted that by her third year she has started to decline in fertility. In such a case, a new queen will be produced, and the old queen replaced. This is called supersedure. In some beekeeping practices, the queen is replaced by the beekeeper after one or two years to maintain a healthy bee colony.
Drones are males, larger in size and stingless. It is easy to identify them with their big eyes (right in the picture). Their purpose within the colony is only to mate with a virgin queen. Within the hive all they do is eat and when looking for a queen to mate with will fly and mate on the wing. Some reports mentioned that drones and a queen will mate at heights of up to 1500m above the ground. Mating though is the end of his life as when he becomes unattached from the queen his sexual organs are ripped from his body and he dies in free fall.
Naturally not all drones find a queen to mate with, as rainy season in Malaysia approaches the worker bees do not require an unproductive bee eating their food stocks, therefore the drones are forced from the colony and die from starvation.
From Egg to Bee
From an egg being laid by the queen it takes 3 days for the egg to hatch into a larva. On hatching, the young worker bees feed it royal jelly for another 3 days before feeding it a mixture of pollen and honey. As it grows it sheds its skin and curls up into a ‘C’ shape in the bottom of the cell.
After 6 days it stops eating, now straight and filling the cell it is ready to be entombed. The worker bees cap the cell using a mixture of wax and propolis sealing the larva in. Over the next 12 days the larva pupates changing from a grub to an insect. On completion of this metamorphosis the young honey bee emerges from its cell.
Capped drone cells are usually in a cluster along the top part of a frame. These areas of drone cells are easy to spot as the cells are larger and domed shape. A drone will emerge 24 days after the queen has laid the egg.
Queens in their larger acorn sized cells developed more quickly taking just 16 days overall and as beekeepers we need to keep a special eye on queen cells to prevent the colony swarming.