About Bees

Honey bee body is divided into three main parts namely; (i) the head, (ii) the thorax (middle section), and (iii) the abdomen (end section). The head has two antennas, two compound eyes and three simple eyes. The thorax has six legs and two pair of wings. The abdomen has the breathing sacs, scent gland, wax gland, poison gland, and the stinger at the very end.

Honey bees are hairy, yellow and black in color. They are generally 15 - 25 mm in length. However, their specific sizes vary greatly depending on the species. Bees cannot see red colour but do see a colour that we human cannot, that is, ultraviolet (UV). The back legs of the worker bees have little sacs to carry pollen. Bees eat nectar (sugary water) and pollen (yellow protein powder) which are made by flowers. Nectar is what the worker bee uses to make honey. When she gets to a flower, she sucks as much nectar as she can hold. Then she passes the nectar to another worker bee (who holds the nectar on her tongue) so that the water in it can evaporate. When most of the water has evaporated, the sweet nectar becomes honey, which is stored in the hive.

The honeybee will fly about 800 km in her working life and produce just half a teaspoon of honey. A queen may produce half a million eggs in her natural lifespan. However in the commercial world, she will only be allowed to live two years producing 150,000 eggs annually. The foraging bee will travel at 24 km per hour and work for 7 - 10 hours a day (Vegan Society, 2003).

Taxonomy of Honey Bees

Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidac
Genus: Apis
Species: Dorsata, Florea, Mellifera & Cerana

The family Apidae, comprises a single genus, Apis, characterized by the building of vertical combs of hexagonal cells constructed bilaterally from a midrib, using only wax secreted by worker bees. The cells are used repeatedly for the rearing of larvae and the storage of honey and pollen. Two attributes of honey bees which have been essential to their evolution and biology are their clustering behavior, this being their ability to cool the nest by evaporation. This attribute enables the colonies to achieve a marked degree of temperature within the nest irrespective of the external temperature. Thus, the genus Apis is able to colonize a wide variety of environments, ranging from tropical to cool temperate. Another behavioral character of honey bees is the communication of information about food sources and the recruitment of foragers by ‘dance language’ (Ashleigh, 1996).

The genus comprises four species: ( i) Apis dorsata, the Giant Honey Bee; (ii) Apis florea, the Little Honey Bee; (iii) Apis mellifera, the Western Honey Bee and (iv) Apis cerana, the Eastern Honey Bee. Apis dorsata build single comb nests in trees in the open, while Apis florea in low bushes. Like other tropical honey bees, they are prone to migrations. These migrations may be seasonal or in some cases may be a defense against predators and parasites. Although unsuitable for apicultural use, both these species contribute a major part to the supply of honey and wax. Apis cerana and Apis mellifera are usually used in apiculture with modern moveable comb hives. The numerical strength of Apis cerana colonies is usually much less, and honey yields are smaller (Ashleigh, 1996).