The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is probably one of the best-known of all insects in the world, as it performs a vital role in the pollination of flowering plants, including our crop species. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are environmentally friendly and are vital as pollinators. Over one third of the food we eat would not be available without the help of bees. The honey bee is widespread in Britain, and is often a domesticated species. There are three ‘castes’ within a bee hive, a ‘queen’ (the reproductive female), the ‘drones’ (reproductive males) and ‘workers’ (non-reproductive females).
Appearance All three castes are broadly similar in appearance; the body is covered in short hairs, and is divided into a head, a thorax and an abdomen, the head features two large eyes and a pair of antennae. The thorax bears two pairs of wings above, and three pairs of legs below and there is a slender ‘waist’ between the thorax and abdomen. The queen has a much longer and slender abdomen than the workers, and the drones can be identified by their broader abdomens and much larger eyes.
Habits The honey bee lives in hives, which need to be close to good sources of pollen and nectar. The hive structure consists of wax ‘honeycombs’. Each honeycomb is made of small cells, which are used to store food or to rear the brood. The honey bee feeds on nectar and pollen taken from flowers, and stores of honey (regurgitated nectar) and pollen (gathered on the legs in special ‘pollen baskets’).
Life Cycle The queen is the only bee within the colony to lay eggs. The queen mates just once, on a ‘nuptial flight’ during spring. Eggs are laid from March to October. Each egg is deposited into a cell and a small, white larva emerges after around three days. Workers provide the larva with food. After six days the pupal stage will develop, and the workers cap the cells containing fully developed larvae with wax. The adult bee will climb out of the cell 12 days later. Drones (males) are produced from unfertilised eggs, and appear in the colony during spring and early summer. They take three days longer to develop into adults than workers, and are ejected from the colony later in the year by the workers.
Honey Bee Threats Natural populations of honey bees have been severely affected by the activities of humans. Non-native subspecies have been widely introduced to many areas of Europe, and managed colonies have often interbred with native bees, causing a loss of unique genetic diversity in local populations. A more recent threat to the species in Britain is the mite Varroa jacobsoni, which is devastating honey bee populations around the world and was first found in Britain in 1992. These mites attack larvae, pupae and adults and are very expensive to control.
For advice or further information on honey bees in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee or Perth, call GRAHAM pest control today and we could help.