Honey Bee Biology
The honey bee is one of many species of bee and is part of the group of bees known as social bees that live in colonies.
All bees have 5 eyes – 3 simple eyes on top of the head, and 2 compound eyes, with numerous hexagonal facets. Bees base their color vision on blue, green and UV, they cannot see red, but visit red flowers because they are able to see the UV markings on the petals.
The honey bee Apis mellifera is the main species farmed by man. A typical hive contains 60,000 bees. The life cycle of the bee goes through 4 basic stages.
A queen can lay around 1500 eggs a day or more than her own body weight.
After 3 days, eggs hatch into worker larvae. During this stage, each larva will be fed about 1,300 times a day by worker bees referred to as ‘brood nurses’.
The food given is made from pollen, honey and secretions from the brood nurses, and is called ‘bee bread’.
Potential honeybee queens are given ‘royal jelly’, a much richer food.
After about 6 days, the egg cells are capped, and each larva spins itself a cocoon and becomes a pupa.
Worker bees take 10 days to emerge from pupae. Drones take slightly longer. New Queens take only 6 days.
The life spans of honey bees can vary greatly, depending on their function in the colony, and when they emerged in the season.
- Drones: Drones are short lived. Mated drones die immediately after mating. Unmated drones are killed by workers at the end of the summer to preserve food resources.
- Workers: Workers live 6 or 7 weeks. They start out feeding larvae as nursing bees, then progress to building comb and finally they forage for nectar and pollen.
- Queen Honey Bees: A productive queen can live as long as 3 or 4 years.
How is Honey Made?
Out of the 20,00 species of bees, 4 produce honey. Bees forage for nectar, and pollen. Nectar has a high carbohydrate content and pollen a high protein content.
Bees actually have two stomachs; their honey crop which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach. The honey crop holds almost 70 mg of nectar and when full, it weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey crop. To produce a pound of honey, foraging bees have to fly around 55,000 miles. Each honey bee will only produce around one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. It takes about 556 foraging bees to visit 2 million flowers, just to make a pound of honey.
Nectar is almost 80% water with some complex sugars. The bees add a salivary enzyme to the nectar to convert it to honey. When the moisture content has dropped to less than 20%, the bees move the ripe droplet of honey to a cell. When full of honey, the cell is capped with fresh wax.
Panama has a healthy bee keeping culture and is not suffering from colony collapse disorder. Our honey and bees are healthier. Most of the honey business in Panama is conducted for the honey or other bee products. This is in contrast to the large commercial pollination businesses in the US and Europe. This means our bees eat very little sugar, instead they feed on their own honey; It means they are not stressed by travel but live in situ in hives; Farm land in Panama is diverse a typical small farm has many trees and several crop plants to provide varied nutrition and chemical pesticide use is very low. Most of our honey comes from non-crop wild woodland and forest plants. GM pollen in the honey is not an issue in Panama.
After finding a valuable food source, the bee will return to the colony and communicate its finding to other bees through a ‘bee dance’. Foraging bees tend to limit their visits to a single species of plant during each trip. This behavioral adaptation is critically important for plants since it assures the transfer of pollen from one plant to another plant of the same species.