Bees are the most remarkable creatures. Who but God
would have designed into such a small package the
ability to feed others while housing itself?
Of the estimated 30,000 bee species worldwide, the
most common commercial species is Apis mellifera or
the western honeybee.
It is comprised of 24 different races, the most common
being the Italians, a race known for a high rate of honey
production and a gentle nature.
Most of the bees we see outside a hive are workers
(sterile females). There are some 50-60,000 workers
in each colony, 500-1,000 drones (fertile males) and
one queen, the only fertile female and mother of all the
rest. So a beehive is really just one big family. And it's
a functioning family, with each member fulfilling its
function to preserve itself and the hive as a whole.
Worker bees travel up to two miles searching for pollen,
nectar and water, making about ten hour-long food
gathering journeys a day. The effort takes a heavy toll.
Each worker lives only about a month.
A bee is an insect, so its body has three parts—head,
thorax and abdomen. Some people confuse bees with
wasps. Bees are hairy and are vegetarians, while wasps
are hairless and carnivorous.
Pollen, a plant protein source for the young, is collected in
pollen baskets on the worker's hind legs.
Nectar, a carbohydrate, is obtained from deep within
flowers. Each worker fills her honey sac, increasing her
weight by up to a half. Back at the hive, she regurgitates
the nectar into the honey sacs of younger workers. These
younger workers process the nectar into honey and store it
in cells to ripen for five days. It requires nectar from five
million flowers to produce a pint of honey.
Water is used to hydrate and cool the bees in a hive.
Approximately a quart a day is required in warm weather.
Propolis, or "bee glue," is a plant resin used to build and
The queens have longer tapered abdomens than workers
and are much larger. They have the longest lifespan of all
the bees in a hive. Their major role is to lay eggs to insure
the numbers of bees required to maintain a hive.
A new queen is produced when the original queen is ill or
infertile. A special wax incubator is built up around seven
or eight fertilized eggs, and they are slathered with royal
jelly, a vitamin-rich goo made by workers, for two weeks.
The first new queen to emerge kills her sisters and mother
and begins mating with as many drones as possible. She
stores their sperm for the rest of her life and never mates
Returning to the hive, she begins laying up to 1,500 eggs a
day or several hundred thousand over her lifetime. When
she uses up the sperm, she produces unfertilized eggs,
which hatch as drones, the males of the colony.
In this month's site we look at the bees' home, the
honeycomb; find out about the products of bees that we
use; and learn about the current disaster of disappearing
If you've had experiences with these fascinating insects, I'd
love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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