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Encyclopedia > Bees


Osmia ribifloris
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Superfamily: Apoidea


Bees (Apoidea superfamily) are flying insects, closely related to wasps and ants. They are adapted for feeding on nectar, and play an important role in pollinating flowering plants, and are called pollinators. Bees have a long tongue that they use in order to obtain the nectar from flowers. Bees have antennae made up of thirteen segments in males and twelve in females. They have two pairs of wings, the back pair being the smaller of the two. Their legs are modified so that they can gather pollen and the apex of their abdomens are modified into a stinger. There are over 16,000 described species, and possibly around 30,000 species in total. Bees may be solitary, or may live in various sorts of communities. The most advanced of these are eusocial colonies, found among the honeybees and stingless bees. Sociality is believed to have evolved separately in different groups of bees.


Eusocial bees

Eusocial bees live in large hives, each of which has a single queen, together with workers and drones.

The life cycle of bumblebees begins in the spring when the queen bee rises from hibernation. At this time the queen bee is the one who does all the work because there are no worker bees to do the work yet. She searches for a place to build her nest and she builds the honeypots. She also does the foraging to collect nectar and pollen. Bumblebee colonies die off in the autumn, after raising a last generation of queens, which survive individually in found hiding spots. Interestingly bumblebee queens sometimes seek winter safety in honeybee hives, where they are sometimes found dead in the spring by beekeepers, presumably stung to death by the honeybees. It is not known whether any succeed in winter survival in such an environment.

With honeybees, which survive winter as a colony, the queen begins egg laying in winter, to prepare for spring. This is probably triggered by day length. She is the only fertile female, and deposits all the eggs from which the other bees are produced. Except for her one mating flight or to establish a new colony, the queen rarely leaves the hive after the larvae have become full grown bees. The queen deposits each egg in a cell prepared by the worker bees. The egg hatches into a small larva which is fed by nurse bees (worker bees who maintain the interior of the colony). After about a week (depending on species), the larva is sealed up in its cell by the nurse bees. After another week (again, depending on species), it will emerge an adult bee.

The larvae and pupae in a frame of honeycomb are referred to as frames of brood and are often sold (with adhering bees) by beekeepers to other beekeepers to start new beehives.

Peanut-like queen brood cells are extended outward from the broodcomb

Both workers and queens are fed royal jelly during the first three days of the larval stage. Then workers are switched to a diet of pollen and nectar or diluted honey, while those intended for queens will continue to receive royal jelly. This causes the larva to develop to the pupa stage more quickly, while being also larger and fully developed sexually. Queen breeders consider good nutrition during the larval stage to be of critical importance to the quality of the queens raised, good genetics and sufficient number of matings also being factors. During the larval and pupal stages, various parasites can attack the pupa/larva and destroy or mutate it.

Queens are not raised in typical horizontal brood cells of the honeycomb. They are specially constructed to be much larger, and have a vertical orientation. As the queen finishes her larval feeding, and pupates, she moves into a head downward position, from which she will later chew her way out of the cell. At pupation the workers cap or seal the cell. Just prior to emerging from their cells, young queens can often be heard "piping." This is considered likely to be a challenge to other queens for battle.

Bee Swarm

Worker bees are infertile females. Worker bees secrete the wax used to build the hive, clean and maintain the hive, raise the young, guard the hive and forage for nectar and pollen. In honeybees, the worker bees have a modified ovipositor called a stinger with which they can sting to defend the hive, but the bee will die soon after.

Drone bees are the male bees of the colony. Drone honeybees do not forage for nectar or pollen. The primary purpose of a drone bee is to fertilize a new queen. Drones mate with the queen in flight. They die immediately after mating.

In some species, drones are suspected of playing a contributing role in the temperature regulation of the hive. Drone bees have no stinger, since a stinger is actually a modified ovipositor.

Queens live for an average of three years, while workers have an average life of only three months.


Honeybee queens release pheromones to regulate hive activities, and worker bees also produce pheromones for various communications.

Honey is produced from nectar collected from flowers, which is a clear liquid consisting of nearly 80% water with complex sugars. The collecting bees store the nectar in a second stomach and return to the hive where worker bees remove the nectar. The worker bees digest the raw nectar for about 30 minutes using enzymes to break up the complex sugars into simpler ones. Raw honey is then spread out to dry, which reduces the water content to less than 20%. Once dried, each honeycomb is sealed with wax to preserve the honey.

Honey itself is so sweet that bacteria cannot grow on it, and dry enough that it does not support yeasts. Anaerobic bacteria may be present and survive in spore form, in honey, as well as anywhere else in common environments. Honey (or any other sweetener) which is diluted by the non_acidic digestive fluids of infants, can provide an ideal medium for the transition of botulism bacteria from the spore form to the actively growing form, which produces a toxin. When infants are weaned to solid foods, their digestive system becomes acid enough to prevent such growth and poisoning. No sweeteners should be given to infants prior to weaning, as there is a small, but possibly lethal risk of poisoning.

Honey bee pheromones

Honey Bees use pheromones, or chemical communication, for almost all behaviors of life. Such uses include, but are not limited to: mating, alarm, defense, orientation, kin and colony recognition, food production, and integration of colony activities. Pheromones are, thus, essential to Honey Bees for their survival. Some Honey Bee pheromones include:

  • Nasonov pheromones.
    • These are used for orientation and include Geraniol, Nerolic acid, and Geranic acid. Bees use these to find the entrance to their colony or hive, and they release them on flowers so other bees know which flowers have nectar.
  • Footprint pheromones.
    • These are left by bee feet when they walk and are useful in enhancing Nasnov pheromones in searching for nectar.
  • Alarm pheromones.
    • These can be released voluntarily by a bee when it senses danger or when a bee stings another animal. This pheromone attracts other bees to the location and causes the other bees to behave defensively, i.e. sting or charge. This is why you usually are stung multiple times if a bee hive is near.
  • Primer pheromone
    • Ethyl oleate is released by older forager bees to slow the maturing of nurse bees. This pheromone acts as a distributed regulator to keep the ratio of nurse bees to forager bees in the balance that is most beneficial to the hive. Primer pheromones are slow acting pheromones.

Solitary, communal, and quasisocial Bees

Some other bees form small colonies. For example, most species of bumblebee (Bombus terrestris, B. pratorum, et al.) live in colonies of 30-400 bees. (By contrast, an average honeybee hive at the height of summer will have 40,000 - 80,000 bees.) The queen bee is typically able to survive on her own for at least a short time (unlike queens in eusocial species who must be cared for at all times).

Other species of bee such as the Orchard Mason bee (Osmia lignaria) and the hornfaced bee (Osmia cornifrons) are solitary in that every female is fertile. There are no worker bees for these species. Solitary bees typically produce neither honey nor beeswax. They are immune from tracheal and varroa mites, but have their own unique parasites, pests and diseases. (see diseases of the honeybee)

Kleptoparasitic bees

Cuckoo bees are bumblebee look_alikes that invade bumblebee nests and lay their eggs. The bumblebees raise the young as their own. Megachilid bees also have other megachilid Coelioxys bees whose young are placed into the already provisioned nests of these solitary bees. They destroy the host larvae and eat the food.


All bees eat nectar and pollen. Bees are excellent pollinators and play an important role in agriculture.

Bees are the favorite meal of Merops apiaster, a bird.

See also

External links and references

  • Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (http://www.bwars.com/) (UK)
  • Carl Hayden Bee Research Center (http://gears.tucson.ars.ag.gov)
  • Pollinator Paradise (http://www.pollinatorparadise.com/) (solitary bees)
  • [1] (http://www.kutikshoney.com/grafting/queens.htm) Raising honeybee queens
  • Bees of the World, C. D. Michener (200)
  • Rescuing Australian stingless bees (http://www.abc.net.au/science/scribblygum/may2003/default.htm)
  • Honey Bee Pheromones (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/3294/pheromo.htm)

  Results from FactBites:
San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes: Bee (1792 words)
Bees may be fl, brown, or banded with white, yellow, or orange stripes.
Native bees are bees that have always lived in an area and are able to survive without help from humans.
Bees have a special tongue that sucks up the sweet nectar and a crop in their throat for storing it until they get back to the hive.
Insecta Inspecta World - Killer Bees (1056 words)
The bee is aggressive, easily agitated, and generally a bee with a bad attitude.
The Africanized bee is expected to spread across the southern part of the country, where the winters aren't so harsh.
The Africanized bee is a dangerous hybrid, passing down the trait of defensiveness to each offspring.
  More results at FactBites »



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