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Honey Bee

Honey Bee


  • Phylum- Arthropoda
  • Class- Insecta
  • Order- Hymenoptera
  • Family- apidae
  • Genus- Apis

Habit and Habitat

Honey bees are highly organized social insects. They are active throughout the year but in winter season they are less active and do little work also they do not rear the brood during that time. During spring season i.e., at the time of flowering they prepare a strong colony with honey rich combs. They exhibit polymorphism and good division of labour. They bee hive contains thousands of individuals and is hung down from the branches of the trees and ceilings of houses. The workers communicate informations for the location of the food sources through the ‘Waggle Dance’ Karl Von Frish called this phenomenon as ‘Language of the bees’. He said that the rate of dance is directly proportional to the distance of the food.

Species of Honey Bees

Four species of honey bees are reported:

  1. Apis dorsata (Rock bee)-

    This specie is the largest specie of the honey bee, about 20 mm in length, that’s why also called as ‘Giant Honey Bee’. Sarang and Bombara are other names of this bee which yields maximum amount of honey in comparison to other species. A single comb may yield 60 pounds of honey which is the maximum amount for a comb. The workers are very active which may pollinate 12,000 flowers daily. However they are not of commercial value due to their ferocious and irritable nature, specific hive and migratory habit it is very difficult to domesticate them for the bee keeping industry.

  2. Apis indica (Indian bee)-

    It is commonly found in the forest and plain regions of India. They are slightly smaller than dorsata. They live in dark places and construct several parallel combs about one foot across the protected places like cavities of tree trunks, mud walls of the buildings. This specie is very gentle in nature therefore it can be easily domesticated for honey extraction. The production of honey is much less which is near about 6 to 7 pounds per comb.

  3. Apis florea (Little bee)-

    This specie is smaller than indica and yields very small amount of honey. The bees are not of gregarious nature and form a single comb. Due to its docile nature and rare stinging behaviour, the combs can be removed easily for the honey extraction.

  4. Apis mellifera (European bee)-

    This bee produces less honey yet is found to be the best specie for commercial purpose. Due to their docile nature they can be domesticated very easily and can be improved by breeding for several hundred years. Its Italian variety is reared everywhere in Europe and America in artificial hives for honey.

Social Organisation of Honey Bee

A highly organized division of labour is found in honey bees. A well-developed colony of bees had 40 to 50 thousand individuals consisting of 3 caste that are;

  1. Queen
  2. Drone
  3. Worker

The queen after fertilization lays fertilized and unfertilized eggs both. From unfertilized eggs male bees emerge which are known as Drones whereas from the fertilized eggs worker bees are produced. The workers when feed on Royal Jelly, develop into Queen.


It is a well-developed fertile female provided with immensely developed ovaries. Commonly only one queen is found in each hive and feeds on royal jelly. She is the queen in real sense as the mother of the colony, guarded by a number of attendants and never allotted any duty except egg laying. Egg laying is the sole function of the queen throughout her lifespan. The queen is 15 to 20 mm in length and can be easily distinguished by her long tapering abdomen, short legs and wings. She is unable to produce wax or honey or gather pollen nectar. By the combination of ovipositor-cum sting, a structure is developed which aids in egg laying. Queen gets mated only once in her life but in a single chance of mating, drone releases 2 crore sperms which are sufficient for the fertilization of the eggs. Queen lays fertilized and unfertilized eggs both. One queen lays about 1,500 to 2,000 eggs in a day depending upon the seasonal variation and other ecological factors. The life span of queen is near about 2 to 5 years. When queen in a colony loses eggs laying capacity, another worker of same colony starts feeding on queen’s diet i.e. royal jelly and develops into a new queen. Sometimes when 2 or 3 queens are developed in a colony, only one takes the position of the real queen and the others come out with workers to establish new colonies.


Workers are the smallest of all the three castes but they function as the main spring of the complicated machinery like honey bee colony. They are also developed from the fertilized egg laid by the queen and live in a chamber called as ‘Worker Cell’. It takes 21 days in the development from the egg to the adult and the total lifespan of a worker is about 6 weeks. The workers are sterile or atrophid female which sacrifice themselves for the well-being of the colony. All the indoor and outdoor activities are performed by the workers only. They are provided with some special structures for this purpose:

  • Long proboscis for sucking the nectar.
  • Strong wings for fanning.
  • Pollen baskets for the collection of pollen.
  • Powerful sting to defend the colony against any attack.
  • Wax gland for wax secretion.

Workers engaged in outdoor duties/ roles collect the nectar, pollen, gum and water which are received and stored properly by the house bees. Indoor bees are sub-grouped for specific duties. Some attend the queen while some others look after the nursery and called as Nursery bee. Some produce wax for the formation of the new hive and are known as Builders. The repairing of the comb is done by Repairers. Cleaning of the hive is done by Cleaners. Fanning in the hive is done by Fanners. Guard bees always keep watch at the gateway. Several other functions like honey storage and ripening are also done by workers.


The drone is the male member of the colony which fertilizes the queen so called as King of the colony. They are developed from eggs in 24 days to the adult stage. The sting and wax glands are absent but reproductive organs are very well developed. They are formed from the unfertile egg in large Drone cells. Drones are completely dependent upon the workers. The sole duty of the drone is to fertilize the virgin queen. At the time of swarming the drone follows the queen, copulates her and dies after copulation.

Life Cycle of Honey Bee

After mating, the queen generally lays one egg in brood cell. The eggs are pinkish coloured, elongated with cylindrical body generally attached to the bottom of the cell. Larvae emerge out from both the fertilized and unfertilized eggs. The larvae of unfertilized eggs form the drones whereas the larvae of fertilized eggs form workers. Amongst the larvae of the workers one is fed on the royal jelly (a special diet secreted by the young workers), becomes the queen of the colony. Royal jelly consists of digested honey and pollen mixed with a glandular secretion into the mouth of the workers.

After 5 days of feeding the cell is sealed and the larvae undergo pupation. It spins a thin silken cocoon and pupates completely. After three weeks, young ones are emerged out and they get busy in the indoor duties for about 2 to 3 weeks. Later on they are engaged in outdoor duties. All the bees pass through a complete metamorphosis with the various changes in the life cycle taking place within the comb.


The process of leaving off the colony by the queen is called as swarming. It occurs towards the end of spring or early summer. In summers when plenty of food is available and hive is overcrowded by the bees, the queen leaves the hive on a fine fore-noon with some old drones and workers and establishes a new colony at some other place. Now in the old hive a worker is given royal jelly and is converted into a new queen of the colony. This new queen of the colony never tolerated her successor, as a natural law in the hive, so she orders to kill the other sisters, if any in the hive.


When the egg laying capacity of the queen is lost or she suddenly dies, a new young and vigorous queen takes the position of the old queen and is called as supersedure.


The migration of the complete colony from one place to another is called as absconding. It takes place due to some unfavorable conditions of life such as destruction of the comb by termites or wax moths and scarcity of nectar producing flowers around the hive.

Nuptial or marriage flight:

The first swarm is led by the old queen but the second swarm is led by the 7 days old virgin queen, which is followed by the drones and is called marriage or nuptial flight. One of the drones starts copulating with the queen up in the sky and fertilizes the queen and dies during the course of copulation. The queen receives spermatophores and stores in the spermatheca. Along with the queen, died drone falls on the ground and the queen reaches the hive.

Hive or Beehive:

The house of the honey bee is called as hive or comb. It consists of hexagonal cells made up of wax secreted by the worker’s abdomen. These hives hang vertically from the rock, building or branched of trees. Each hive has thousands of hexagonal thin walled fragile cells arranged in two opposite rows on a common base. The resins and gums secreted from the plants are used for the repairing of the hives. The young stages generally occupy the lower and central cells in the hive which are the ‘Brood cells’. In A. dorsata brood cells are similar in shape and size but in other species brood cells are of 3 types; ‘Worker cell’ for workers. ‘Drone cells’ for drones and ‘Queen Cell’ for the queen. Queen cells are not used again but the rest are used a number of times. The cells are mainly intended for the storage of honey and pollen specifically in the upper portion of the comb while those in lower part are for brood rearing.

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