of the most familiar insects in the world is the Honeybee. This
member of the insect order Hymenoptera
plays a key role in the human and natural world. More has been written
about honeybees than any other species of insect. The human fascination
with this insect began thousands of years ago when people discovered
what wonderfully tasty stuff honey is!
is a thick liquid produced by certain types of bees from the nectar
of flowers. While many species of insects consume nectar, honeybees
refine and concentrate nectar to make honey. Indeed, they make lots
of honey so they will have plenty of food for times when flower
nectar is unavailable, such as winter. Unlike most insects, honeybees
remain active through the winter, consuming and metabolizing honey
in order to keep from freezing to death. Early humans probably watched
bears and other mammals raid bee hives for honey and then tried
it themselves. Once people found out what honey was, next they had
to learn how to get it from the bees safely!
have a bright color pattern to warn potential predators (or honey
thieves!) that they have a weapon to defend themselves. Their weapon
is a modified ovipositor (egg-laying
tube). This is combined with a venom gland to create a stinger (formally
known as an aculeus) located
at the end of the abdomen. Because the stinger is modified from
a structure found only in females, male bees cannot sting. When
the hive is threatened, honeybees will swarm out and attack with
their stingers to drive the enemy away.
like most insects, look at the world through compound
eyes. These are made of hundreds of small simple eyes called
The images received by all the ommatidia are put together in the
insect's brain to give it a very different way of seeing the world.
To see the world the way a bee does, check out Andrew Giger's B-Eye
web site in the links
are social insects. In the
wild, they create elaborate nests called hives
containing up to 20,000 individuals during the summer months. (Domestic
hives may have over 80,000 bees.) They work together in a highly
structured social order. Each bee belongs to one of three specialized
groups called castes. The
different castes are: queens,
is only one queen in a hive and her main purpose in life is to
make more bees. She can lay over 1,500 eggs per day and will live
two to eight years. She is larger (up to 20mm) and has a longer
abdomen than the workers or drones. She has chewing mouthparts.
Her stinger is curved with no barbs on it and she can use it many
since they are males, have no stinger. They live about eight weeks.
Only a few hundred - at most - are ever present in the hive. Their
sole function is to mate with a new queen, if one is produced
in a given year. A drone's eyes are noticeably bigger than those
of the other castes. This helps them to spot the queens when they
are on their nuptial flight. Any drones left at the end of the
season are considered non-essential and will be driven out of
the hive to die.
bees do all the different tasks needed to maintain and operate
the hive. They make up the vast majority of the hive's occupants
and they are all sterile females. When young, they are called
house bees and work in the
hive doing comb construction, brood rearing, tending the queen
and drones, cleaning, temperature regulation and defending the
hive. Older workers are called field
bees. They forage outside the hive to gather nectar, pollen,
water and certain sticky plant resins used in hive construction.
Workers born early in the season will live about 6 weeks while
those born in the fall will live until the following spring. Workers
are about 12 mm long and highly specialized for what they do,
with a structure called a pollen basket (or corbiculum)
on each hind leg, an extra stomach for storing and transporting
nectar or honey and four pairs of special glands that secrete
beeswax on the underside of their abdomen. They have a straight,
barbed stinger which can only be used once. It rips out of their
abdomen after use, which kills the bee.