Discover the Wonders of the Honeybees

The humble honey bee (Apis Mellifera) has been in existence for over 100,000 millennia and over the centuries has evolved into the most advanced and sophisticated of insects on the planet.  The honey bee has become highly adapted for foraging and pollination with special anatomical features for this purpose.  


Around the world, there are some 25 different species of the honey bee each with their own characteristic traits and each suited to their native environment.  Our own native bee is commonly known as the European Honey Bee and is well adapted to our environment.

You'll find below just a few of the remarkable activities they perform as part of their day-to-day life.  

Communication without sound

Getting the message across

One of the wonders of the honeybee is its ability to communicate with other members of the colony through sophisticated dance routines.  Each dance performed by a honeybee imparts a unique message through the vibrations made on the honeycomb.  These tiny vibrations are detected by other members of the colony who decode the message and respond accordingly.  The most commonly observed dance is the Waggle Dance and is a particular figure-eight dance of the honeybee.  By performing this dance, successful foragers can share, with other members of the colony, information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen, to water sources, or to new nest-site locations.

Sharing the food

Trophallaxis

No bee goes hungry in the colony when food is available.  Honeybees share the food around the colony by direct mouth-to-mouth feeding using their long tongue apparatus – the proboscis.  The queen and the drones (boys) never feed themselves and are always fed by the trophallaxis method.

Honeybees also use trophallaxis as an important part of colony communication.  For example, workers who have licked the queen will pass on some of the queen’s essence to other bees during the exchange of food.  Not only does this inform the colony that the queen is alive and well, but it also suppresses the development of ovaries in worker bees.

Bees also use trophallaxis to distribute information about new nectar sources or about feeding conditions inside the brood nest.  It is also used to keep nurse bees supplied with energy as they warm the nest.

Chemical messages & signals

Pheromones

The pheromones of the honey bee are mixtures of chemical substances that are released by individual bees into the hive or environment that cause changes in the behaviour of other bees.  Honey bees have one of the most complex pheromonal communication systems found in nature, possessing 15 known glands that produce an array of compounds. 

Pheromones can be used to signal a state of alarm in the colony that makes the bees behave defensively (this pheromone smells like bananas) or as in the video, the bee is releasing and fanning around, a pheromone that attracts the other bees - "come here" or "here is home" (this pheromone smells like lemongrass oil).  Even the new larvae give of pheromones that tell the nurse bees when and what to feed them.

Of all the different pheromone signals that are given, the queen pheromone is probably the most important to the colony.  Her pheromone reassures the bees of her existence and maintains the cohesion of the colony.

Expanding the family

Swarming

The sight of honey bees in the process of swarming is both a scary and awesome event that you may have the privilege to observe.  After leaving the hive, 20 – 30,000 bees will mill around in the air until they start to form the typical cluster we might witness in the summer months.  They have left the hive with the queen and will be looking for a new location in which to set up home.  This is a part of the method by which honey bees procreate themselves and expand their colony.


It is the task of the scout bees to find a suitable home and a couple of hundred scout bees will have started this process a few weeks earlier.  Scouts returning to the cluster perform dances on the swarm in the hope of co-opting more scouts to check out a location they believe to be suitable.  This continues until the majority of scouts are in favour of a location – then the swarm departs for the new home.  The wondrous thing is how just a couple of hundred scout bees can lead a swarm of 30,000 bees in a line to a new home, possibly 3 miles away, and not lose any of the swarm members on the way.  It is truly remarkable how they achieve and manage this home relocation process.

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©2020 BY SELBY BEEKEEPERS