A colony of bees will have three different types of bees, Queen bee, Worker bees, and Drones.
Bees are essential to the ecosystem to pollinate agriculture to keep plants and crops alive.
Bees support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants, which serve as food and shelter for creatures large and small. While flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies and moths all play their roles in pollination, none is so productive or so reliable as the bee. Without them, we would have to pollinate plants by hand or rely on other insects to do the job.
The importance of the honeybee really cannot be understated. They are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. According to the BBC, they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. A honeybee extinction could mean losing all the plants that bees pollinate, the animals that eat those plants, and so on up the food chain. Groceries would have half the current amount of fruit and vegetables. In fact, the global human population of 7 billion may not be able to sustain itself.
Unfortunately, we are much too close to this potential outcome. Colony Collapse Disorder is bringing us even closer to the brink. National Geographic defines this as “a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony (hive) disappear, leaving behind a queen, food, nurse bees and baby bees. Without the mature worker bees to bring nectar and pollen back to the hive, it collapses (dies).” While the rates of Colony Collapse have slowed somewhat over the past few years, the concern is still all too real.
A cautious approach to bee management is crucial. Never automatically assume that honeybees are a nuisance. Honeybees rarely pose a pest problem or sting humans. In fact, many people actively encourage a bee presence in their landscape by planting bee-friendly flowers, trees, and plants. Our goal at Snyder’s Hives and Honey is to educate the public about native honeybees in order to help them thriving in their natural habitat.
A colony of bees will have three different types of bees; Queen bee, Worker bees, and Drones
First and foremost, there is the queen. The queen is the “life of the hive” because she is the only bee that can lay fertile eggs to produce more brood or worker bees. Without a queen, the hive cannot survive, but to counteract the absence of a queen, the hive can make new queens if there are larvae of the proper age.
There are two stages in a queen’s life—the first stage is as a virgin queen (non-laying) and the second is as a mated queen (laying). How do you know when your newly hatched virgin queen becomes mated? Look for these two clues! The first thing to look for is to see if the queen’s wings are over lapping. If they are still over lapping, then there is a good chance that she has not left the hive for her mating flight. However, if her wings are spread apart she may have taken flight and mated with a drone; however, it may take her a few days to start eggs. So, the second thing to look for is eggs or larvae in the comb. If you can see eggs in the bottom of the cells or small larvae then you know you have a mated queen. Ultimately, after hatching, the newly hatched queen typically leaves the hive somewhere between day 4-10. When she returns to the hive then, if mated, should start laying eggs within a few days.
Interesting fact: The queen reaches her peak production at one year old where she lays as many as 2,000 eggs per day and reduces egg laying production after that. A queen usually lives about two to three years. When hive feels the queen is no longer producing enough eggs to keep the colony strong then they will produce queen cells. The first new queen to emerge will destroy the other queen cells and kill the current queen.
Next, there are worker bees that each have a different task. All worker bees are sterile females and serve to work the hive their entire lifespan. A worker bee can prepare royal jelly to feed the queen or carry out domestic tasks such as cleaning out the hive, removing debris, dust, and pollen from other bees. Worker bees also produce wax from their wax glands to build honeycombs and to cap the cells holding pupae and honey. The workers also tend to the larvae in the hive by feeding and caring for the developing larvae. They feed the larvae until it is time to cap the larvae witch is about 7 days before they will emerge as a new worker bee. The worker bees will also attended to the Queen bee by feeding her and grooming her till the worker bee moves on to be a forager. They also help to store food by packing empty cells with pollen for later use and fanning to preserve honey in cells.
Nurse bees are another type of worker bee that bears the sole responsibility of nurturing the larvae of the hive. Foragers are older worker bees that gather nectar, water, and pollen for the hive. Finally, guard bees protect the hive by guarding the entrance from any unwanted bees from other hives or other types of invaders that will try and destroy the hive.
The majority of the bees in the colony are the worker bees. They are all female bees but are born sterile and their purpose is to be a worker their entire lifespan. They will have many different jobs during their short life. They start out as cleaners of the hive and remove any unwanted debris from the hive from dead bees to to cleaning the cells for the queen to lay a new egg into.
Once the worker becomes old enough to leave the hive they will go out and become field bees collecting nectar and pollen for the colony back in the hive. This is the last part of the bee’s life this is when most of the bees get killed or die as they are working so hard that they basically work them selves to death.
The Drone bee is the only male bee that the colony will have. Their only purpose is to mate with a virgin queen and then they die. The drones that do not mate with a queen will be forced out of the hive by the worker bees. The drone is no use to the hive other than to mate with a virgin queen.
What are the different breeds of bees?
The Italian Bee
Italian honeybees were brought to the United States in 1859. They quickly became the favored bee stock in this country and remains so to this day. This breed is known for their strong brood rearing, Italian bees will build colony populations up in the spring and continue throughout entire summer. They are excellent honey producers. They are very lightly colored, a trait that is highly coveted by many beekeepers for its aesthetic appeal.
Despite their popularity, Italian bees have some drawbacks. First, because of their brood rearing, they tend to have a higher population in the hives. They frequently rob the honey stores of weaker or dead neighboring colonies. This behavior may pose problems for beekeepers when they work their colonies during times of nectar dearth, and it may also cause the rapid spread of transmittable diseases among other hives.
The Carniolan Bee
This breed is from middle Europe and is also a favored bee stock in the United States for several reasons. Like the Italian Bee, they also have a strong and early brood buildup, which enables this race to grow rapidly in population and take advantage of blooms that occur much earlier in the spring. Second, they are extremely calm on the comb and can be worked with little smoke and protective clothing. Third, they are much less prone to robbing other colonies of honey, lowering disease transmission among colonies. They are also very good builders of wax combs. The drawback to this breed is that Carniolan bees tend to have a higher rate of swarming due to the overcrowding of the colony.
The Caucasian Bee
This breed is from Eastern Europe. This stock was once popular in the United States, but it has declined in regard over the last few decades. Its most notable characteristic is its very long tongue, which enables the bees to forage for nectar from flowers that other bee stocks may not have access to. They tend to be a moderately colored bee and, like the Carniolans, are extremely docile. However, their slow spring buildup keeps them from generating very large honey crops, and they tend to use an excessive amount of propolis (sticky substance that bees use to seal the hive).
The Buckfast Bee
In the 1920s, honeybee colonies in the British Isles were devastated by acarine disease, which now is suspected to be the tracheal mite. Brother Adams, a monk at Buckfast Abby in Devon, England, was charged with creating a bee stock that could withstand this deadly disease. He traveled the world interviewing beekeepers and learning about different bee strains, and he created a stock of bees, largely from the Italian race, that could thrive in the cold wet conditions of the British Isles yet produce good honey crops and exhibit good housecleaning and grooming behavior to reduce the prevalence of disease. Bees of this stock are moderately defensive. However, if left unmanaged for one or two generations, they can be among the most fiercely defensive bees of any stock. They also are moderate in spring population buildup, preventing them from taking full advantage of early nectar flows.
The Russian Bee
One of the newer bee stocks in the United States was imported from far-eastern Russia by the US Department of Agriculture. These bees from the Primorski region on the Sea of Japan, have coexisted for the last 150 years with the devastating ectoparasite Varroa destructor, a mite that is responsible for severe colony losses around the globe. The USDA tested whether this stock had evolved resistance to varroa and found that it had. Russian bees tend to rear brood only during times of nectar and pollen flows, so brood-rearing and colony populations tend to fluctuate with the environment. They also exhibit good housecleaning behavior, resulting in resistance not only to varroa but also to the tracheal mite. They are good honey producers because they forage earlier than some of the other breeds.
The African Bee
Africanized honeybees are fuzzy and brownish in color. They look like their Italian counterparts, making it tough to know if a hive has been taken over by Africanized genetics. Africanized honeybees are actually a hybrid. They were created in Brazil by crossing the African bee with Italian bees in the 1950s to increase honey production. In 1957, 26 of these experimental swarms escaped quarantine and quickly took over South America. In 1985, they made their way to the US and have since spread through most of the south.
Africanized honeybees are known for being highly aggressive and, unlike their more docile cousins, will chase a person up to a quarter of a mile if they perceive a threat. There are more than 1,000 documented cases of Africanized bees killing humans and other large animals, such as horses.
They begin foraging younger than other honeybee types and frequently produce more honey. They also reproduce faster than other honeybees. African bees are not to be messed with and should take all the precautions to remove them.
According to Smithsonian (n.d.), Africanized bees react to disturbances 10 times faster, attack in numbers, deliver 10 times as many stings, and can chase a person a quarter of a mile as compared to their European counterpart. In addition, it may take thirty minutes or longer for Africanized bees to leave an area after they’ve followed a person to what they think is a safe place (UF/IFAS Extension, 2018).
While a tremendous amount of variation remains within and among the different bee stocks, some generalities still can be made. We at Snyder’s Hives and Honey have different breeds of bees. By offering varying breeds in our apiary, our virgin queens may mate with a drone from a different breed, which produces a combined breed stock. This helps the colonies stay strong by adapting some of the traits of each breed. For example, the Russian bee breed fights off the varroa mite so by mating with other breeds then we strengthen our resistance to this deadly invader.
Our queen stock consists of Italian, Buckfast, and Russian breeds.