honeybee(redirected from Apis mellifera)
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Bumblebees and Stingless Bees
The honeybee commonly raised for production of honey and wax in many parts of the world is Apis mellifera, of Old World origin. Honeybees build nests, or combs, of wax, which is secreted by glands in the abdomen. They store honey for future use in the hexagonal cells of the comb. In the wild the nests are made in caves or hollow trees, but beekeepers provide nesting boxes, called hives. Beekeeping, or apiculture, is more than 4,000 years old, but humans collected honey and beeswax several thousand years before that.
A typical colony consists of three castes: the large queen, who produces the eggs, many thousands of workers (sexually undeveloped females), and a few hundred drones (fertile males). At the tip of a female bee's abdomen is a strong, sharp lancet, or sting, connected to poison glands. In the queen, who stings only rival queens, the sting is smooth and can be withdrawn easily; in the worker bee the sting is barbed and can rarely be withdrawn without tearing the body of the bee, causing it to die. The workers gather nectar; make and store honey; build the cells; clean, ventilate (by fanning their wings), and protect the hive. They also feed and care for the queen and the larvae. They communicate with one another (for example, about the location of flowers) by performing dances in specific patterns. The workers live for only about six weeks during the active season, but those that hatch (i.e., emerge from the pupa stage) in the fall live through the winter. The drones die in the fall.
A developing bee goes through the larva and pupa stages in the cell and emerges as an adult. The larva is fed constantly by the worker bees; the pupa is sealed into the cell. Fertilized eggs develop into workers; unfertilized eggs become drones. A fertilized egg may also become a queen if the larva is fed royal jelly, a glandular secretion thought to contain sex hormones as well as nutrients, until she pupates. Worker larvae receive this food only during the first three days of larval life, afterward receiving beebread, a mixture of pollen and honey.
When a hive becomes overcrowded a swarm may leave with the old queen and establish a new colony. The old colony in the meantime rears several new queens. The first queen that hatches stings the others to death in their cells; if two emerge at once, they fight until one is killed. Mating then occurs. A newly hatched queen is followed aloft in a nuptial flight by the drones, only one of which impregnates her, depositing millions of sperm that are stored in a pouch in her body. The drone dies, and the queen returns to the hive, where for the rest of her life (usually several years) she lays eggs continuously in the cells.
Importance of Bees
Bees are of inestimable value as agents of cross-pollination (see pollination), and many plants are entirely dependent on particular kinds of bees for their reproduction (such as red clover, which is pollinated by the bumblebee, and many orchids). In many cases the use of insecticides for agricultural pest control has had the unwelcome side effect of killing the bees necessary for maintaining the crop. Such environmental stresses plus several species of parasitic mites devastated honeybee populations in the United States beginning in the 1980s, making it necessary for farmers to rent bees from keepers in order to get their crops pollinated and greatly affecting the pollination of plants in the wild.
In 2006, commercial honeybee hives first suffered from colony collapse disorder, which, for unclear reasons, left many bee boxes empty of bees after overwintering. Dead bees from affected colonies have since been found to be infected with viruses and other pathogens that, acting synergistically, may be the cause. Although colony collapse disorder peaked in 2007 and has subsided, commercial honeybee hives continue to suffer significantly from the effects of disease and pesticides.
The increasing expense of using honeybees to pollinate agricultural crops has led to the growing use of such alternative species as bumblebees and blue orchard mason bees as well as wild bees as supplemental or primary pollinators. The successful use of wild bees as agricultural pollinators typically requires providing or ensuring access to alternative food sources before and after the crop flowers and limiting practices, such as the use of pesticides, that might kill wild bees.
Bee venom has been found to have medicinal properties. Toasted honeybees are eaten in some parts of the world.
See M. Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee (1913); K. von Frisch, The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees (1965, tr. 1967); M. Lindauer, Communication Among Social Bees (rev. ed. 1971); C. Mitchener, Social Behavior of Bees (1974); F. Ruttner, Biogeography and Raxonomy of Honey Bees (1987); M. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee (1987); James L. and Carol Gould, The Honey Bee (1988).
(Apis mellifera L), an insect of the bee (Apis) genus, superfamily Apoidea, which lives in colonies.
Honeybees are believed to have come from southern Asia, and from there they spread throughout the world from the southern hemisphere to the far north. They live in hollows of trees, clefts of rocks, and other concealed places. There they build wax honeycombs, in the cells of which they store food supplies of honey and beebread, usually exceeding the colony’s needs, and raise the young, or bee brood. Colonies multiply by swarms. Sexual reproduction, by which the number of bees in a colony increases, involves the queen bee and drones. Parthenogenesis is also characteristic of honeybees.
The high development of polymorphism, expressed in the differentiation of body structure and function not only between the males and females but also between the female queen and workers, has made the bee colony a biological unit in which all the members are interdependent and incapable of independent existence. The colony consists of one fertile queen, 60,000–80,000 workers (from 10,000 to 15,000 in winter), and several hundreds or thousands of male drones.
The queen bee (body length, 20–25 mm; weight, 200–250 mg) is a female with fully developed sexual organs. She performs a single function in the colony—the laying of eggs (from spring until fall; in summer up to 2,000–2,500 eggs per day), from which, depending on the size of the comb’s cells and what is fed, develop workers, drones, or queens. All the other functions performed by solitary bees and the females of more primitive insect societies, such as wasps and bumblebees, have been lost by the honeybee queen. Her proboscis is shorter than that of the worker bee, and therefore she is unable to gather nectar. The hind legs have no adaptations for gathering pollen from flowers, and the abdomen lacks the wax plates that secrete the wax for making honeycombs. Special cells called queen cells are built by the workers to raise the queen bees. On the fifth to seventh day after she emerges from the queen cell, a queen bee reaches sexual maturity and flies out to mate with the drones. Worker bees develop in smaller cells from the fertilized eggs that the queen lays, drones in larger cells from the unfertilized eggs. Queen bees live for approximately five years, but in the third year of life the number of eggs laid decreases. (Beekeepers replace queens older than two years with young queens.)
The worker bees (body length, 12–14 mm; average weight, 100 mg) are females with rudimentary sexual organs and are incapable of mating. They perform varied functions in the colony: they build the honeycombs, gather nectar and flower pollen (flying in a radius of more than 2–3 km from the hive), convert nectar into honey and pollen into beebread, rear the larvae, feed the queen that is laying the eggs, guard the nest, maintain humidity and temperature conditions within the nest at a certain level, regulate the process of natural swarming, and replace the old queen with a young one (under natural conditions).
On the workers’ hind legs there are what are called brushes and baskets (concavities) for gathering and transporting pollen. On the lower sternites of the abdomen are wax plates, which are sections of chitin on which wax secreted by the wax pockets hardens in the form of plates. Special glands secrete a jelly that contains a significant amount of protein and possesses valuable nutritive properties. The bees feed the jelly to the worker and drone larvae until they are three days old (after that they are fed a mixture of honey and beebread), to the queen larvae throughout their entire developmental period, and to the queen during the egg-laying period. Under normal conditions the workers do not lay eggs. However, if a colony loses its queen, the workers lay unfertilized eggs, from which develop drones. Workers live from 26 to 40 days. (There will be several generations of worker bees in one summer.)
The drones (body length, 15–17 mm; weight, approximately 200 mg) perform a single function in the colony, namely, fertilize the queen. Because of this, the drones’ sexual organs are highly developed, and there are no adaptations for gathering pollen and secreting beeswax. Drones reach sexual maturity in eight to fourteen days. They live in the bee colony only during the summer months, when the queen flies out of the hive to mate. At the end of summer when the honey gathering is over, the worker bees drive the drones from the hives.
During the winter the bees gather on the honeycombs in a dense cluster and gradually consume the honey reserves that were stored over the summer. The ability of the bee colony and queen to winter on stored supplies of food is a biological peculiarity of honeybees that distinguishes them from the other social insects, such as wasps, hornets, and bumblebees, whose workers die in the fall, and the queen spends the winter alone.
Honeybees have long been raised for honey, beeswax, propolis, and other products. They are also used to pollinate various crops and fruit and berry plants. After the invention of the frame beehive in 1814, bees were kept in sectional hives with movable frames, which significantly improved the technology of beekeeping and increased the amount of honey collected.
The different strains of honeybees are natural races that formed as a result of adaptation. Cultivated strains of bees produced through pedigreeing have not yet been created. In the USSR, the Central Russian forest (black), Georgian gray mountain, and Far Eastern strains have the greatest significance. The Central Russian forest strain of Apis mellifera mellifera is raised in northern Europe, the central zone of the USSR, and Siberia. The bees are large, with a long proboscis of up to 6 mm, moderately swarming, and aggressive. They have been intensely crossbred with Caucasian bees and are found pure only in the remote tundra regions. The Georgian gray mountain bees A. m. caucasica are smaller than the Central Russian strain, with the longest proboscis (to 6.9 mm) of all the bee races. They are not much prone to swarming and are gentle. They are raised in the USA and many other countries and are known there as Caucasian bees. Far Eastern bees, which are acclimatized Ukrainian steppe bees brought to the Far East in the 19th century, are noted for their high honey production and are not affected by foulbrood. Ukrainian steppe bees A. m. tes-quorum, yellow Transcaucasian valley bees A. m. remipes, and other strains have local significance. These strains are gradually being replaced by higher-producing gray Georgian bees and hybrids of the Central Russian forest and gray Georgian bees. Of the foreign strains, the most common in various countries are the yellow Italian bees A. m. lingustica, especially in the USA, and the gray Carniolan bees A. m. carnica on the southeastern slopes of the Alps.
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Khalifman, I. Pchely [4th ed.]. Moscow, 1963.
Frisch, K. von. Iz zhizni pchel. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from German.)
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G. F. TARANOV and A. M. KOVALEV