honeybee(redirected from Apis mellifera)
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name for flying insects of the superfamily Apoidea, in the same order as the ants and the wasps. Bees are characterized by their enlarged hind feet, typically equipped with pollen baskets of stiff hairs for gathering pollen.
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(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.
REFERENCESTaranov, G. F. Biologiia pchelinoi sem’i. Moscow, 1961.
Khalifman, I. Pchely [4th ed.]. Moscow, 1963.
Frisch, K. von. Iz zhizni pchel. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from German.)
Taranov, G. F. Anatomiia i fiziologiia medonosnykh pchel. Moscow, 1968.
Pchela i ulei. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from English.)
G. F. TARANOV and A. M. KOVALEV