Bees – Hymenoptera


Identification & Description:
Bees belong to the third largest insect order which also includes wasps and ants. Together, these creatures pollinate crops, turn over the soil more effectively than earthworms, and, in the case of the bee, furnish food in the form of honey. Even more importantly, some members of this order prey on other insects — the single most important factor in keeping the earth’s insect population in check.

The bee’s eyes, like those of other insects, differ greatly from human eyes. They consist of a pair of compound eyes made up of numerous six-sided facets (28,000 in some dragonflies, 4,000 in house flies) plus three simple eyes. Despite this, their vision is believed to be sharp only for a distance of about 1 m. Bees, however, are capable of seeing ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans. The bee is capable of navigating, even on a cloudy day, by cloud-penetrating ultraviolet light. Honey bees also use the sun as a reference point to communicate to other bees the angle of flight to be followed to arrive at newly discovered nectar-bearing flowers.

The insects most beneficial to humans are found in the large insect order Hymenoptera. Not only are the bees and many of their relatives pollinators of flowering plants, including fruits and vegetables, but thousands of species of small wasps are parasites of other arthropods including pest insects. Without these parasites that limit the growth of insect populations, pests would overtake most crops.

The urban pests of the order Hymenoptera are the stinging insects. Although the first image to come to mind implies danger to humans, these yellowjackets, hornets, and wasps sometimes serve our interest: They feed their young largely on flies and caterpillars.

Many of these stinging insects are social. They live in colonies with a caste system or a division of labor and overlapping generations — all offspring of one individual reproductive.

Type Bees
Bees live in groups called colonies. Beehives are very crowded, with ten to sixty thousand in a hive. There are three types of bees, each with an important job in the hive.

  Queen Drone Worker
large medium small
#/hive 1 ~200 or 0 20K-200K
lifespan 2 years
depending on #sperm
21-32 days spring
90 days summer
or until mating
0 winter
20-40 days summer
(worked to death)
140 days winter
sex female/bisexual male sterile female
functions -kill sisters and mother
-mate with males
-lay 1500 eggs/day
 = 200K eggs/year
-secrete pheromone =
9-hydroxydecenoic acid
-mate with young queen -make comb
-tend larvae
-tend young drones
-tend queen
-clean hive
-gather nectar
-gather pollen
-gather propolis
-evaporate nectar
-cap cells
-defend hive
-starve drones
-lay drone eggs
-move larvae for
making new queen

During the first two days of its life, a worker bee cleans its cell. When they are three days old they feed the drones and larvae. Workers have glands that produce wax. They shape the wax into the comb. During their last days in the hive they guard the entrance. When the worker bee leaves the hive, during its travels it collects water, nectar, and pollen. A worker bee has ultraviolet vision which allows it to see patterns on flower petals which attract the workers to them.

A queen lays all the eggs. For a queen to be born, the workers must feed the larva royal jelly. If a new queen is born, the old queen will kill it or leave with half of the hive colony. That is a bee swarm.

The drones have big, strong wings. They make up 10% of the hive colony. They use their strong wings for the mating flight. After the mating flight, the workers take care of the drones. Before winter, the workers bite the wings off the drones, and kick them out of the hive since they are of no more use. They are left to die.


Honeybees have been classified as follows:

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta
Order Hymenoptera
Family Apiidae
Genus Apis
Species Apis mellifera

Africanized and European honey bees are similar in that they:

• look the same.
• sting in defense of themselves or their nest.
• can only sting once.
• have the same venom.
• pollinate flowers.
• produce honey and wax.

Honeybees probably originated in Tropical Africa and spread from South Africa to Northern Europe and East into India and China. They were brought to the Americas with the first colonists and are now distributed world-wide.

Africanized honey bees will live about anywhere they can find shelter. This means that the honey bees is more likely to be found in trees, in the sides of buildings, in drain pipes, in water meter valve boxes, in old abandoned appliances, in piles of junk, and even in holes in the ground. In addition, Africanized honey bees:

• respond more quickly and more bees sting.
• can sense a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from their nest.
• sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from nest.
• may pursue a perceived enemy 1/4 mile or more.
• swarm frequently to establish new nests.
• nest in smaller cavities and sheltered areas.
• move their entire colony readily (abscond) if food is scarce.

Africanized honey bees are very protective of their colony. If someone gets too near a hive, some bees may become disturbed and react by stinging them. A problem with Africanized honey bees is that they will defend a larger area around their colony, are more easily disturbed, and will respond in greater numbers once an intruder has been detected. To be safe, you should stay away from areas where they have seen groups of bees.

On the other hand, remember that bees on flowers are working gathering pollen and nectar (foraging). Foraging bees are AWAY from their colony and are not as likely to sting unless they are trapped or harmed in some way. You do not need to be excessively alarmed about bees visiting flowers.

Bees may not have a good reputation because of their ability to sting, but many are important and beneficial. Honey bees are the bees with the best public image. We see them as industrious (“busy as a bee”) and we appreciate their main product, honey, as setting the standard for all that is wonderful and sweet. Here we will discuss some basic facts and history about bees.

Over 25,000 species of bees have been identified in the world, with perhaps as many as 40,000 species yet to be identified. In the continental United States scientists have found approximately 3,500 species of bees. The desert regions of northern Mexico and southern Arizona have the richest diversity of bees found anywhere in the world. Although there is no exact count, a bee scientist at the USDA Carl Hayden Bee Research Center says there are between 1,000 and 1,200 species of bees within 100 miles of Tucson!

You may wonder how this can be true. It turns out that not all bees are social bees that live in large families like bumble bees and honey bees. Most are less well-known bees called solitary bees, for example carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, alkali bees, digger bees or sweat bees. Female solitary bees build their own nests and provide food for only their own offspring. All bees collect pollen and nectar, and many of the solitary species are essential because they pollinate plants ignored by honey bees.

What we call honey bees are represented by eight to 10 species in the genus Apis, a name from which comes the word for beekeeping (apiculture) and the word for a bee yard (apiary). The species of honey bee commonly found today in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas is Apis mellifera, which means honey carrier. This name is not technically correct as the bees carry nectar from flowers which they then use to produce honey back in the hive. Only when the bees are moving to a new nest (swarming) do they carry honey.

There are 24 races of Apis mellifera. The races have different physical and behavioral characteristics such as body color, wing length, and susceptibility to disease. But, since they are all of the same species, bees from one race can mate with bees from another race, creating even more variation within the honey bee universe. Caucasian bees ( A. mellifera caucasica) are known to be extremely docile, whereas the black or German bees ( A. mellifera mellifera) are known to overwinter well in severe climates. The African group of bees includes not only the largest number of geographic races (12), but also some of the best known, such as the notorious A. mellifera scutellata. It was a few queens of this highly defensive race that were brought into Brazil in 1957 and started the bees we now know as “Africanized honey bees.”

Bees “smell” many things. Guard bees sit or hover near the hive entrance and “smell” other bees trying to enter the hive. If the bees don’t have the correct odor of that particular hive they are expelled. The new queens produce a special odor called a sex pheromone to attract drones during the mating flight . Bees also use odors to help locate their hive, or their new home after swarming. To humans this pheromone smells lemony.

When a bee stings, she releases an odor called an alarm pheromone to alert others to the danger. This alarm pheromone smells like bananas and attracts other bees to come to the defense of the hive. This pheromone stays on clothing, so if you are stung you should wash your clothing before wearing it again.

The queen bee has her own pheromones in addition to the smell she produces when ready to mate. The queen also maintains behavioral control of the colony by a pheromone known as the “queen substance.” As long as it is being passed around, the message in the colony is that “we have a queen and all is well.” When a beekeeper wants to requeen a colony by introducing a queen from another source, he or she must place the queen in a cage within the colony for up to five days in order for the worker bees to get used to her odor.

Honey bees and people do not see eye to eye. Humans see the colors of the rainbow; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (otherwise known as ROY-G-BIV). Although honey bees have a fairly broad color range, they do not see red and can only differentiate between six major categories of color, including yellow, blue-green, blue, violet, and ultraviolet. They also see a color known as “bee’s purple,” a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet. Differentiation is not equally good throughout the range and is best in the blue-green, violet and bee’s purple colors.

Honey bees have been found to be able to distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter and salt, and thus have a sense of “taste.” Bees are more sensitive to salts than humans, but less sensitive to bitter flavors.

Honey bees use their antennae to gauge the width and depth of cells while constructing comb. They also communicate via touch during bee dances.

Bee Facts

The queen is the only sexually developed female in the hive. She is the largest bee in the colony.

A two-day-old larva is selected by the workers to be reared as the queen. She will emerge from her cell 11 days later to mate in flight with approximately 18 drone (male) bees. During this mating, she receives several million sperm cells, which last her entire life span of nearly two years.

The queen starts to lay eggs about 10 days after mating. A productive queen can lay 3,000 eggs in a single day.

Drones are stout male bees that have no stingers. Drones do not collect food or pollen from flowers. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. If the colony is short on food, drones are often kicked out of the hive.

Workers, the smallest bees in the colony, are sexually undeveloped females. A colony can have 50,000 to 60,000 workers.

The life span of a worker bee varies according to the time of year. Her life expectancy is approximately 28 to 35 days. Workers that are reared in September and October, however, can live through the Beewinter.

Workers feed the queen and larvae, guard the hive entrance and help to keep the hive cool by fanning their wings. Worker bees also collect nectar to make honey. In addition, honey bees produce wax comb. The comb is composed of hexagonal cells which have walls that are only 2/1000 inch thick, but support 25 times their own weight.

Honey bees’ wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.