The honeybee, or to be precise ‘Apis Melifera’ is regarded as one of the most intelligent, productive and organised insects on the place of this planet. Honeybees are truly social insects and live in large colonies either in the wild or in managed beehives which are cared-for by beekeepers. The vast majority of the bees in the colony are female with only around 1% male. The colony has the ability to adapt to the changing seasons and availability of food; in the spring and summer months the colony can reach 60-100,000 strong and in the winter they contract to 20-30,000 bees.
The colony is led by a queen who when reared and properly mated will go on to lead her subjects for up to five years, laying up to 2000 eggs a day. She is quite simply an egg laying machine and she is tended to by an entourage of worker bees so that her every need is catered for. There is only one queen per colony, and she rules her colony and communicates to her subjects using powerful pheromones.
The worker bee represents the largest caste in the colony and as soon as they are born, they begin working within minutes by cleaning out the small hexagonal cell that was their birthing chamber. She will then work tirelessly until the day that she dies flying many thousands of miles collecting nectar from a diverse variety of flora which she converts into honey. It is recognised that this tiny little insect will only produce around half a teaspoon of honey over the course of her life.
The worker bee will also make beeswax produced from two small glands on the underside of her abdomen and she collects water, tree sap and pollen during her lengthy foraging flights which is returned to the hive for the production of propolis and to make food and royal jelly to feed emerging brood. The worker bee has key enzymes in her gut which breaks down the nectar into its simplest forms of sugar thus creating what we know as honey.
The drone, or male bee is frankly quite lazy. His only job on this planet is to mate with virgin queens but in the process of this amazing and quite acrobatic process he dies. If he is not successful in finding a suitable virgin with which to mate, he will spend his life gently flying from beehive to beehive seeking food until in late autumn he will be forcibly ejected by the female workers and will die in the cold.