December 2010

 

"To these we owe the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live" - at the American cemetery

 

 

Bee informed!  The following is an excerpt from a great article entitled “Bees in Crisis -- A Comprehensive Situation Report” 

 

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, live in colonies whose numbers vary according to season. A colony of domestic bees counts between 40,000 and 60,000 individuals during summer, of which 10,000 are forager bees that will gather enough nectar (a sugar-rich liquid produced by flowers) to form honey reserves for the hive over winter. During winter, colony numbers fall to around 10,000. Each colony is composed of three castes of adult bee – a queen, workers and males. It also contains the eggs, the larvae and nymphs. The Queen, the only fertile female in the colony, is unique. Only the Queen lays the eggs that ensure the continuation of the colony. The workers, non-reproductive females, represent the majority of the population. Their activity varies during their life – nurses, cleaners, wax-secretors, foraging pollen collectors and honey producers. Their numbers assure the thermal regulation of the colony. The males, several hundred, participate in the fertilisation of virgin females, present in temperate regions from April to September.

The natural cycle of the colony is annual and it depends strongly upon the available vegetation in the environment. There are four successive phases. The queen starts laying eggs at the beginning of spring (up to 2,000 a day), before foraging flights start. The first larvae are fed with the reserve of pollen from the previous summer, which has been transformed into a mush by the nurse bees. The colony gradually develops; the queen laying more eggs as young bees are born that will be able to nurse new larvae.

Foraging is coordinated. When a forager bee finds food it returns to the hive and dances on the comb. The precise movements of her dance communicate to the other bees the flight direction and distance to the source of nectar. Bees exhibit other complex behaviour, e.g. they build combs with perfectly hexagonal and regular cells, keep the hive clean, regulate the temperature and humidity of the hive, assess the qualities of a home for a new swarm, visually memorize the surroundings of the hive and protect the hive against predators. The survival of the hive depends on the integrity of these behaviour patterns.

 

Towards the end of spring, when the population has reached its maximum, swarming occurs – the Queen leaves the hive with some of the workers to found a new colony nearby. A new Queen hatches in the original colony to replace the old Queen who left with the swarm.

 

At the end of summer, the colony produces workers who will pass through the winter. These individuals will live longer, several months, than the summer pollinators, who have produced the honey stores on which the health of the over-wintering individuals is dependent during the cold season. During winter, the population is reduced to a few thousand workers around the Queen and lives on the reserves accumulated during the summer.

 

The honey bee has been actively cultivated for its honey for at least 5,000 years. During the winter, the hives remain sealed and the bees don't leave the hive. Bees usually remerge from the hive in April, depending on the region and the weather. This is the moment when the beekeeper opens the hive for the first time since the autumn and verifies the state of the colony (or its demise), taking the opportunity to apply treatments against mites. During summer, the hives are moved and placed to be near particular flowering plants or as part of a pollination service. Honey is extracted and hives may be divided to generate more colonies. In autumn, there is a further treatment against mites for the winter. Each hive is weighed and fed with sugar substitutes to compensate for the removed honey. Hive entries are reduced in size to protect the bees from visitors and cold winds.

 

 

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