Bees appeared on Earth around 65 million years ago, long before the human species.
Honey is not the most important product of bees - pollination is, i.e. the fertilization of 70-80% of vegetable organisms on Earth by the bees.
According to many wise researchers and scholars of the plant kingdom “WHEN BEES ARE EXTINCT, MANKIND WILL ONLY LIVE FOR 4 MORE YEARS”.
Pollination increases the degree of fruit setting and improves the quality of fruit, vegetables and seeds. It participates to the preservation of biodiversity as well as to the creation of all those beautiful blooming fields we witness mostly in spring. Without pollination, the food which ends up at our table would be much less, since 1/3 of cultivations is based on that. If bees become extinct, 71 out of 100 most important crop productions in the world which are pollinated by bees will start disappearing too. Particularly, fruit such as apples, strawberries and almonds will abruptly decrease. The extinction of bees will also have catastrophic repercussions to the economy if we consider that the economic value of bee pollination is estimated at around 265 billion a year worldwide. Therefore, it is worth taking care of and protecting it.
Unfortunately, our valuable bees are finding pollination more and more difficult during the last fifty years. They get disoriented by the mobile phone antenna radiation and they lose their hives; they are ailing because they consume pesticides when they harvest their flowers; they have no job in single crops; and they suffer from the ever-increasing drought and temperature of the planet.
Bees are social insects. They live in families and each family, which has 50,000 bees, has a queen, workers and drones. The bee, in order to complete its development, goes through 3 stages: egg, larva and pupa. All eggs are laid by the queen of the hive; they are large and oblong and they have their distinctive position in the cell: first-day eggs are upright in the cell, while third-day eggs are slanting and ready to hatch the larvae. Worker bees feed the developed larvae with royal jelly, pollen and honey until the day the cells are sealed. Once the cells are sealed, the larvae build cocoons and become pupae. Queens emerge from their cells in 16 days, workers in 21 days and drones in 24 days.
THE QUEEN: She is the mother of all bees in the beehive. She can be recognized since her body is quite larger than the rest of the bees and her wings are shorter. She lives for 2-3 years and sometimes her life even lasts 5 years. She is the only real female in the hive. She lays around 2,000-3,000 eggs a day and puts them one by one in each cell. After the second year of her life she becomes old and the number of eggs she lays decreases; that is why worker bees usually replace her.
When the first queen bee emerges from her cell, she destroys the other ones which are still hatching: she punctures the wall of the hive with her stinger before the other ones open their cells and emerge.
The old queen will then likely leave with the prime swarm once the new queen emerges. She will build a new hive in a new place.
WORKER BEES: Worker bees hatch from fertilised eggs. They have the same origin as the queen; they are female bees but lack reproductive capacity. The development of a worker egg into a full insect takes 21 days. Its life span varies from 28 days to 5 months.
When young workers emerge, they learn to do something. During the first six days they clean the cells. Then they nurse the larvae and feed them. They become guards of the hive. They secure peace inside the hive and prevent other bugs from entering. To defend themselves they use their stinger, which contains venom.
They build hexagonal cells using the space at its most and use the smaller amount of wax for the spaces between cells. What is really remarkable is the way in which bees keep the temperature of the hive stable. They achieve that by crowding at a place and moving their wings and adjusting their body temperature. The hive’s brood chamber must be maintained around 30-37ºC.
When bees return from scouting, they provide the rest of the bees with information about where the flowers are, how many they are and how far, using three ways respectively:
- a) the sound
- b) the aroma
- c) the dance.
The bee who has discovered a new source of nectar informs her sisters about it with a dance in the hive. The dance is in circles when the source of nectar is less than 100 metres away or vivid in the shape of number eight (8) when the source is more than 100 metres away.
In order to search for food, bees use all of their senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. Bees have great eyesight which helps them orientate in their long journeys. They distinguish ultra-violet rays penetrating clouds; this allows them to orientate with regard to the sun when the sky is cloudy. Bees do not see the colour red.
To find their food, bees fly around the hive within an average radius of 1,700 metres.
While collecting nectar, worker bees leave some substances on the flowers to inform the others that the flowers were visited by some other collector.
THE DRONES: They are male bees which live for 4 to 5 months. They are the product of unfertilized eggs. A drone’s primary role is to mate with the queen – a very important role in order to perpetuate the species. Drones do, however, generate heat to maintain the hive’s temperature when they replace the incubating workers.
The Language of Bees
Bees communicate between them with a dance, often in uncontrollable rhythm, noise emissions and odours.
Relations between bees from different beehives
Bees do not accept a foreign queen in their hive. The guards protecting the hive become immediately aware of her, approach her, investigate her with their antennae and throw her out of the hive or kill her with their stinger if she persists to enter. The drones are an exception: they are welcome no matter which hive they enter. Same goes for bees, which when they sometimes enter a foreign hive by mistake carrying nectar and pollen they are friendly welcomed.
When the queen hatches from the queen egg or the queen cell, during the first 2-3 days she wanders around in the hive like a stranger, ignoring the bees around her. The bees also ignore the new queen: they don’t take care of her, nor feed her. From the third until the fifth day of her hatching, if the weather is good – a sunny day with no wind, the queen does some test flights by going in circles in front of the hive no more than two or three meters away from it. During this test flights she has her head turned towards the hive, marking the hive’s position with regard to the objects surrounding it. After several such flights she records the hive’s location in her memory and then she urges for her mating flight; that’s when all the drones flying in the area run after her, attracted by what she secretes. Mating occurs mid-flight. The queen mates with the first drone that approaches her (from the many pursuing her) and he must be the fastest and strongest in order to be able to reach her. The price the drone pays for mating with the queen is death; mating is so powerful that his endophallus is ruptured and the drone dies from mutilation. After the mating flight, the queen returns to the hive, gets cleaned by the bees, rests for 48 hours and then she begins to lay eggs. Once she has laid 80-100 eggs, she rests for a few minutes to eat. Then the bees surrounding her caress her with their antennae and feed her royal jelly.
Search for food
Bees can go as far as 3-4 kilometres.
DISEASES AND ENEMIES OF BEES
Α. AMERICAN FOULBROOD
It is the most widespread and destructive bee brood disease which infects larvae. It causes serious damage in beekeeping. The pathogenic cause is the Paenibacillus larvae. Larvae become infected by ingesting spores of the bacterium. What is of great interest is that the spores remain viable in the hive for some decades. Various sources mention that this disease may appear even 35 years later.
Chalkbrood is caused by the fungus Ascosphaera apis. It infects the spawn of worker bees and drones 3 to 4 days after the hatching of the larvae. Death comes at the end of the larva and beginning of the pupa stage. The infected larvae are quickly covered by the white mycelium which fills the entire bee cell. Finally, the white mass dries and a hard mass is created, referred to as a ‘mummy’. These mummies are usually white and chalky, hence the name “chalkbrood”. The spores are formed only when opposite sex mycelia are united.
- NOSEMA DISEASE (NOSEMOSIS)
Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae develop inside the intestinal tracts of adult bees. This disease has many effects. The life span of infected bees is reduced, especially the ones raising a spawn since the ability of the nursing bees to raise a spawn is greatly reduced. The symptoms of this nosemosis are often confused with the ones of paralysis, dysentery and poisoning from pesticides. The beehive which suffers from nosemosis quickly loses its population in late winter and mostly in spring. The heavier and longer the winter is and the colder and poorer the spring is, then the more intense the symptoms are and the bigger the damage is from the disease.
- VARROA MITES
Varroa mites represent one of the biggest problems of Greek beekeeping and beekeeping of the entire world. The parasitic mite Varroa destructor infects larvae and pupae as well as adult bees (queen, workers and drones). Bees infected with this virus have visibly deformed wings. The mite punctures and sucks the blood of bees. When it infects adult bees, it feeds by puncturing the membranes of the bee’s abdomen.
Ε. THE GREAT WAX MOTH
It is one of the most basic enemies of bees which destroys many honeycombs every year in storage or in the less-populated hive. The great wax moth Galleria mellonella is a nocturnal moth.
Wasps cause great damage to beekeeping. They grab the flying bees or the ones in the entrance of the hive, they enter the hives and plunder them. Apart from the beehives, they also cause great damage to grapes and other fruit.
- SMALL HIVE BEETLE
Small hive beetles come from tropical and subtropical regions of South Africa. They scrounge off hives eating pollen, honey, wax and spawn; they also eat various fruit. They have expanded to many regions of the world such as Australia and America, as well as North Africa (Egypt). Small hive beetle presence has not yet been reported in Greece.
Η. COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER
Since 2007, a mystery disease kills dozens of thousands of hives every year in the United States, posing a threat for honey production and beekeeper survival. This disease was named Colony Collapse Disorder; it is widely spread with great losses and long duration.
HOW TO DEAL WITH BEE DISEASES
In order to deal with bee diseases, the following proper handling by beekeepers is required:
- Control of Varroa
- Strong and tight hives
- Change honeycombs every 2nd-3rd year
- Remove frames with sick spawn
- Nursing bees when there are no foods
- Avoid stress factors for the hive
- Disinfection of beekeeping equipment
- Resilient queen bees
- Apiary installation in a sunny and dry place
- Liquid food restriction in the winter