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  • Writer's pictureWildlife Friendly Otley

European Honey Bee - July 2021

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

The European honey bee, now found worldwide, is known for its delicious honey and painful sting. While painful, most stings are harmless unless an individual has an allergy. The distinctive dark brown and bright yellow bands on the bee's body warn predators of its venomous sting, deterring attacks on the hive and the bees, food and wax contained within. There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world! The most common is the European honey bee, largely because they are one of the few invertebrates to have been domesticated, it’s thought they were first domesticated 5000 years ago, back in ancient Egypt!

European honey bees have two sets of wings, which they beat over 230 beats per second, this rapid motion causes the distinctive buzzing sound we associate with our bees. They can grow up to 15mm long, with the queens reaching about 20mm long. Drones are medium-length and stout, they are the only males in a bee colony. They have only one purpose, to mate with queens from other hives, they have significantly larger eyes than the females. Worker bees make up 99% of the hive population, and they are likely to be the only type of bee you have witnessed. They are all female and do almost all of the work for the hive. They have special hind legs that are used as a pollen basket and are armed with barbed stingers.

Honey bees eat pollen and nectar collected from flowering plants by worker bees, as well as concentrated nectar, which we call honey! Young larval bees in the hive eat honey, nectar and the bodily secretions from worker bees called royal jelly. After three days the drone and worker larvae are no longer fed with royal jelly, but queen larvae continue to be fed this special substance throughout their development. Honey bees will also feed on honeydew or the secretions of sap-feeding insects such as aphids, and have been known to raid other colonies' hives for their food stores.

Honey bee colonies can exist almost anywhere as long as there is a sufficient supply of nectar. Honey bees make their homes in hollow spaces such as a hollow tree, fallen log, and traditional human-made honey bee hives. They build honeycomb cells within the chosen hollow space, and they use the honeycomb to produce honey and to incubate eggs and raise larvae safely.

A single bee hive may contain as many as 50,000 individuals! Honeybees can regulate the temperature of their hives to ensure the perfect conditions for producing food, by turning nectar into honey.

Bees communicate via chemicals, vibrations and movement, all of these are used in the "waggle dance,” by performing this dance, successful foragers can share information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen, to water sources, or to new nest-site locations with other members of the hive. Honey bees are also known for absconding from the nest, or “swarming.” This occurs when a new queen emerges and takes a large number of worker bees to a new location with her. These swarms are frequently seen in trees and, while they can be unsettling, are generally harmless. The swarm may use a tree or other structure as a temporary home while workers search for a new suitable location for the colony.


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