The Honey Bee Family

From How to Keep Bees & Sell Honey by Walter T. Kelley

A good hive should have approximately 30,000 workers or preferably more. The workers do what their name implies. Each worker bee has a special pouch called a honey bag or sac inside its body and they suck up the nectar from the flowers with their long tongues and store it in the honey sac. When it is full, they fly back to their hives and transfer the nectar to house bees who spread it in the honey combs. In the process of storing it in their stomachs and transferring it, enzymes are added to the nectar and by a process called inversion, the sugar and nectar are broken down into simple sugars, chiefly levulose and dextrose.

The water in the nectar slowly evaporates but the bees speed up the process by fanning their wings, setting up currents of air from the hive entrance at the bottom to the ventilation holes at the top. After most of the water is removed and the liquid becomes thick, young worker bees produce beeswax which oozes through small pores in the body and forms white flakes on the outside of the abdomen. Using its legs, the bee then picks these flakes from the abdomen and transfers them to its jaws and after chewing, caps each honey-filled cell in order to preserve it.

To gather one pound of honey, bees travel over 25,000 miles or a trip around the world.

All worker bees are female and do all the chores in the colony, with the exception of laying eggs. The younger bees are housekeepers but when a worker is about ten days old, it flies to the fields collecting nectar and pollen and water for the hive. During a busy summer, a worker bee usually lives only about six weeks, literally wearing out its wings during this time, but they may live several months during the colder months when there is less to do.

The drone develops from an infertile drone cell in 24 days after the egg is laid. His sole purpose is to mate with a young queen. Drones are heavy consumers of stores and are usually fed by the workers. The drone is a strong flyer and has eyes that cover practically the entire head, which is a good way to recognize him.

The queen is the most important bee in the hive. If you have a young, vigorous queen, the colony strength should be ample to take care of any honey flow. If the queen is unable to lay sufficient eggs to produce an abundance of workers, very little surplus honey will be stored. The queen must lay a solid pattern of brood, either in a small area in the fall and early spring or practically a whole frame of brood during the height of the honey flow. The queen is the mother of the hive and is stimulated to lay many eggs if there is a honey flow or only a few eggs, if there is little nectar and pollen coming into the hive.

The sudden loss of the queen by disappearance or accident may cause bees to starting rearing a new queen.

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