The bee

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The bee

The place of bees in nature

Animals, which are distinguished from plants through being able to move, are divided into two main categories: vertebrates and invertebrates.

The vertebrates, characterised by their vertebral column, comprising fish, batrachians, reptiles, birds and mammals, are of no interest here.

The invertebrates, those not having a vertebral column, have several branches: protozoa (infusoria), sponges, coelenterates (medusae, corals), echinoderms (sea urchins), worms (leeches, lumbricus), bryozoa, rotifers, molluscs (oysters, slugs, octopuses), arthropods and finally the chordata, which with their dorsal chord, form the transition between the invertebrates and the vertebrates.

It is the arthropods that interest us here.

The arthropods (from the Greek arthron, articulation, and ports, podos, foot) are also called Articulata. Their bodies show three distinct regions, head, thorax and abdomen. These are equipped with appendages: on the head the antennae and organs of mastication; on the thorax, the limbs.

Arthropods are divided into several classes: crustacea (lobsters), arachnids (spiders), myriapods (centipedes), insects or hexapods.

The insects (from Latin in, in, secare, cut), or hexapods (from Greek: hex, six, and pous, podos foot) are characterised by always having six limbs. Insects breathe air.

Their heads have two compound eyes. The thorax is divided into three parts, the prothorax which carries a pair of legs, the mesothorax which carries a pair of legs and a pair of wings, the metathorax which carries a pair of legs and sometimes a pair of wings. Insects always have the sexes separate. The larva after hatching from the egg undergoes a series of metamorphoses until it comes to resemble its parents. Because of their intelligence and organisation, insects are superior to other invertebrates. The 600,000 known species of insect are divided into eight orders: orthoptera (grasshoppers), neuroptera (ant-lions), odonata (dragonflies), hemiptera (bugs), diptera (fleas), lepidoptera (butterflies), coleoptera (cockchafers) and hymenoptera.

The hymenoptera (from the Greek humen, membrane, and pteron, wing) are characterised by four membranous wings,

Hymenoptera denotes the class of insects that is most highly organised from the point of view of intelligence, to such an extent that their manifestations overwhelm ours. And yet we still only have partial knowledge of their qualities, such as how many there are of them; for the 25,000 known species indicate that there may be as many as 250,000.

The hymenoptera comprise two groups: the sawflies and sting-bearers. The sawflies have an abdominal terebra for sawing or perforating plants. In this group is the class Cephus, in which is found the larva in the haulm which bears the ear of corn, and Lydia piri, whose larvae spin a kind of silk net enveloping several pear leaves.

The sting-bearers have a sting at the end of their abdomen. Some are parasites whose mission is often to destroy harmful insects, or carnivores like the common wasp or the hornet whose larvae need a supply of insects or meat, and the beewolf (Philanthus triangulum) which constantly rummages around on the ground to find larvae to feed on and which eats many bees.

The others are Formicoidea or ants, which, after the bees, are insects best endowed from the point of view of intelligence, and finally the Apides.

The Apides or honey-bearers are the bees. They feed their larvae on honey. There are about 1,500 species. Some are solitary, like Osmia, in holes in walls or in cavities of decaying timber. Others form social groups, such as the social bees including bumble-bees, stingless bees (Melipona) and the common bee or Apis mellifera.

The bumble-bees, large, very hairy insects, live only in small groups and make their nests below ground.

The Melipona, very small, live in large colonies, because they have several queens, and only in tropical countries.

The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the one that we will be concerned with in greater detail. Composition of the bee family

Bee families are called colonies. Each colony comprises three kinds of individuals:

1. A single, fully developed female capable of laying enough eggs to assure the maintenance and growth of the family. This is the mother, inappropriately called the queen;

2. The workers, or atrophied females, incompletely developed, a large number, 100,000 and more;

3. Some males, who only normally appear in the swarming season and disappear at the time when the nectar flow [also often referred to as honey flow, Гг.] ceases. Their number varies from a few hundred to a few thousand.

Comparative sizes

The mother, the workers and the males have different sizes. The table below gives the approximate sizes in millimetres:

Comparative development

The hive inhabitants develop in different ways.

The queen spends three days at the egg stage, five as a larva and eight as a pupa (in a capped cell), hatching on the 16th day. She is fertilised around the seventh day after hatching. She begins to lay two days later, i.e. at least 25 days, more often 30 days, after the egg was laid.

The worker is three days at the egg stage, five days as a larva, and thirteen days as a pupa (in a capped cell). She hatches on the twenty-first day. She stays in the hive as a nurse or wax producer for about 15 days. She begins to forage thirty or thirty six days after the egg was laid.

The male spends three days at the egg stage and six and a half days as a larva, hatching on the 24* day. He is reproductively mature around the fifth day after hatching, i.e. about a month after the egg was laid.

N.B.

If the mother is removed from a colony, leaving it to the bees to replace her, to save time they almost always work with larvae aged two days, such that the young queens are ready on the twelfth day after removing the old queen.

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