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Apis Mellifera - Some interesting facts

Where does Manuka Honey Begin?

The honey bee is probably one of the best-known of all insects in the world; it performs a vital role in the pollination of flowering plants, including our crop species. There are three 'castes' within a bee hive, a 'queen' (the reproductive female), the 'drones' (reproductive males) and 'workers' (non-reproductive females). All three castes are broadly similar in appearance; the body is covered in short hairs, and is divided into a head, a thorax and an abdomen, the head features two large eyes and a pair of antennae. The thorax bears two pairs of wings above, and three pairs of legs below and there is a slender 'waist' between the thorax and abdomen. The queen has a much longer and slender abdomen than the workers, and the drones can be identified by their broader abdomens and much larger eyes.

The honey bee is a social insect and they live in colonies called hives. There can be upwards of 20,000 bees in a wild hive and because domesticated hives are managed they can have considerably more.

There is generally only one queen to a hive and her sole function is to lay eggs. She can lay up to 1500 eggs per day and can live from two to eight years. She generally will fly just once to mate with the drones. The drones die as soon as mating has taken place. She does have a stinger which is not barbed like the worker bee, so she can use it many times.

The drones have no stinger and their sole function in the hive is to mate with the queen. They live about eight weeks and at the end of the season are forced to leave the hive and die of starvation.

The worker bees take care of all the tasks that are necessary to keep the hive working efficiently. They make up the largest proportion of the hives population and are all sterile females. When first hatched they take care of the housekeeping duties, feeding the brood, feeding the queen, cleaning and air conditioning to maintain the optimum temperature in the hive, building comb and defending the hive against intruders. Older bees leave the hive and forage for nectar, pollen, water and plant resins used in the construction of the hive. 

Generally, a worker bee will live for about six weeks through spring and the height of summer but if hatched late in the season will live through the winter.  Worker bees are well designed for what they do. They have a structure called a pollen sack for transporting pollen back to the hive and they have an extra stomach for storing and transporting nectar. They also have four specialised glands which excrete wax, which is used in building the hive.They have a straight barbed stinger which is used in defending the hive and can can only be used once as the venom sac is pulled out of the bees abdomen and the bee dies.

The worker bee may forage up to 12Km from the hive to collect nectar and pollen. They communicate to others exactly where the food source is by performing a coded dance called a waggle dance, which tells other worker bees what direction the food source is in and how far away it is from the hive.


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