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FAQ on bees


Click on any of the question to find the answer.

  1. What are the various sorts of honeys a bee can produce ?
  2. What are the enemies of the domestic Bee ?
  3. Why do bees sting if they die afterwards ?
  4. How do we recognize the male bee and the female bee ?
  5. How do bees communicate ?
  6. How does a bee become a queen ? How is a queen "elected" ?
  7. Which enzymes, chemical substances or other factors (duration, temperature) transform the nectar into honey ?
  8. Do the domestic Bees sting us if we approach their hive ?
  9. Why it is the female bees which sting and not the male bees ?
  10. Are bees dangerous ?
  11. What is the honey meant for ?
  12. What is the duration of the life of the domestic Bee and what are its various tasks exactly ?
  13. Do bees often swap the flower they gather or do they gather the same before returning ?
  14. How do the domestic Bees know how to make cells of this particular shape ?
  15. How do bees make wax ?
  16. Except for bees and ants, are there other insects practicing "food mouth-to-mouth” ?
  17. When a hive is overcrowded, which member of the community is in charge of finding a new place ?
  18. I have a swarm in the house, what should I do ?
  19. What means exactly the term "drone" to bees ?
  20. What make bees in winter ?
  21. How bees make the honey ?

What are the various sorts of honeys a bee can produce?

It depends completely on the type of flower the domestic Bee forage. The honey is always made in the same way, but its composition varies according to the nectar from which it arises. So, the naming "Acacia Honey" indicates that the bees have gathered only flowers of locust tree, or almost. To be certain that he harvests a lot of acacia honey, the beekeeper takes this honey just after the blooming of the locust tree, by checking first that his bees went to forage these flowers. It's the same for all the types of honeys. On the other hand, the naming "Flower Honey" means that bees went to gather a range of very varied flowers! In the case of fir tree honey, bees also collect honeydew, the sweet nectar of which is beforehand taken by aphids.

What are the enemies of the domestic Bee?

The regression of the populations of domestic Bee (and that of number of wild bees) is the result of several "enemies". Diseases Viruses, bacteria and also mushrooms attack bees. Sometimes, it is them who poison themselves, when in times of scarcity they find only toxic flowers to be gathered as certain buttercups, spurges, etc. For some time, a protozoon: Nosemaceranae causes huge devastation in the east of France causing the death of whole apiaries. Parasites Among the parasites, arachnids ( 8 legs) of the group of acarids are real plagues for bees, in particular those of the Acarapis species and, for a few years, formidable Varroa against whom the beekeepers are obliged to handle their hives. There are also insects ( 6 legs) for the Louse of bees (or Braule) who has a "louse" only the name because it is a fly without wing which goes in the fur of the queen or the workers and which steals the food when the workers bring it to the queen. Predators Many predators, as for example hornets, may attack bees, especially when they gather nectar far from the hive and when they have no colleagues to defend them. The Asian Hornet, recently introduced in France, shows itself a dreadful predator.

Why do bees sting if they die afterwards ?

It can indeed seem strange that, to defend itself, a bee sacrifices itself! However, the ultimate purpose of all the living beings, is to ensure the reproduction and the survival of their species. In a colony of domestic Bee, the workers are there to assure the smooth running and the defence of the colony. If several workers die having pricked, it is not very important because the colony will be saved and the species will survive. The sacrifice to these social animals is a part of their mission. Having said that, bees die when they prick a vertebrate prisoner of which the skin (flesh) closes on the sting and maintains it. But when they prick an invertebrate which has the skeleton outside of the body ( the " shell " ), the hole which they make with their sting stays the same and does not close on the sting, what allows them to remove it and thus to continue to live.

How do we recognize the male bee and the female bee ?

If it is the domestic Bee which lives in society and which makes some honey it is easy because males, contrary to females, have big eyes which join on the top of the head, to such a point that we would say flies. But there are a lot of species of different bees in France (approximately 1,200 species) and the difference is not always obvious and remains specialists affair ...

How do bees communicate ?

As most of the insects, bees communicate with by means " of smells " (called pheromones) which they get with their antennas (sense of smell). So, they have different pheromones to express various messages. For the domestic Bee, besides the sense of smell, another means of communication exists. It is a kind of "dance", movements of the body, which indicates to the other workers the exact location of a place rich in flowers to be gathered. These movements indicate the distance between the hive and this place and also the angle to be followed between the sun and the hive to get there.

How does a bee become a queen? How is a queen "elected"?

There are two possible situations at the origin of "the election" of a new queen: when the former dies from old age, or when it leaves with half of the colony because the hive becomes too small: this phenomenon is called the swarming, and takes place at the end of the spring or in summer when the activity is at its maximum. In both cases, the workers of the hive find themselves without queen. It is amazing because only the queen lays and the workers do not live for a long time. To avoid becoming orphan, as soon as they feel that the queen is going to leave or to die, bees choose 3 to 5 larvas. They build them royal changing rooms, that is alveoli bigger than those of the other larvas, and, especially, they are not going to feed these larvas exclusively with royal jelly. This substance is made by glands situated in the head of the workers of certain age. It is used to feed all the larvas at the beginning of their life, then they pass to a diet of pollen and honey only. The future queens consume only some royal jelly and it will allow them to live from 3 to 5 years, while larvas will only live approximately 5 weeks! However, only one queen is needed and nevertheless the workers have chosen several larvas... The strongest will be the queen. Explanation: when the young queens go out of their alveole, the strongest will kill the others. So, its future children will be solid and brave... What’s more, after a few days, this young queen will get ready for its bridal flight. All the males are ready to intervene because the rest of the time they do not make much! The queen leaves by flying in the sky at top speed and all the males leave to give chase to it. Before, we believed that only the fastest male had the right to couple with the young queen, but we know today that several males couple with it (about ten approximately). The descent of this queen will be constituted by strong and brave individuals. On returning to the hive, our elected representative is ready to live more than 3 years for laying.

Which enzymes, chemical substances or other factors (duration, temperature) transform the nectar into honey?

The honey is made from the nectar of the flowers, certain components of which are difficult to digest. When the workers bring it back to the hive, they transmit it to conductors by trophallaxis (mouth-to-mouth). Then the nectar comes several times through their mouth and their crop before being transferred to other conductors and so on. Under the influence of an enzyme stemming from glandular secretions, the invertase, the sugars are slowly modified. So sucrose is transformed into more "easily digestible" sugars, such as the glucose. Then, the honey is stored in the alveoli which are not closed. Under the effect of the heat and drafts created by worker bees, the water of this honey in preparation evaporates until there is there only 20% or so. Finally, the alveolus is closed. The honey serves to feed larvas and especially colony, in case of bad weather, and in winter.

Do the domestic Bees sting us if we approach their hive?

It depends on their humor! Generally, by approaching slowly and by staying a few meters away, bees do not bother our presence. Certain beekeepers, when they know well bees, know how to detect if there is a risk or not according to their behavior. It happens that some collect the honey without any protection ... What bothers bees a lot, it is when we bang on the hive or when we move the hive. In this case, they may want to protect themselves. But the worst is: when a bee pricks you and when you kill her, it emits a smell (like the banana) which alerts the others. There, it is better to run away because they become very aggressive ... In any event, it is better to go there slowly or to be accompanied by somebody who knows well the bees such as a beekeeper.

Why it is the female bees which sting and not the male bees ?

To insects, it is often the (female) "girls" which prick: it is the case to bees, mosquitoes, horseflies, etc.! In particular, to bees, wasps and ants which belong to the family of Hymenopterans, it is always so. Why? Because to these insects, " the tool " of the females which serves to lay (the auger or the oviscapte) was gradually transformed into prickle (or sting) during the evolution. As males had no auger of laying,eggs, they have no sting today.

Are bees dangerous?

The domestic Bees do not attack for the pleasure but simply if we disturb the hive, and still, not always ... or if we seize a bee in the hand by squeezing fingers. Even if we are stung several times, it doesn't matter. If tens of bees prick us having disturbed a hive, it is better to go to a doctor, but it is rather rare to disturb a hive not on purpose ... However, the domestic bee stings are dangerous for the peoplewho are allergic to the insect bites generally. For them, it is a real problem because they can die from it. We sometimes tell that if a bee pricks you in the throat, you can die suffocated. This case is extremely rare, but it is necessary to pay all the same attention on the children, especially if you eat outside. We can observe bees when it gathers nectar, even very closely, for hours without ever being pricked. If we disturb it, it will go away a little farther to be quiet...

What is the honey meant for?

To prepare us excellent breakfasts! In reality bees make some honey to feed larvas and especially to have reserves of food in winter. At this time of year the hive continues to live in slow motion and as there are not flowers anymore to gather bees feed themselves with the honey.

What is the duration of the life of the domestic Bee and what are its various tasks exactly?

To the domestic Bee, the champion of the longevity is the queen which lives from 3 to 5 years. A summer worker lives on average from 5 to 6 weeks and a winter worker from 5 to 6 months. The fate of males is different because they die during or after the coupling or at the end of the summer if they did not couple. They are then chased away by the hive by the workers which stop feeding them. As regards the tasks, every worker will be successively: · housewife · feeder of the larvas · waxing for the manufacturing of alveoli · guard of the hive · ventilating to refresh the hive And finally nectar-gathering bee by beginning with fetching some water, then some nectar, then some pollen and finally some propolis

Do bees often swap the flower they gather or do they gather the same before returning?

As long as a source of nectar is not exhausted, bees take advantage of it! So they often gather the same flowers as long as they are opened and rich in nectar and pollen. This is the way the beekeepers can have some honey of acacia, lavender, thyme, etc., because when the flowers are in bloom and easy access, they know that their bees will go only on them.

How do the domestic Bees know how to make cells of this particular shape?

Bees obey their instinct. Without learning it, they know how to make cells with the ideal shape to be solid and at the same time take the least possible space. It is probably the result of the evolution that selected this know-how. This shape in "honeycomb stitch" is so perfect that the man has often copied it: architects and engineers, in particular, use it for their constructions!

How do bees make wax?

The wax is a secretion produced by glands situated on the belly of the domestic bees workers. But it is only the "wax" workers, old of approximately 12-14 days, which produce and extract it with their legs before making alveoli. It is one of numerous "jobs" of the workers which, then, will be guards of the hive, etc.

Except for bees and ants, are there other insects practicing "food mouth-to-mouth”?

The mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of the food (or trophallaxis) is a speciality of the social insects. These exchanges are necessary for the individuals (labor or male) which stay sometimes permanently in the nest and have no possibility of feeding differently. Then their congeners take care to return them the food and to feed them "at home". As for the domestic Bees, this passage of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of the nectar is essential to the manufacturing of the honey: nectar-gathering bees bring back the nectar which they pass on to workers. Mixed with their saliva, these give it to other workers, etc. Until the passage in the last stage of drying, in alveoli, which will give the honey

When a hive is overcrowded, which member of the community is in charge of finding a new place?

When the hive is overcrowded, the queen leaves with a part of the colony. It is what we call the swarming. By going out of the hive, it settles with the swarm on the first coming support (often a branch of tree) because it does not always know where to go. If they are breeding bees, a beekeeper can pick up the swarm to place it in an empty hive. Otherwise, in natural conditions, it is workers which leave in search of a new location. And when many of them indicate in a very motivated way, thanks to their "dance", a good location, and well they leave all in this well chosen place. Other workers will certainly have indicated another place, but their "enthusiasm" will not have been strong enough.

I have a swarm in the house, what should I do?

If you find a swarm in your garden, best is to contact a beekeeper of your region. Here is the site which lists region by region of the amateur beekeepers who may help you, as far as their possibilities: http://abeille.gudule.org/

What means exactly the term "drone" to bees?

It is simply the male of the domestic Bee, the one who lives in society and who makes the honey which we consume. But the bee family is big (approximately 1,200 species in France) and, amongst which, there are bumblebees. They are very close to the domestic Bee and are also social, while the great majority of the species of bees are solitary. To indicate the sexes of these social insects, we speak about made up "castes" of: · Females, or queen · Males (or still "drone" to the domestic Bee) · Workers To other species of bees, non social, there are only males and females.

What make bees in winter?

Let us begin with the domestic Bee which is an exception in the world of bees, because the workers manage to maintain a certain temperature at the heart of the hive despite the cold outside. This heat allows them to continue more or less certain activities, they need to feed. It is thus the honey, besides feeding larvas all year round, that serves to feed these workers and the queen during this period. The activities are however quite reduced and they do not go out so much when the outside temperature is below approximately 12 °C. Males, called "Drone", die before the winter or, sometimes even, are killed or hunted by the workers because they have no important role apart from fertilizing a new queen in summer. Thus it is useless to nourish them in winter! Other bees - those called "solitary" or "savages" - winter, meaning they find themselves a shelter. They often stay in their nest, slowing down completely their metabolism. They remain numbed without moving during six months of the winter, while waiting for the spring.

How bees make the honey?

First of all, the workers are going to collect some nectar which is a sweet liquid in flowers. They bring it back to the hive and give it to other workers by trophallaxis, ie. mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. These then channel through it several times between their mouth and their crop and then give it to other workers and so on. Having been mixed with the saliva of many bees, the nectar, which is already transformed, is put down in one alveolus, these sorts of wax compartment which establish the beams of the hive. There, with the heat, the honey dries little (the water evaporates) and when it is just decent bees close the alveolus. They will come to look for this honey when they will need it to feed their larvas, to feed in winter or when the weather prevents them from going out.