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Honey Bees – A Primer

The common honey bee (Apis mellifera), also known as the European honey bee or the western honey bee, can be distinguished from a wasp by its hairy body. The hairs are used in gathering pollen grains, which are the bees’ only source of protein. If you are unable to tell by their appearance whether you are dealing with honey bees or wasps, however, your local pest control service can advise.

A hive consists of the queen, female worker bees, and male drones. The queen, with a lifespan of three to four years, is the only fertile female in the hive, and lays the eggs from which all the other bees in the hive originate. The bees that you see flying around your garden are female worker bees that have become foragers when they are a few weeks old. Worker bees usually live around six weeks, so the queen is constantly laying new eggs to replenish the hive’s population and workforce.

Worker bees spend their lives doing just that – working. When young, they clean the hive, feed the larvae, and build comb cells for the queen to use to deposit new eggs. When they are a couple of weeks old, worker bees start receiving and storing pollen and nectar from foraging bees. When she is about three weeks old, a worker bee will start leaving the hive every day and become a forager herself. Forager bees can travel up to four miles away from the hive to find food.

Drones do not leave the hive to forage for pollen. They also do not have stingers. They exist to fertise a new queen, and some may assist in temperature regulation of the hive, fanning water droplets brought back inside by foraging bees in order to produce cool airflow by evaporation.

When honeybees enter the hive, they hold their tongue out to show that they’re bringing food in; otherwise they would not be allowed in. Bees will allow bees from another hive to enter the hive as long as they have food, but they will kill them inside the hive and not allow them to leave. Bees are constantly robbing other hives for honey, as honey takes a long time to produce.

Just like us, bees need water to drink, and they also use it to cool the hives. That is why you may sometimes see bees around outdoor water taps and garden hoses. If you have a problem with bees around leaky water taps or hoses, repairing the leaks, rather than trying to kill the bees, may be the solution.

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