Structure and Mode of life of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)


This  blog post provides readers with the following objectives. The reader will be able to:
o   Identify the caste of honey bees.  
o   Describe the mode of life of the castes of honey bees. 
o   Explain the economic importance of the honey bees

HONEY BEE (Apis mellifera)

Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera

Honey bee Hive

Honey bees are social insects. There are three types of honey bees: dronesworkers and queens. A colony generally contains one queen bee (a fertile female), a few thousand drone bees (fertile males) and a large population of sterile female worker bees. They construct colonial nests out of wax. The nest known as hive is made up of small hexagonal compartments called cell. The wax cells are cemented together to form a mass called honey comb.

Structure of Honey Bee

The body is divided into head, thorax and abdomen. The head has three simple eyes (ocelli), one pair of compound eyes and pair of antennae. 

Thorax bears three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. The fore and hind wings on each side are linked by hooks and they move together in flight.

External features of honey bee

Head o honey bee and the structure of proboscis

The Workers (Sterile female Bees)

The workers are sterile female bees. They are the smallest and numerous members.

The head bears mouth parts made up of proboscis and mandibles. The proboscis is used in sucking up nectar and mandibles for chewing pollen, constructing wax and cell.

There are three pairs of specialized legs. 

1. The fore leg bears small depression lined with hairs forming a comb. The comb is used to clean pollen off its head, antennae and proboscis. 

2. The middle leg has strong hair-like structure called prong on tibia, used for digging out the pollen from the pollen basket and for picking wax.

The hind leg bears a pollen basket and a brush. The pollen basket is for storing pollen whilst the pollen brush is for sweeping pollen from the hairs of the body into the pollen basket on the other leg.

The ovipositor is modified to form a sting which is barbed. The workers sting intruders and stimulates other bees to attack by releasing a pheromone. The worker dies after the sting because the abdominal organs pulled out from its body. 

Worker has a series of glands on the abdomens which secrete wax. Workers use the wax to build hive and repair it with propolis (a glue substance from certain plants).

Function of Worker Bees

1.   feed the developing larvae                       
2.   collection of pollen, nectar and propolis  
3.   make the wax cells                                
4.   clean and repair hive
5.   guard and protect the hive                        
6.   ventilating the hive on hot days
7.   foraging 
8.   build the comb

The Queen (Fertile Female Bees)

The queen is a fertile female. It is created as the workers feed a larva with only royal jelly throughout its development, rather than pollen grains.

The mouthparts are poorly developed. The legs are not specialized as in workers. 

It has a relatively longer abdomen and a shorter wings than other members of the colony. The sting of queens is not barbed like a worker's sting. 

Function:  is solely egg-laying

The Drones (Fertile Male Bees)

The drones are fertile males. They have poorly developed mouthparts. Drones do not have a sting and pollen basket.

The drones do not work inside the hive. They are fed by the workers or help themselves from the store of pollen and nectar in the combs.

Functionis to mate with a new queen.

Honey bee types

Mode of Life of Honey Bees

Feeding in Honey Bees

Honey bee feed entirely on pollen and nectar. Pollen is mainly protein, and nectar is mainly carbohydrate.

The nectar is sucked from the flowers by means of a proboscis. Bees collect pollen in the pollen basket and carry it back to the hive.

When a bee visits a flower, its body becomes dusted with pollen. The hind legs are adapted to comb the pollen off the body, compact it and store it as ‘pollen sacs.

Honey is made when the nectar and sweet deposits from plants are gathered, modified and stored in the honeycomb as a food source for the colony.


When a worker bee finds source of nectar, it returns to the hive and communicate to others by using a pattern of dancing known as the bee dance or waggle dance.

A worker bee performs the dance on the vertical comb. The angle between the central line and the vertical represents the angle between the source, the hive and the sun. The degree of ‘waggle’ in this line indicates the distance; more waggle means greater distance.

If the source is very close to the hive, it may also exhibit a less specific dance commonly known as the "Round Dance". Honey bees also perform tremble dances, which recruit receiver bees to collect nectar from returning foragers.

Life Cycle of Honey Bees

A new queen goes on nuptial flights and mate with one drone. The drone dies in the act of mating, as his reproductive organs ripped out of his body during mating.

The queen mates only once in her life and once mated, it may lay up to 2000 eggs per day.

It lay eggs and fertilizes them with the sperms stored in the spermatheca. Eggs are laid singly in a cell. The workers build three types of wax cell, differing in size or shape.  

Using her spermatheca, the queen can choose to fertilize the egg she is laying, usually depending on the cell she is laying in.

Drones are developed from unfertilized eggs while females (queens and worker bees) develop from fertilized eggs.

After hatching, only the queen larvae are fed with regurgitating protein-rich, milky secretion called royal jelly, which comes from the salivary glands of workers.

The difference in diet causes the workers to be sterile and the queen to be fertile.

The workers feed the larvae until they are ready to pupate and then they put a wax capping over the cell.  After 10-11 days the capping is bitten off and the young adult emerges.

diagram of the comb of honey bees

Economic Importance of Honey Bees

1. Bees played important part in pollinating plants.

2. Beeswax is used in production vital materials such as polish, candles, and body creams.

3. Honey produce by bees serves as food for human consumption.

4. Honey in used in production of sweet items like toffees, biscuits, certain drugs and syrups.

4. Sting causing pain/death

5. Propolis is consumed by humans as a health supplement and also used in some cosmetics.

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