Honey bees are social insects. This means that they live together in a colony and depend on each other for survival. The bees that make up a colony include a queen, some drones (maybe 300) and thousands of worker bees. Most of the bees in a colony are workers. Some are drones whose function is to mate with a virgin queen. Usually there is only one queen in a colony.
The queen is a mature female. She lays thousands of eggs during her life time. A good queen may lay over 2000 eggs in a single day. A queen has the longest life span in the colony, living for up to five years. She is larger than the other bees in the hive and has a slim torpedo shape. She does have a stinger, but uses it to kill other queens.
Worker bees are sexually underdeveloped females. They may number as many as 60,000 in a colony. The population of a colony depends on a number of factors such as: the egg laying ability of the queen, the space available in the hive (area where the bees live) and the incoming food supply. They are called workers because that is what they do. They collect food and water for the colony, build wax comb, do the housework, maintain the interior temperatures of the hive and guard the hive against intruders [in other words: they can sting]. Female worker bees under certain conditions can lay eggs but because they are not mated, they produce eggs that only develop into drones, the males in the colony.
Notice two things about the general shape of the drone:
the head is large and the eyes predominate the head
the rear of the drone is rounded (they have no stinger and can not sting)
Although they are usually considered worthless, drones contribute to the continuation of one generation to the next. The worker bees usually determine the number of drones found in a colony. A strong healthy colony may have as many as 300 or more drones. As winter approaches, the workers drive the drones from the hive to starve.
There are three primary strains of bees kept in the United States:
The Caucasian strain is a gentle bee gray to black in color. They have a tendency to use an excessive amount of propolis. (Propolis is called bee glue - it is a gummy substance collected by bees from trees and is used to seal holes and spaces in their hive).
The Carniolan strain is one of the more popular bees in current use today. It is a black bee and is very gentle. Its outstanding characteristic is that it seems to adapt very well to colder climates. You may see terms like "Russian", New World Carniolan or "Yugo" to describe various strains of Carniolan bees.
Italian bees were imported to the U.S. from Italy during the 1860's. It has proven to be a rather hardy bee, industrious, relatively gentle, and yellow in color. Historically, before the Italian was introduced to the U.S. the German Black Bee predominated but because of the outstanding characteristics of the Italian, beekeepers rapidly switched. The German Black Bee is no longer to be found in the U.S. for sale. This is the most widespread bee strain in the United States
What is a Swarm?
When honey bees leave the hive to swarm, they are generally looking for a new home. Often they will land and form a cluster on a near by tree. Sometimes, it might be in a spot that will get a lot of attention such as a shrub just outside your door. The bees in the swarm include a queen and mostly older bees. They are usually quite docile. This is the natural way honey bees reproduce. The old queen leaves with the swarm of bees including many worker bees and a few drones. What you can do if you see a swarm which has landed in a place they are not wanted?
Check out the Swarm list of Central Ohio Beekeepers
willing to capture the swarm and remove it to a hive. Some helpful hints: Provide the beekeeper with information such as how long has the swarm been there! Often the bees will stop and rest before resuming their journey to a new home. Provide the beekeeper with information about how high they are above the ground. A ladder may be required. And most important, give exact directions on who to contact and where the bees are located.
Remember, saving the honey bee is important. They are dying in large numbers due to a number of problems and issues with the environment. 40 to 60% of our food supply depends on insect pollination. The honey bee provides much of this.
If you have trouble reaching a beekeeper, contact: Rod Pritchard, President of COBA at email@example.com
or better yet, call a beekeeper from our swarm list on this site for a more rapid response in the Central Ohio area.
Controlling Other Stinging Insects
Honey bees are often mistaken for other stinging insects.
Are you sure they're honey bees?
Do they look like this?
Or like this?
Both can sting! But the honey bee is on the left and the yellow jacket is on the right. One very easy way to tell the difference between honey bees and members of the wasp family is to examine the next. If the nest is made of mud or paper like material – the insect is a member of the wasp family. There are exceptions to this with small bees called orchard bees and other native bees. If the nest looks like a foot ball high up in a tree, it most likely will be hornets. If you see distinctive comb made of wax hanging in vertical rather than horizontal sheets, they are honey bees.
Let’s face it – bee stings hurt! Many insects bite or sting. These include fire ants, mosquitoes, wasp, hornets, bumble bees and honey bees. Generally many of these insects can sting or bite more than once. The honey bee has only one stinger which is equipped with barb which remain in the victim and the honey bee will die shortly after pulling the stinger from its abdomen. Thus, a honey bee can only sting once.
The symptoms generally are of a local reaction but can be much more serious in some individuals. Usually pain, redness at the sting site and swelling occur in most individuals. Although many may consider the previous reactions with a bit of fear, it is normal for the body to exhibit pain and some swelling. If in doubt, always consider going to an emergency room or your doctor. In individuals with severe reactions, swelling spreads from the extremities to a larger area of the body. The reaction is usually considered local if the area affected grows no larger than 12 to 18 inches. However, breathing, extreme itching and hives, and even loss of conscience are life threatening. Anyone displaying these extreme reactions needs help fast.
First, the stinger needs to be removed. The correct way to do this is to scrape the stinger from the wound with a sharp object such as knife edge, credit card, finger nail, etc. DO NOT squeeze the stinger to pull it out! The stinger is somewhat like a needle with a sting poison sack attached to it. Thus, by grasping the stinger, a person injects venom (poison) thru the stinger into the wound area. To reduce the reaction of the venom, quickly remove the stinger by scraping.
Common treatments include applying ice to the wound. Benadryl is also recommended by some to decrease allergic reactions of the venom. In the case of a severe reaction, get medical attention quickly.
All insects including honey bees can be killed with various products sold to kill ants, wasps and other garden pest. COBA would ask you to use chemicals responsibly. We need all the pollinators nature can provide us.
About Bees - History
The following information has been provided by Dana Stahlman from his cd Beekeeping 101, 201 & 301. The information is intended for general beekeeping use and may be copied and used by bee clubs for educational purposes.
Intelligence of Bees
Much thought has gone into the study of the intelligence of bees. Karl Von Frisch observed the behavior of returning honey bees to the hive and developed many experiments to reveal what he called their dance language. He was able to show that the dance of returning bees to the hive influenced foraging bees to seek out the location of the sugar reward he was giving to them.
A recent PBS television program compared the intelligence of the top 10 animals in the world. The honey bee beat out dogs for the ninth spot in their list. Believe it or not, the Dog was listed as number 10. Of course the primates were at the top of the list.
Too many of us are willing to accept the honey bee in human terms. Notice how often the honey bee is referred to in popular slogans and literature. "Busy as a bee" for example. I can remember a course in psychology in college when the topic of animal intelligence came up. The question was, "Can a squirrel remember where it buried it nuts in order to survive the winter?" After long discussion, we had two groups -- one group that thought the squirrel certainly would starve unless its brain could remember exactly where it buried the nuts and another group that was certain that the squirrel was a slave to its environment and found the nuts by instinct and a condition of smell. Unless we were squirrels and could think in human terms, we most likely will never know what the true answer is and the same applies to bees. They do not go to school in human terms and knowledge is not passed from one generation to another. It is entirely possible to hatch out young bees in a comb of brood in an incubator and once enough of them have emerged, give them a queen, and they behave just like bees from any other hive of bees. Mankind has found a way to manage bees, not a way to tell them what to do. Bees will always do what bees do. Thus it is up to us to learn what bees do!
Bees in the New World
There are many bees native to the North and South American continent. However, the honey bee is not one of them. Just when it arrived and by whom, we do not know. It did make the trip along with colonist that is sure. By 1638, a John Josselyn wrote "The honeybees are carried over by the English and thrive there exceedingly." Thus the migration of honey bees westward began. Frank Pellett reports that the honeybee was not found in Western New York until 1790 and were not found in Kentucky until 1780. The honey bee was imported into Florida by the English in 1763 and from there in 1764 to Cuba.
Fortunately we have many records that point to the early introduction of honey bees to the colonies. These are found in town records such as the one from the town of Newbury, Massachusetts. Pellett quotes his sources as follows, "The town received it first settlers in 1635, and five years later the "seven men" or, as we would say, the select me, established a town apiary which was undoubtedly intended as an educational experiment station. " A man by the name of Eels was put in charge of the apiary.
Again, in May 14, 1641 a case came up for trial involving a swarm of bees which had escaped and established itself in a hollow tree in Salem, Massachusetts. However, we find very little written about bees. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem called, "Telling the Bees." But as far as books about keeping bees -- nothing. Then a number of things began to happen in the 1800's as patents were taken out for the various designs on hives. We have an interesting look at beekeeping in Ohio from the 1859 Annual report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture. Evidently enough interest in honey production caused the board to ask for help in determining the amount of honey and number of hives each county could report. In addition, a question was asked about the type of hives. We get a very good idea of the state of beekeeping (I would assume that other states would have produced similar results). Types of hives used: box hives 14 1/2 inches square, common hives?, straw and gums, the Warren patent hive, the Pallace patent hive, the Weeks patent Hive, Eddy's patent hive, and a few mentioned the Langstroth hive. Quinby dismissed most patent hives as being a way for a beekeeper to spend his/her money foolishly. There were hives designed to allow wax moth to roll out of the bottom of the hive, hives designed with fancy windows and drawers, and one that revolutionized beekeeping "the Langstroth moveable frame hive." At the time Langstroth developed his patent hive, most people who kept bees used equipment based upon past tradition. The common box hive reported by county agents in Ohio was most likely built by the beekeeper along certain general standards (there were none for exact dimensions). A general idea of this common hives is as follows: It was made from 1 1/4 boards, so that it was approximately one foot square on the inside and about 20 to 24 inches high. A honey chamber was placed above a hole for the bees to store honey. Some were fancier with a chamber built into the top of the box with a door or drawer to fit the chamber so honey could be removed without affecting the bees in the box below.
This is the common box hive used prior to the modern bee hive. In hives like this Moses Quinby produced large honey crops for sale. Thus Quinby is known as the "father of commercial beekeeping." He was the first known beekeeper to make a living entirely from bees.
There are several interesting things that can be seen in these pictures:
The box is 13 1/4" by 14 1/2 inches (not quite square). It is made of single slabs of boards nailed together with square headed nails.
A cap is permanently nailed to the top of the box and as you can see in the photo above a hole was provided so the bees could enter a box placed above it. You can still see the impression of the box that sat on this hive in the center picture. It was used to collect honey. Often these boxes were made of glass and the honey collected was sold right in the glass box.
Looking down into the box from the bottom, a pair of hand hewn cross bar supports for the wax comb were placed about 1/2 of the way from the top. These bars supported the comb which was prone to break if the hive was moved.
The box was set on a wood board for support. The bees would fly into and out of the box through the cuts made in the bottom as shown in the front view of the hive.
This was the modern "common hive" hive until Langstroth developed the moveable frame hive respecting bee space. You need to remember that other less progressive beekeepers were still using "gums" or straw skeps. "Gums" were parts of tree trunks cut from a bee tree that held the "swarm" of bees. These were then set on the ground and boxes were set above them as in the example above. Then again some beekeepers just sulfured their bees. The quantity and quality of honey sold during this period was not great. Moses Quinby who began beekeeping in 1828 and would become the father of commercial beekeeping kept hives much like those shown in our pictures. In reality there is very little difference in the "common box hive" and a skep except the material used to make the hive. Skeps were also designed with flat tops so a container might be placed on them. Some beekeepers continued to use such hives well into the early 1900's.