An Introduction to
Honey has a long and distinguished history in the human diet. For thousands of years honey
hunters have plundered the hives of wild bees for their precious honey and beeswax – a
practice still common today.
The most widely used honeybees are the
European Apis mellifera, which have now
been introduced worldwide. Tropical Africa
has a native Apis mellifera, which is slightly
smaller than the European Apis mellifera,
and is more likely to fly off the comb and to
sting. They are also more likely to abandon
their hives if disturbed, and in some areas
the colonies migrate seasonally.
In Asia there are three main native tropical
species, Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, and Apis
florea; cerana is the only species that can be
managed in hives, but the single combs of
the other two are collected by honey hunters.
A bee veil is the
A hive tool
part of the
Figure 1: Equipment and protective clothing
There are three different kinds of bees in every colony: a queen, the drones, and the workers. The
queen's job is to lay eggs, as many as several hundred in a day. These larva develop into drones,
workers, or new queens, depending on how the workers treat them. Drones are the only male bees
in the hive, and their main function is to mate with a virgin queen outside the hive. They die
after mating. They have no sting, do not carry pollen, are unable to produce wax, and when
resources are scarce they can be driven out of the hive to die. The all-female worker bees, make
up about 98 per cent of the colony, and they do almost all the work. They bring water, pollen,
nectar, and propolis (bee glue) back to the hive, while some remain to guard the hive, and some
clean it, build the wax comb, nurse the young, and control the temperature of the hive. Workers
eat honey to produce heat in cold weather and fan their wings to keep the hive cool in hot
weather. Their legs are specially equipped with pollen baskets, and they have glands that
produce wax on their abdomens. The worker has a sting, but usually dies after stinging anything.
A honey bee nest consists of a series of parallel beeswax combs. Each comb contains rows of wax
with hexagonal compartments containing honey stores, pollen, or developing bee larvae (brood).
To thrive and produce honey the bees need adequate supplies of nectar, pollen, and water. The
combs are evenly spaced and are attached to the ceiling of the nest. The space between the faces
of the combs is known as the 'bee space'; it is usually between 6 and 9mm and is critical in
maintaining optimal conditions within the nest, with just enough space for bees to walk and work
on the surface of the combs while maintaining the optimum nest temperature. Bee-space,
dimensions of combs, and nest volume all vary with the race and species of honey bee. The bee-
space is a crucial factor in the use of bee equipment, and honey bees cannot be managed
efficiently using equipment of inappropriate size. Be careful! Most equipment is manufactured
to the specifications of European bees.
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