Honeybees are the class of insects and of Apis genera. The only two species of honeybees are domesticated in Pakistan; Apis melifera and Apis cerana. Mostly honeybees are reared in hilly areas and also in some parts of Punjab and other provinces. Apis cerana is preferred for domestication due to less aggressive behavior. The main produce of honeybees is the honey that is used in a number of products and consumed as a fresh or in processed form. The honeybees feed on nectar and pollen, produce honey to consume as their food source, especially in winter season when there are little flowers to feed on. It is expected that to produce a single jar of honey, foraging honey bees have to travel the equivalent of three times around the world.

The properties of honey vary depending upon different factors like water content, the type of flora used to produce it, temperature, and the proportion of the specific sugars it contains. Honey has large amount of organic acids, proteins and mixture of sugar contents. The quality of honey also depends upon the ration of sucrose to fructose.

The lifecycle of honeybees is perennial and at peak in spring season when enough flowers are present for nectar and pollen. In cold weather or when fresh food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. A colony of bees consists of three castes of bee: a queen bee, female worker bees (30,000-50,000 in number), male bees (drones) ranging from thousands to very few depending upon the severity of the weather.

The queen is the only sexually mature female in the hive and all of the female worker bees and male drones are her offspring. The queen may live for up to three years or more and may be capable of laying half a million eggs or more in her lifetime. At the peak of the breeding season, a good queen may be capable of laying 3,000 eggs in one day, more than her own body weight. This would be exceptional, however, a prolific queen might peak at 2,000 eggs a day, but a more average queen might lay just 1,500 eggs per day. The queen is raised from a normal worker egg, but is fed a larger amount of royal jelly than a normal worker bee, resulting in a radically different growth and metamorphosis. A fertile queen is able to lay fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Each unfertilized egg contains a unique combination of 50 per cent of the queens genes, develops into a haploid drone and the fertilized eggs develop into either workers or virgin queens. The queen influences the colony by the production and dissemination of a variety of pheromones or “queen substances”. One of these chemicals suppresses the development of ovaries in all the female worker bees in the hive and prevents them from laying eggs. The average lifespan of a queen is three to four years.

Drones are the largest bees in the hive (except for the queen), at almost twice the size of a worker bee. They do not work, do not forage for pollen or nectar and have no other known function than to mate with new queens and fertilize them on their mating flights (mating of queen and drone does not take place in the hive but only during flight). A bee colony generally starts to raise drones a few weeks before building queen cells so they can supersede a failing queen or prepare for swarming. When queen-raising for the season is over, bees in colder climates drive drones out of the hive or kill them.

Almost all the bees in a hive are female workers. At the height of spring season when work goes at peak, the life of a worker bee may be as short as 6 weeks; in late autumn, when no brood is being raised and no nectar is being harvested, a young bee may live for 16 weeks, right through the winter. During its life a worker bee performs different work functions in the hive, largely dictated by the age of the bee.

Development from egg to emerging bee varies among queens, workers and drones. Queens emerge from their cells in 16 days, workers in 21 days and drones in 24 days. Only one queen is usually present in a hive. New virgin queens develop in enlarged cells through differential feeding of royal jelly by workers. When the existing queen ages or dies or the colony becomes very large a new queen is raised by the worker bees. The virgin queen takes one or several nuptial flights and once she is established starts laying eggs in the hive.

The author can be reached at me_chheena2007@yahoo.com

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