Creating a Buzz About the Honeybee

On Tuesday 28th November ODGC welcomed Meriet Duncan, formerly a professional photographer, now beekeeper, public speaker and author.

We learned that there are 270 wild bee species of which 240 are solitary bees and 24 are bumblebees.  The remainder are honeybees and 98% of these are not truly wild as they belong to beekeepers.  Honeybees are under threat from monoculture, loss of habitat, pesticides and the Varroa mite.

One hive contains a colony of approximately 50,000 bees of which 10% are drones, males.  A single queen develops from an egg in one of several larger cells created by the workers.  When she emerges she will kill subsequently emerging “princesses” with her barbless sting.  She will soon fly pursued by drones and will mate with up to 20, returning to the colony to lay 2000 eggs a day.  She produces pheromones which determine the temperament of the hive – a happy queen makes a happy hive.

Worker bees live for 6 weeks, the first 3 inside the hive and the last 3 foraging for pollen and nectar, the former packed into leg sacs and the latter stored in her honey crop.  On returning to the hive the pollen and nectar are passed to house bees to be packed into cells.  The water content of the nectar is reduced by fanning bees which also air condition the hive.  Bees also collect propolis, a resinous sap derivative used as a disinfectant around the hive entrance and as a cement.  Each honeybee flies for 3 to 5 miles and each 1lb jar of honey represents 55,000 miles and 2,000,000 flowers visited.

Hives come in a variety of styles.  The attractive white painted traditional design is the WBC, named after its inventor, William Broughton Carr in 1890, a vertical modular hive containing frames.  Meriet brought a National hive with her.  Again this comprises a vertical stack of modular boxes put on a stand to avoid damp.  The floor has a mesh base so that droppings and Varroa mites can fall though and air can circulate.  A landing board leads up to the narrow entrance.  Above this is the brood box containing frames.

Worker bees have a variety of tasks including cleaning the cells and feeding and attending the queen and larvae.  The queen’s attendants follow her in a circle, feeding, cleaning and grooming. Bees are considerate to each other even dying outside the hive if possible.  Undertaker bees transport the corpses some 100m away from the hive to avoid the risk of disease.

Bees work tirelessly for their colony and show respect for one another.  Meriet concluded her talk by reflecting that if people followed the honeybee’s example we could create a better world for ourselves and for the honeybee.   

                                                                                                             Ghislaine Arundale