Beekeeping. Peter Miles. 10th December 2018

The Honey Bee Show                 Peter Miles


Peter has been a bee-keeper for over 45 years and is still finding out how bees do what they do.


Imagine a computer that can fly, can navigate to the inch over a distance of ~7 miles and also contains a chemical factory inside it.  This is a worker honey bee.


Honey bee workers collect nectar, pollen, water and propilis (a sticky resin).

Honey bees are different from bumble bees.  Honey bees make honey to feed them over the winter, but bumble bees dont – they all die except the queen.


There is only one queen in the honey bee hive.  She is fed by the worker bees as she cannot feed herself.  Her role is to produce eggs to stock the hive with more bees.  A queen can lay up to 2000 eggs in a day so she needs a lot of food


There are many male bees, called drones.  Their role is simply to mate with the queen.

This mating takes place during a flight!  Several drones will mate with the queen on this flight. The drones genitalia are ripped off during this mating and the drones die.  How lucky are the drones, who followed the queen in this flight, but never managed to mate!


Honey bee workers make the hexagonal cells in the honeycombs from wax that is made by the bees themselves. The bees must consume 8oz. of honey to make 1oz. of wax. 

The cells are used to store honey.  Honey is made from nectar, which is concentrated by removing water.  It is then filled into cells which are capped by wax made by the bellies of the workers from honey and chemicals from inside the bees.  The caps are stuck on using propilis. 

Some cells are used as a breeding area where the eggs laid by the queen become larvae, then pupae, and then new bees. 

Pollen is also stored in the cells to feed the larvae.

The workers collect nectar and pollen to make larvae bread, which is absorbed by the larvae so they grow and pupate and emerge and are then fed by the workers.  After 12 days they get their wings and go out collecting in their turn.  Some of the workers stay at the exit to the hive and fan their wings to provide ventilation to the hive.

Some workers act as guards to protect the hive from predators and other dangers.


On these collection flights the bees are very important pollinators of plants.  They also collect water to take back to the hive to regulate the humidity and to dilute the food for the larvae.  A worker that has found a good source of nectar and pollen goes back to the hive and performs a wiggle dance to inform the rest of the workers of the direction and distance to this new source.  The bees communicate is this way because there is no light in the hive.  The other workers take on enough fuel to reach the source and follow the directions, 40 degrees to the Sun and 1.2 miles knowing there will be enough fuel there for the return journey. 


A bee can protect itself by using its sting.  It will usually attack the eyes and the ankles.

The sting is a sharp prong with a barbed tip.  The sting base is in a muscular poison sac but when the bee stings the barbed tip causes the sac to be pulled out and the bee dies.


When the hive gets full and becomes crowded the queen will lay some queen eggs.  These egg larvae are fed with royal jelly until one pupates and  is ready to emerge.

When the new queen is born it kills the other queen cells by stinging them.


The old queen then vacates the hive, taking with her about half the hive population in a swarm.  They dont go far and often can be found hanging in a mass on a tree branch with the queen in the middle surrounded by her swarm.  They never go back to the original hive, as if they have forgotten the password or it has been changed.


Bees see flowers by ultra violet light  and also follow odours given out by flowers.

Good plants for bees are willow herbs, brambles, thistles, dandelions and clovers, but most nectar is collected from trees like hawthorn and sycamore.  Many other flowering plants are useful to bees and they will travel up to 4 miles to collect nectar.


Each worker bee in her lifetime collects only enough nectar to produce one teaspoonful of honey, but that would fuel her to make a flight around the world.

A 12 oz. jar of honey contains 72 teaspoonful of honey and to fill that jar would need 26,705 bee visits, an approximate flying distance of 25.000 miles.


The female bees are given the name workers because they are:

Cleaners and hygienists, keeping the hive and combs as clean as operating theatres
Heaters, using body heat to maintain hive temperature
Feeders, of larvae, pupae and emerging new workers, and feeders of drones
Feeders and attendants of the queen
Wax producers 
Comb builders
Nectar processors
Collectors of nectar, pollen water and propilis


The expression, As busy as a bee now takes on extra meaning for me!

A fascinating talk even though I am not keen on honey.