There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees. Many species are solitary (e.g., mason bees, leafcutter bees ( Megachilidae),carpenter bees and other ground-nesting bees). Many others rear their young in burrows and small colonies (e.g., bumblebees and stingless bees). Some honey bees are wild e.g. the little honeybee ( Apis florea ), giant honeybee (Apis dorsata ) and rock bee ( Apis laboriosa ). Beekeeping, or apiculture, is concerned with the practical management of the social species of honey bees, which live in large colonies of up to 100,000 individuals. In Europe and America the species universally managed by beekeepers is the Western honey bee ( Apis mellifera ). This species has several sub-species or regional varieties, such as the Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica ), European dark bee ( Apis mellifera mellifera ), and the Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica ). In the tropics, other species of social bees are managed for honey production, including the Asiatic honey bee (Apis cerana).
Wild honey harvesting
Collecting honey from wild bee colonies is one of the most ancient human activities and is still practiced by aboriginal societies in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. Gathering honey from wild bee colonies is usually done by subduing the bees with smoke and breaking open the tree or rocks where the colony is located, often resulting in the physical destruction of the nest.
Early forms of honey collecting entailed the destruction of the entire colony when the honey was harvested. The wild hive was crudely broken into, using smoke to suppress the bees, the honeycombs were torn out and smashed up — along with the eggs, larvae and honey they contained. The liquid honey from the destroyed brood nest was strained through a sieve or basket. This was destructive and unhygienic, but for hunter-gatherer societies this did not matter, since the honey was generally consumed immediately and there were always more wild colonies to exploit. But in settled societies, the destruction of the bee colony meant the loss of a valuable resource; this drawback made beekeeping both inefficient and something of a “stop and start” activity. There could be no continuity of production and no possibility of selective breeding, since each bee colony was destroyed at harvest time, along with its precious queen.
Protection for the beekeeper
One of the key activities in the life of a Beekeeper is collecting honey from often jealously guarded beehives. To achieve this, most beekeepers wear some protective clothing before attempting to retrieve honey. Typically, experienced beekeepers wear gloves, a veil and boots to guard against bee stings when invading a beehive.
Smoke is another significant line of defense for the beekeeper. Most beekeepers use a “smoker”—a device designed to generate smoke from the incomplete combustion of various fuels. Smoke calms bees; it initiates a feeding response in anticipation of possible hive abandonment due to fire. Smoke also masks alarm pheromones released by guard bees or when bees are squashed in an inspection. The ensuing confusion creates an opportunity for the beekeeper to open the hive and work without triggering a defensive reaction.
Composition of Bee colonies
In bee colonies, 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. 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. 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.
Mating of queens
The queen emerges from her cell after 15 days of development and she remains in the hive for 3–7 days before venturing out on a mating flight. Mating flight is otherwise known as “nuptial flight”. Her first orientation flight may only last a few seconds, just enough to mark the position of the hive. Subsequent mating flights may last from 5 minutes to 30 minutes, and she may mate with a number of male drones on each flight. Over several matings, possibly a dozen or more, the queen receives and stores enough sperm from a succession of drones to fertilize hundreds of thousands of eggs. If she does not manage to leave the hive to mate—possibly due to bad weather or being trapped in part of the hive—she remains infertile and becomes a drone layer , incapable of producing female worker bees. Worker bees sometimes kill a non-performing queen and produce another. Without a properly performing queen, the hive is doomed.
Mating takes place at some distance from the hive and often several hundred feet in the air; it is thought that this separates the strongest drones from the weaker ones, ensuring that only the fastest and strongest drones get to pass on their genes.