Ants Sawflies Bees and Wasps: Hymenoptera
Honeybee (apis Mellifera): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: Workers measure 0.37 to 0.62 inches (9.5 to 15.8 millimeters) in length, while male drones are 0.62 inches (15.8 millimeters), and queens are 0.75 inches (19.5 millimeters). Their bodies are golden brown and black, with bands of pale orange or yellow on the abdomen. The head, antennae, and legs are nearly black. Fine, hairlike structures cover the thorax and appear less so on the abdomen. The wings are clear. Honeybees have special bristles on the outside of the back legs that form pollen baskets.
Geographic range: Honeybees are found on all continents except Antarctica.
Habitat: Colonies of honeybees often live in manmade commercial hives, but wild colonies generally prefer tree hollows and other sheltered spaces.
Diet: Adults and larvae eat honey and a mixture of honey and pollen called beebread. The larvae of queen bees are also fed royal jelly, a nutritious substance produced by special glands located in the heads of the workers.
Behavior and reproduction: Honeybees are social insects that live in colonies made up of a queen and up to eighty thousand workers. During the warmer months there may also be a few hundred males or drones. The queens live four or five years. They lay up to two thousand eggs per day or about two million in a lifetime. The drones mate with new queens. The workers care for the queen and young, forage for food, defend the colony, and expand the hive, by building new combs. The combs are made from wax produced as flakes from special glands in each worker's abdomen. The workers use their jaws to shape the wax into cells and combs. Each comb is made up of two layers of six-sided cells and hangs straight up and down in the nest. The cells are used to rear the larvae and to store honey and pollen. Queen cells are built at the lower edges of combs and are peanut-shaped. Honeybee colonies live for several years. The queen and workers spend the winter inside the hive.
Honeybees form new colonies by swarming. Just before the new queens emerge from their cells, the old queen leaves the hive with about half the workers to search for a new site to start a hive. The new queens fly into the air to mate one or more times with different drones. They will return to the hive of their birth, but only one queen will eventually take over the hive. The other queens are stung to death by the ruling queen or by the workers.
Unfertilized eggs develop into drones. Fertilized eggs develop into females, either workers or queens. Larvae develop into queens only if they are continually fed royal jelly by the workers.
Honeybees and people: Many crops around the world depend on honeybees for pollination. Honeybees are raised commercially to harvest their honey, wax, pollen, venom, and other products.
Conservation status: This species is not considered endangered or threatened. However, many populations have suffered serious losses due to mite infestations. ∎
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Animal Life ResourceInsects and SpidersAnts Sawflies Bees and Wasps: Hymenoptera - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Hymenopterans And People, Conservation Status, Honeybee (apis Mellifera): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT