Honey bee – Definition, Types, Behaviour

What is Honey bee?

  • Honey bees are social insects belonging to the genus Apis. They are known for their role in pollination and honey production. Honey bees live in large colonies consisting of three main castes: the queen, drones, and worker bees.
  • The queen bee is the largest member of the colony and is responsible for laying eggs. Her primary role is reproduction, and she can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. The drones are male bees whose sole purpose is to mate with the queen. They do not have stingers and do not participate in tasks within the hive.
  • The majority of bees in a honey bee colony are worker bees, which are sterile females. They perform various tasks such as collecting nectar and pollen, building and maintaining the hive, caring for the young, and defending the colony. Worker bees are equipped with stingers for defense.
  • Honey bees are important pollinators, playing a crucial role in the reproduction of many flowering plants. As they visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen, they inadvertently transfer pollen from the male parts of one flower to the female parts of another, enabling fertilization and seed production.
  • Another notable characteristic of honey bees is their ability to produce and store honey. They collect nectar from flowers, transform it into honey through a process of regurgitation and enzymatic activity, and store it in the honeycomb cells within the hive. Honey serves as their primary food source, providing energy and nutrients for the colony, especially during periods when floral resources are scarce.
  • Honey bees are highly organized and exhibit complex social behavior within their colonies. They communicate through a dance language called the “waggle dance,” which conveys information about the location of food sources to other workers. The hive is structured in a hierarchical manner, with different tasks and responsibilities allocated to different groups of bees based on their age and physiological development.
  • Due to their ecological and economic importance, honey bees are extensively studied by scientists and beekeepers. However, honey bee populations have faced challenges in recent years, including habitat loss, pesticide exposure, diseases, and pests, leading to concerns about their conservation and the sustainability of pollination services they provide.

Types of Honey bee

There are several different types or species of honey bees. The most well-known and widely recognized species is the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera), which is native to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. However, there are other species of honey bees as well. Here are a few examples:

  1. Apis mellifera: As mentioned, this is the most common species of honey bee and includes various subspecies. It has been introduced to different parts of the world and is widely used in commercial beekeeping for honey production and pollination services.
  2. Apis cerana: Also known as the Eastern honey bee, Apis cerana is native to Asia, including regions such as India, China, and Southeast Asia. It is smaller in size compared to Apis mellifera and has different behavioral traits and nesting habits.
  3. Apis dorsata: Commonly known as the Giant honey bee, Apis dorsata is the largest species of honey bee. It is found in South and Southeast Asia, including countries like India, Nepal, and the Philippines. These bees build large single-comb nests usually on high tree branches.
  4. Apis florea: Also known as the Dwarf honey bee, Apis florea is another species found in Asia, particularly in tropical regions. They are smaller in size and build small, exposed nests in trees and shrubs.
  5. Apis nigrocincta: This species, known as the Indonesian honey bee or Indonesian stingless bee, is native to Indonesia. They are relatively small bees and are known for their unique behavior of storing honey and pollen in resin pots.

These are just a few examples of the many species of honey bees that exist. Each species has its own unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitats, contributing to the diversity of honey bees found around the world.


Types of Behaviour in Honey Bee

In honey bees, various types of behavior can be observed within the colony. Here are some notable types of behavior exhibited by honey bees:

  1. Foraging Behavior: Honey bees engage in foraging behavior to search for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant resins). Foragers fly out of the hive, locate food sources, collect resources, and bring them back to the hive.
  2. Waggle Dance: The waggle dance is a complex form of communication used by forager bees to indicate the direction and distance to a food source. By performing specific dance moves, they convey information to other bees within the colony.
  3. Round Dance: The round dance is another form of honey bee dance that indicates the presence of a nearby food source. It does not provide specific direction or distance information but signals other bees to search for food in the vicinity of the hive.
  4. Queen Behavior: The queen bee plays a crucial role in the colony. She engages in behavior such as egg-laying, emitting pheromones to regulate colony cohesion, and engaging in mating flights to mate with drones.
  5. Worker Behavior: Worker bees, which are female bees, perform various tasks within the colony. Their behaviors include nursing brood, cleaning and maintaining the hive, producing beeswax, guarding the entrance, and collecting food.
  6. Drone Behavior: Drones are male bees whose primary role is to mate with the queen. They do not engage in other tasks within the colony and are typically expelled or die after mating.
  7. Swarming Behavior: Swarming is a reproductive behavior in honey bees. When the colony becomes overcrowded, a portion of the bees, including the old queen, leave the hive to establish a new colony elsewhere.
  8. Defense Behavior: Honey bees exhibit defensive behavior to protect the hive from potential threats. When the colony is threatened, worker bees may sting intruders to defend the hive, sacrificing their lives in the process.
  9. Grooming Behavior: Honey bees engage in grooming behavior to maintain their cleanliness and hygiene. They use their legs and mouthparts to groom themselves and other bees, removing dirt, debris, and parasites from their bodies.
  10. Nest Building Behavior: Honey bees construct intricate wax comb structures within the hive for brood rearing, food storage, and as a foundation for the colony’s activities. Bees work collaboratively to build and maintain the nest.

These behaviors collectively contribute to the functioning and survival of the honey bee colony.


Society organization of Honey bee

Honey bees are known for their highly organized and complex society. They live in colonies or hives that consist of three main castes: the queen, the workers, and the drones. Here’s a breakdown of the organization within a honey bee colony:

  1. Queen Bee: The queen bee is the reproductive female in the colony. She is the largest bee and has a distinctive long abdomen. The queen’s primary role is to lay eggs. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day and is responsible for the overall reproductive success of the colony. The queen emits pheromones that help regulate the behavior and development of other bees in the colony.
  2. Worker Bees: The worker bees are female bees that make up the majority of the colony. They perform various tasks such as foraging, nursing the brood, cleaning the hive, producing beeswax, and defending the colony. Workers have specialized glands that allow them to produce beeswax and royal jelly, a substance used to feed the developing larvae. They also collect nectar, pollen, and water to sustain the colony. Workers are usually infertile but can lay unfertilized eggs, which develop into drones.
  3. Drone Bees: Drones are male bees. Their primary role is to mate with virgin queens from other colonies. Drones do not have stingers and do not participate in tasks such as foraging or nest maintenance. They are larger in size compared to worker bees, and their main purpose is to contribute to the genetic diversity of future generations of bees. Once mating occurs, drones typically die or are expelled from the hive during the fall or winter months.

The social organization of honey bees is highly cooperative and hierarchical. The queen bee is the central figure and plays a vital role in maintaining the harmony and productivity of the colony. Worker bees carry out the majority of the tasks required for the survival and functioning of the colony. The entire society works together to ensure the survival and propagation of the honey bee species.


Polyethism of Honey bee

Polyethism refers to the division of labor and task specialization within a social insect colony, such as honey bees. It describes how different individuals within the colony perform specific roles and tasks based on their age and physiological development. In honey bee colonies, polyethism is especially pronounced among the worker bees.

There are two main forms of polyethism in honey bees:

  1. Age Polyethism: Honey bee workers transition through different behavioral tasks as they age. Young worker bees typically start by performing tasks within the hive, such as cleaning cells, nursing larvae, and producing beeswax. As they age, they transition to tasks outside the hive, such as foraging for nectar, pollen, and water. This age-related division of labor ensures the efficient functioning of the colony and optimizes resource utilization.
  2. Temporal Polyethism: Temporal polyethism refers to the temporal division of labor within the worker bee population. Throughout the day, different worker bees may engage in different tasks based on the needs of the colony and the availability of resources. For example, some workers may be foragers during the morning hours, while others may be involved in nest maintenance or brood care during the afternoon.

Polyethism allows honey bee colonies to effectively allocate their workforce to various tasks, ensuring the smooth operation and survival of the colony. This division of labor maximizes efficiency and productivity, allowing the colony to efficiently collect food, care for the brood, and maintain the hive. The ability to switch tasks based on age and colony needs is a remarkable adaptation that contributes to the overall success of honey bee societies.

Foraging in Honey Bee

Foraging is a vital behavior performed by honey bees to collect essential resources for the survival and growth of the colony. It involves the search, collection, and transportation of food sources, mainly nectar and pollen, back to the hive. Foraging behavior is predominantly carried out by worker bees, while the queen’s primary role is egg-laying, and drones are not involved in foraging.


Here are some key aspects of honey bee foraging:

  1. Nectar Foraging: Worker bees visit flowers in search of nectar, a sugary liquid produced by flowers. They use their proboscis, a long tube-like tongue, to suck up the nectar from the flowers. Nectar serves as the primary carbohydrate source for the colony and is later converted into honey.
  2. Pollen Foraging: In addition to nectar, honey bees also collect pollen, which is rich in proteins and other essential nutrients. Pollen is gathered from flowers and carried on specialized hairs located on the bees’ hind legs. It is used to feed the developing brood in the hive.
  3. Waggle Dance: To communicate the location of profitable food sources, foraging bees perform a remarkable behavior known as the waggle dance. This dance involves intricate movements and sounds, indicating the direction, distance, and quality of the food source to other bees in the hive.
  4. Orientation and Navigation: Honey bees possess remarkable navigation abilities. They use various cues, such as the position of the sun, landmarks, and polarized light patterns, to navigate accurately to and from food sources. They also have the ability to remember and recognize familiar floral scents.
  5. Collection and Storage: Once a forager bee has collected nectar or pollen, it stores these resources in specialized structures within its honey stomach or on its pollen baskets. Upon returning to the hive, foragers transfer the collected nectar and pollen to other worker bees, who process and store them in appropriate cells within the hive.

Foraging behavior in honey bees is critical for the survival and productivity of the colony. The efficient collection and utilization of nectar and pollen contribute to the production of honey, the nourishment of the brood, and the maintenance of the overall health and strength of the honey bee society.


Round dance of Honey Bee

The round dance is a specific behavior performed by honey bees within the hive to communicate the presence of a nearby food source. Here are some key points about the round dance:

  1. Description: The round dance is a simple and circular dance pattern performed by a forager bee on the surface of the honeycomb. The dancing bee moves in a circular motion, alternating between clockwise and counterclockwise rotations.
  2. Purpose: The primary function of the round dance is to inform other worker bees in the hive about the proximity of a food source, particularly when the source is relatively close to the hive (within about 50 meters).
  3. Significance: Unlike the waggle dance, which provides specific directional information, the round dance does not convey precise information about the distance or direction of the food source. Instead, it indicates that a forager has found food nearby.
  4. Dance Movements: During the round dance, the forager bee repeatedly circles around a central point on the honeycomb. It may also make short, zigzagging movements within the circular pattern. The dance is accompanied by rapid vibrations or wing buzzing, which help attract the attention of nearby bees.
  5. Communication: Through the round dance, the forager bee transfers information about the quality and availability of the food source to other workers. Other bees observe the dance and assess the intensity and duration of the dance, as well as the pheromones and odors released by the dancing bee.
  6. Recruitment: Bees watching the round dance interpret the information provided by the dancing bee and decide whether to join the foraging efforts. The dance stimulates their interest and prompts them to explore the surrounding area to find the food source.

It’s important to note that the round dance is typically used for communicating short-distance food sources, while the waggle dance is employed to convey information about more distant and specific food locations. These dances, along with other forms of honey bee communication, contribute to the efficient utilization of resources and coordination of foraging activities within the honey bee colony.

Waggle dance of Honey Bee

The waggle dance is a fascinating behavior performed by honey bees to communicate the location and distance of a food source to other members of the colony. Here are some key points about the waggle dance:

  1. Description: The waggle dance is a complex and highly structured dance performed by a returning forager bee on the surface of the honeycomb. It consists of a series of figure-eight movements, where the bee waggles its abdomen from side to side while moving forward in a straight line.
  2. Purpose: The primary function of the waggle dance is to convey detailed information about the direction, distance, and quality of a food source to other worker bees. It enables bees to communicate information about valuable nectar or pollen sources they have discovered during their foraging flights.
  3. Dance Movements: During the waggle dance, the forager bee moves forward in a straight line, waggling its abdomen rapidly from side to side. The angle at which the bee performs the waggle portion of the dance relative to vertical signifies the direction of the food source in relation to the sun. For example, if the bee waggles straight up, it indicates that the food source is directly toward the sun, while a waggle at a 45-degree angle to the right of vertical indicates the food source is 45 degrees to the right of the sun.
  4. Communication: The waggle dance conveys information about the distance of the food source as well. The duration of the waggle phase within the dance correlates with the distance to the food source. Bees can interpret the length of the waggle run to estimate the approximate distance, with more vigorous and prolonged waggles indicating greater distances.
  5. Recruitment: Other worker bees observe the waggle dance and decode the information encoded within it. They perceive the direction and distance of the food source and use this information to navigate to the location themselves. The successful communication of the waggle dance helps recruit additional foragers to collect resources from the same food source.
  6. Environmental Factors: Bees integrate multiple sensory cues, including visual, olfactory, and gravitational information, along with the dance movements, to interpret and follow the instructions provided by the waggle dance. The position of the sun, landmarks, and magnetic fields also play a role in helping bees navigate to the food source indicated in the dance.

The waggle dance is an incredible example of sophisticated communication and cooperation within honey bee colonies. It allows bees to efficiently share information about food sources, contributing to the collective foraging success of the entire colony.

Experiments to prove distance and direction component of dance

Scientists have conducted various experiments to investigate and validate the distance and direction components of the waggle dance in honey bees. Here are a few notable experiments:

  1. Karl von Frisch’s Experiment: Karl von Frisch, a pioneering ethologist, conducted groundbreaking experiments in the 1920s and 1930s to decipher the meaning of the waggle dance. In one experiment, he set up an observation hive with glass walls and marked the foraging bees with paint. He placed the food source at different distances and angles from the hive and observed the waggle dances performed by the returning foragers. By analyzing the dance patterns and correlating them with the known distances and directions, von Frisch deciphered the communication code of the waggle dance.
  2. Direction Experiment: To demonstrate the direction component of the waggle dance, researchers have performed experiments where they manipulated the orientation of the dance floor. They rotated the hive or the dance floor by a certain angle while keeping the food source in a fixed direction relative to the sun. The forager bees adjusted their waggle dances accordingly, compensating for the rotated reference frame. This experiment confirmed that the bees communicate the direction of the food source relative to the sun’s position, rather than the hive’s orientation.
  3. Distance Experiment: Scientists have also conducted experiments to study the relationship between waggle dance duration and distance. By providing the bees with food sources at different distances from the hive, they observed that bees performed longer waggle runs when the food source was farther away. This experiment established that the duration of the waggle phase is correlated with the distance to the food source, allowing bees to estimate the approximate distance based on the duration of the dance.
  4. Virtual Reality Experiment: In recent years, researchers have used virtual reality setups to further investigate honey bee navigation and waggle dance decoding. By creating virtual environments and manipulating the visual cues, they can precisely control the information presented to the bees. In these experiments, bees were trained to associate specific visual patterns or landmarks with food sources, and their waggle dances were observed. These studies have provided additional evidence supporting the accuracy of the waggle dance in conveying distance and direction information.

These experiments, among others, have contributed to our understanding of how honey bees communicate the distance and direction of food sources through the waggle dance. They have provided empirical evidence validating the remarkable abilities of honey bees to share precise spatial information with their nestmates, enabling efficient foraging and resource exploitation.

Learning ability in honey bee

Honey bees possess remarkable learning abilities, allowing them to adapt to their environment, navigate, and perform complex tasks. Here are some key aspects of learning ability in honey bees:

  1. Associative Learning: Honey bees are capable of associative learning, which involves forming connections between a specific stimulus and a consequence. For example, they can learn to associate certain floral scents or colors with the presence of nectar or pollen rewards. This learning enables them to efficiently locate and remember profitable food sources.
  2. Classical Conditioning: Honey bees can undergo classical conditioning, where they learn to associate a neutral stimulus with a biologically significant stimulus. In experiments, bees have been conditioned to associate an odor or color with a sugary reward. They quickly learn to extend their proboscis (tongue) in response to the conditioned stimulus alone, even in the absence of the reward.
  3. Spatial Learning: Honey bees possess impressive spatial learning abilities. They can learn and remember the location of their hive, food sources, and landmarks in their foraging environment. They rely on a combination of visual cues, celestial navigation (using the sun’s position), and odors to navigate accurately.
  4. Cognitive Mapping: Honey bees are believed to create cognitive maps, mental representations of their environment that help them navigate and remember locations. These maps enable them to return to specific food sources, even after extensive detours or when the environment changes.
  5. Numerical Learning: Recent studies suggest that honey bees may also possess some numerical learning abilities. They have been shown to differentiate between different quantities and understand the concept of “more” or “less.” This skill is demonstrated in tasks involving choices between different numbers of visual stimuli.
  6. Problem-Solving: Honey bees are capable of solving various problems to obtain rewards. For instance, they can learn to manipulate objects, such as pulling strings or pushing levers, to access food sources. They exhibit persistence and flexibility in finding solutions to challenges presented in experimental setups.
  7. Social Learning: Honey bees can also learn from other individuals within their colony through social learning. For example, foragers can learn about the location and profitability of food sources by observing the waggle dances performed by successful foragers.

Overall, honey bees exhibit sophisticated learning abilities, allowing them to adapt to their environment, communicate with nestmates, and efficiently exploit food resources. Their learning capacity plays a crucial role in their survival and the overall functioning of the hive.

Formation of new hive/queen

The formation of a new hive or queen in honey bee colonies typically occurs through a process called swarming or supersedure. Here’s a general overview of how it happens:

  1. Swarming: Swarming is the natural reproductive process of honey bee colonies. It usually occurs in the spring or early summer when the colony population is strong and resources are abundant. During swarming, a portion of the colony, including a queen and thousands of worker bees, leave the original hive to establish a new colony.
  2. Queen Preparation: Before swarming, the existing queen in the colony begins to lay eggs in special queen cups. These queen cups are larger than regular brood cells and are vertically oriented. The eggs laid in these cups are nourished with royal jelly, a special secretion produced by worker bees.
  3. Emergence of New Queen Cells: The eggs in the queen cups develop into larvae, and they are fed with royal jelly continuously. After a few days, the larvae spin silk cocoons around themselves, transforming into pupae. Within these sealed queen cells, the pupae undergo metamorphosis, developing into new queens.
  4. Swarming Process: As the new queens approach maturity, the original queen and a large number of worker bees leave the hive in a swarm. They form a temporary cluster on a nearby tree branch or other suitable structure. Worker bees scout for potential new hive locations while the swarm waits.
  5. Queen Succession: In the original hive, the first new queen to emerge from her cell will seek out and eliminate any other emerging queens that may pose a threat to her dominance. Once she has successfully dispatched her rivals, the new queen mates with drones (male bees) on one or more mating flights.
  6. New Colony Formation: The swarm eventually leaves its temporary location and moves to a new nesting site, such as a hollow tree, cavity, or man-made structure. The worker bees build wax comb, collect nectar and pollen, and care for the new queen as she begins to lay eggs, establishing a new colony.
  7. Supersedure: In some cases, instead of swarming, a honey bee colony may go through a process called supersedure. Supersedure occurs when the existing queen becomes old, weak, or damaged. The workers recognize the need for a new queen and construct queen cells from which a replacement queen is reared.

It’s important to note that the specific details of hive formation and queen production can vary depending on environmental factors, genetic traits, and the specific species or subspecies of honey bees. The process described here provides a general overview of how new hives and queens are formed in honey bee colonies.


What is a honey bee?

A honey bee is a type of bee belonging to the genus Apis. They are social insects known for their role in pollination and honey production.

How do honey bees communicate?

Honey bees communicate through a variety of mechanisms, including pheromones, touch, and dances. The waggle dance is a notable form of communication used to convey information about food sources to other bees.

How long does a honey bee live?

The lifespan of a honey bee depends on its role within the colony. Worker bees typically live for several weeks to a few months, while the queen bee can live for several years.

What is the purpose of a honey bee’s stinger?

The honey bee’s stinger is primarily used for defense. When a honey bee stings a perceived threat, the stinger becomes lodged in the target, resulting in the bee’s death.

How do honey bees make honey?

Honey bees collect nectar from flowers and store it in their honey stomach. Enzymes in the honey stomach break down the nectar into simple sugars. Back at the hive, the bees regurgitate and evaporate the nectar, transforming it into honey, which is stored in honeycomb cells.

How do honey bees contribute to pollination?

Honey bees are important pollinators, transferring pollen from the male parts of flowers to the female parts, allowing for fertilization and the production of fruits and seeds. They play a crucial role in the pollination of many agricultural crops.

How does a honey bee colony reproduce?

Honey bee colonies reproduce through swarming. During swarming, a portion of the colony, including a queen and worker bees, leaves the original hive to establish a new colony in a different location.

How do honey bees maintain the temperature inside the hive?

Honey bees regulate the temperature inside the hive by engaging in a behavior called “hive ventilation.” They fan their wings to circulate air and control humidity, helping to maintain a stable temperature for the brood and honey stores.

What threats do honey bees face?

Honey bees face various threats, including habitat loss, pesticides, diseases, parasites (such as Varroa mites), and climate change. These factors contribute to colony losses and pose challenges to honey bee populations worldwide.

How much honey can a single honey bee produce?

A single honey bee produces only a small amount of honey in its lifetime, typically less than a teaspoon. The collective effort of many bees within a colony is required to produce substantial amounts of honey for human consumption.

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