API of the Month

Mathieu Domecq

Editor-in-chief of the API blog of the month

The first sunny spells are starting to brighten up our days, so why not make the most of it and read this new article from your API blog of the month by Mathieu, our beekeeper?

We started the year by showing you the equipment you will need to get started. And let’s continue with some key concepts to learn about our incredible bees and the world of beekeeping!

What’s the story of bees and humankind?

Did you know that the oldest bee ever discovered is more than 100 million years old? Yes, it dates back to the time of the dinosaurs. We even found pollen grains on its hair, a sign that pollination was already taking place.

The centuries passed and humankind gradually established trust with bees. This was in the Ancient Egyptian times.

Then in Crete, 25 centuries ago, bars appeared with the practice of pottery hives made from straw and clay. After that, from the advent of the Middle Ages we were able to build hives in hollow tree trunks and wicker baskets.

It was only at the end of the 19th century that the first professional beekeepers settled in Europe and the use of frame hives became widespread.

Now you know a little more about the history of bees and humans, but there’s still much more to discover!

 

Who lives in the hive?

Bees of course, but there is the queen and there are the males, called drones.

Knowing the biology of this insect is crucial to understanding how our hive and the seasons work.

 

The worker bees: these females live for around forty days in summer, compared to almost 120 days in winter, which requires less energy.

After being laid by the queen, worker bees are fully developed after 21 days, after going through the egg stage (3 days), then the larvae stage (6 days) and finally the nymph stage (12 days) before emerging from their alveolus.

Sometimes there are around 50,000 to 80,000 bees in a hive, especially during the swarming period (natural division of the colony).

 

The queen: she actually gets the chance to live a longer life than a normal bee – between 3 and 5 years. She only takes 16 days to mature, following the same stages from the egg to the larvae. The difference is in the diet she is fed, as she will live exclusively on royal jelly, while worker bees will feed on honey and pollen mixed with water. The queen is a little bigger than normal bees, with much thicker legs.

The males: they are only present in summer for the fertilisation of queens. Their population rarely exceeds 3,000 individuals in the hive. They are quite big with eyes that cover almost their entire head. They take 24 days to fully develop and their life expectancy will be around 40 days. Since their presence is not essential, they are expelled from the hive by worker bees as winter approaches towards the months of September/October.

Bees building on a wax frame

How is the hive organised?

Everything is well thought out! Every worker bee has their own task. They will each start their lives by arranging the hive before moving on to feeding larvae on the 6th day. Then they will produce wax (making wax frames/alveoli) and start making sure nectar arrivals are stored properly on the 15th day. Finally, they will play a security role as guards at the entrance to the hive before taking flight as foragers on the 21st day until the end of their lives when they die from exhaustion in nature.

Fortunately, the queen is there to rebuild the population and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day in spring! It’s a challenging life.

Do you know what the temperature of a hive is? No? Well, it is always 35°C in the centre of the cluster.

 

What do our forager bees do?

 Their role is to bring the hive both nectar, which will be turned into honey after dehumidification, and flower pollen. These sources will feed the colony.

You’re right, the impact of this does not just stop at the hive, but extends to our farming. These bees are the champion of pollination!

But what is pollination? By going from flower to flower, these bees will, among other things, help fertilise flowers by transferring pollen between female and male flowers. That means lots of flowers, doesn’t it?

Yes, around 250 flowers per bee in one hour – 21 million flowers are needed per day and per hive to properly meet the needs of the colony. It also takes at least four pollens from different sources a day for our colony to be healthy.

And all of this is part of nature’s reproductive cycle, giving us fruit, vegetables and much more.

In other words, the role of pollination is estimated at €3 billion in France and €153 billion worldwide every year. More than 75% of the plant species grown depend on it.

Forager bee covered with sunflower pollen

One last figure to end with: How many breeds/species of bees are there worldwide?

20,000 species – yes you read that right! Among the 23 sub-species of mellifera bee, only 4-5 are kept in Europe, including the following: black bee, Buckfast (or Brother Adam) bee, Carniolian bee and Caucasian bee.

There are many things to learn from our bees!

Take advantage of this last month before starting the new season in March! We hope our new beekeepers have a good start and we will see you all very soon,

LES RUCHERS DE MATHIEU

Honey & Beekeeping Shop

Photos ©lesruchersdemathieu

Working bee