Even more FAQs

Continuing my answering of beekeeping questions on the Innocent Smoothie website (see previous FAQs post)…

Q: What kind of relationship do bees in a hive have with each other? and how do they have rules?

An interesting question this. Each worker bee works together to fulfil the colony’s aim of raising brood, producing sufficient honey stores for the winter and, if the colony is strong enough, reproducing by swarming. After spring/summer worker bees are born they progress through various ‘work experience’ roles – cleaning out cells, nursing larvae, producing wax, taking nectar and pollen from foragers, guarding the hive, removing dead bees etc, until they are old enough (around day 20) to reach the final top job of foraging. Drones have their place in the colony too, as sperm donors for virgin queens, and are fed by the worker bees until their usefulness runs out in the Autumn. Last but not least, the Queen is the colony’s egg laying machine. She can lay around 2,000 eggs a day – more than her own body weight!

How do they have rules? The answer is quite complicated as bees communicate in multiple ways. Probably the most important is smell. For instance, the queen produces a pheromone smell beekeepers call ‘queen substance’. As bees take it in turn to clean and feed the queen, queen substance is distributed through the hive. Its smell reassures the bees and also prevents worker bees from laying eggs. The colony will notice a missing queen within half an hour of her disappearing, and the beekeeper will notice that a queenless colony is particularly irritable. Different pheromones are also released by brood to let the nurse bees know when their cells need sealing, and by worker bees when they sting, alerting guard bees that the colony is under threat.

Q. How closely related are honey bees to the little wild bees I have in my garden?

There are wild honey bee colonies in the UK, but these are the same species of honey bees as beekeepers here keep, the European honey bee, Apis Mellifera. By ‘little wild bees’ the commenter may be thinking of a solitary bee species native to the UK. This webpage has plenty of photos of solitary bees spotted in the UK: http://www.glaucus.org.uk/SolitaryBee.html

A red mason bee glistening spectacularly in the sun:

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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4 Responses to Even more FAQs

  1. Liz C says:

    I am excited by the Spring Hairy-Footed Flower Bee on that website, partly because of its name and partly because it is black and furry and flies around with its tongue sticking out. Very pleasing.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Isn’t its name great? Bees can taste with their feet, so perhaps it has hairy feet to gather extra pollen flavour.


      • Liz says:

        Taste with their feet!!! I was going to say, I wish I could do that, but actually I think it would be a really bad idea. I walked through london barefoot once.


        • Emily Heath says:

          He he, I would not like to taste London. Especially not through my feet. What happened to your shoes, were they too painful to wear?

          Their antennae are mainly used to smell/taste but their feet play a part too. Bees’ antennae are sensitive to taste, humidity, temperature, touch, vibration and even the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, which is quite a lot for one organ to do at once.


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