Honeybees are indigenous to the Eurasian and African continents and were introduced to the Americas and Australia by European settlers. In India the genus Apis has the following species: the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, the eastern honey bee, Apis cerana indica, the rock bee, Apis dorsata and the small bush bee Apis florea.

The Dwarf Honeybee or Bush Bee (Apis florea)

This species is considered the most primitive honey bee species and is also the smallest. Apis florea is brownish and the basal part of abdomen is always red. There is another species, A. andreniformis which is darker in colour and the first abdominal segment is totally black.

The Rock Bee (Apis dorsata)

This is a large wild honey bee found in southern Asia, mainly in the forested areas. The workers are over 2 cm long and possess ferocious temperament. Hives are built in exposed places far above the ground, on the branches of trees or under the cliffs of rocks and also on the ceilings of ruins and abandoned buildings. The hive is made of a single vertical comb, sometimes more than a metre in length. During breeding season in March-April they swarm and migrate to different places in the forests looking for nesting sites.

The Asiatic honey bee(Apis cerana indica)

This is a medium sized honey bee found in southern Asia and all countries in the Himalayan Range, viz, Afghanistan to Indonesia and also in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand. Apis cerana indica is the subspecies still found in the wild in India, particularly in the Himalayan belt where it nests in tree holes and crevices of rocks. The species can be domesticated by farmers for honey production as it has gentle temperament and makes hive in enclosed spaces. Apis cerana is medium sized and has transverse stripes on abdomen. It is commonly found in Himalaya where temperate fruits bloom and provide abundant source of nectar. It can survive temperatures as low as 0ºC in winter.

The Western honey bee or the European bee (Apis mellifera)

This species is not indigenous to India but is introduced from USA and European countries in order to increase honey production in apiaries. The species is slightly larger in size and lighter in color and higher capacity to produce honey and hence is preferred by apiarists.

However, the species is also amenable to diseases such as the American foulbrood which sometimes destroys large number of colonies.


Queen is the largest caste that has pupal period of 16 days. Queens are reared in enlarged cells in which their larvae are fed exclusively on royal jelly. New queens can be raised by the worker bees anytime if the main queen dies. The virgin queen takes to nuptial flights for mating and then settles in the hive for laying eggs. The sterile worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae during the first 10 days of their lives, after which they build comb cells in the hive. On 16 to 20th day, the worker makes honey out of the nectar brought by forager. After the 20th day, the worker leaves the hive and spends the rest of life as a forager and eventually dies as a water carrier.

Workers, drones and queen larvae are fed on royal jelly during the first 3 days of life, after which the worker larvae are fed on pollen and diluted honey, while those destined to develop into queens are fed on protein rich royal jelly.

Queens are reared in specialized large queen cells which are specially constructed for queen larvae and have a vertical orientation. When the old queen dies or becomes weak, the workers will construct emergency cells known as supersedure queen cells, which are larger and project from the comb.

Drones are genetically haploid males, which possess weak mouthparts and hence they cannot forage for nectar or pollen themselves and have to be fed by the workers. Drones fertilize the queen by mating in nuptial flight, after which drone dies. The drones are generally expelled from the hive and die of cold and starvation. The queen stores sperms in small sac-like organ called the spermatheca located in the queen’s abdomen.


Honey making by bees is a specialized job in which they collect nectar from flowers. Nectar is a clear liquid containing 80% water and sugars. The worker bees collect nectar in crop and pollen on hind leg and then return to hive and unload it into the cell. The workers in hive then digest the raw nectar for about 30 minutes and regurgitate it into the cell. This is done several times to add enzymes and other materials into it. This honey is placed in empty cells of honeycomb to bring the water content to less than 20%. They fan the honey with their wings to bring down the water contents. Once ripe, the cells of the honeycomb are sealed with a wax cap.

Supersedure is a phenomenon in which old and ailing queen is replaced by a new one. As the queen ages or ails the output of queen substance pheromone is not produced. This signals workers to rear a new queen. The workers quickly detect the ailing queen or its inability to lay eggs and will then rear a new queen.


Chemical secretions or pheromones produced by the queen bind the colony together. Workers secrete pheromones from Nasanov gland which are inside the tip of abdomen. This helps the workers to identify the members of their colony when they group together or collect nectar or water. The colony pheromone is quickly recognized by the bees of the same colony because of its unique chemical composition.

When a queen flies to mate, her pheromones attract all the drones. Another pheromone, called queen substance is licked by workers from the queen’s body and passed to others. Queen substance also inhibits the ovaries of workers and renders them sterile.

The mandibular glands of workers also produce an alarm pheromone, which alerts the colony when it is threatened or attacked by a predator. Workers leave the sting on the body of victim which also produces a sting odor, which serves to attract other bees to the area for stinging,


Bed bread is a mixture of pollens collected by bees mixed with saliva and honey and contains most of the necessary nutrients required by the colony. Bee pollen contains about 25% proteins that carry about 18 amino acids. It also contains all essential vitamins, minerals, several enzymes, all essential fatty acids and carbohydrates. Bee pollen is low in calories and proves to be quite useful for activity enhancement. Bee bread provides energy to bees and enhances their performance.


Wax is secreted from the glands on abdominal segments 4-7. Beeswax is used by the honey bees to build honey comb. There are sternal wax plates on abdominal segments 4-7, which are located on the ventral side, from where it is removed as flakes and chewed with mandibles. Wax is softened with the secretion of mandibular glands to make it into a paste.


This is a glue-like substance collected by bees from trees. The sticky resin is mixed with wax to make it into sticky glue which is used to construct the foundation of the comb strong. The bees also use propolis to seal cracks in their hive.

Royal Jelly

The royal jelly is a milky substance that is made of digested pollens and honey mixed with the secretion of pharyngeal gland of nursing bee. It is loaded with proteins, fats and all of the B vitamins.

Bee Venom

Honey bee venom contains Melittin, which is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Adolapin is another strong anti-inflammatory substance. Apamin found in venom inhibits calcium-dependent potassium channels. Hyaluronidase, Phospholipase and Histamine are involved in the inflammatory response of venom. Venom also contains small amounts of the neurotransmitters such as Dopamine, Norepinephrine and Seratonin.

Bee venom is hemorrhagic in action. Apamine, melittin, phospholipase, hyaluronidase, inhibit the nervous system and stimulate heart and adrenal glands. Also present in venom are certain antibiotics.

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Apiculture & the Honey Bee