Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Honey Bee Species

There are four common types of bees known for producing honey and wax, two of which are not readily domesticated because of their absconding behavior. These species are: apis florea, apis dorsata, apis cerana and apis mellifera.

1. Apis florea - Apis florea is known as the tiny honey bee or the dwarf honey bee because of its size (compared to other honey bees). It is considered the smallest honey bee species in existence. This species creates single comb hives and have largely eluded the grasp of local beekeepers around the world because of its sensitivity to disturbances.

This type of honey bee creates bee hives suspended from trees or sometimes in cave formations. To prevent ants and other insects from taking honey and disrupting colony life, worker bees usually place propolis (plant glue) on the ends of the bee hive itself, to trap invading insects.

When there is more than enough food for the colony, Apis florea colonies tend to swarm to further expand their numbers. Such swarms are called “reproductive swarms” and are considered a positive sign.

Due to the size and consumption habits of Apis florea, it is fairly common to find only a few hundred grams of usable honey in a single hive, compared to the many liters of honey you can usually harvest from a domesticated colony.

Once disturbed, Apis florea colonies tend to abscond or completely abandon their hives. People from places like India and Thailand have used this absconding behavior to their advantage; because once the bees abscond their hive, the harvester is free to collect the wax and honey from the single-comb hive.

Wild populations of this species can be found in the following regions: Oman, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Iran.  It cannot survive altitudes exceeding 1,500 meters so this species cannot be found in temperate mountain ranges. Apis florea colonies generally do not like human settlements. They are usually found in forests and can also be found in lush, farming zones.

2. Apis dorsata - Apis dorsat,a or the rock bee, behaves similarly to the dwarf honey bee when it comes to absconding the hive.  Like the dwarf honey bee, these bees tend to abandon their hives if something disturbs it.

Domesticated honey bees fare well even with excessive disturbance (just make sure that you smoke them adequately before opening the Langstroth hive) while species like Apis dorsata consider such things as unacceptable - unacceptable enough for the whole colony to leave their honey and bee hive.

This species usually establishes colonies in dense forests. The single-comb hive of this species is often suspended from a stable support (like the hives created by the dwarf honey bee). Bee Hives can often be found five meters off the ground, which makes the colony relatively safe from larger honey-loving predators.

Rock bees are massive compared to other bees, which also makes them a formidable foe. This is the reason why worker bees from this species do not bother to make glue or propolis traps.

It is common for a rock bee colony to devote one third or more of its total colony population to defending the hive from insect and mammalian invaders.

The term “bee tree” was coined to describe tall trees with as many as twenty individual hives of the species attached. In countries like Thailand, older and taller trees can hold as many as one hundred individual rock bee hives.

3. Apis cerana - also known as the oriental honey bee, Apis cerana is notable for its range as well as its significant contribution to agriculture.

It is a very active pollinator and covers a wider area compared to the the dwarf honey bee and the rock bee/giant honey bee. A hardy insect, Apis cerana can be found in tropical regions, sub-tropical zones and even in temperate countries.

The range of this species includes the following countries: USSR, Philippines, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Japan, China and Korea. Due to the wildly different climates of its range, the size of the bees vary.

Other traits and factors that are dependent on the bee’s geographic location include: population or size of the bee colony, size of the hive or nest, swarming behavior, and absconding behavior.

Yes, this species also absconds its hive. It appears that members of the species that thrive in temperate zones have a tendency to store excess honey which is in contast to their tropical and subtropical counterparts (probably because of the change in seasons).

Unlike the dwarf and giant honey bees, Apis cerana can be domesticated and raised in man-made hives. In fact, rural villages in the tropics and sub-tropics still raise this species in movable-frame hives (a bit similar to Langstroth hives) or straw skeps.

Another notable difference is the way that this species creates its hives.  Unlike the two species that we have discussed earlier, Apis cerana creates parallel comb hives and not single comb hives.  This design gives worker bees much more space to operate and also helps the worker bees ventilate the entire structure.

4. Apis mellifera - Apis mellifera or the European honey bee is the most common bee species used by beekeepers and breeders in the U.S. and some parts of Western Europe. This species is also present in Asia (so essentially, Apis mellifera also thrives in subtropical, tropical and temperate regions like the oriental honeybee).

This species, like the oriental honeybee, is a cavity-dwelling species that likes to create parallel combs in secure spaces such as caves and tree trunks.

A minimum cavity size of 10 liters is usually needed before a wild swarm can create a viable hive. Truly social creatures, one can get the gist of social bee behavior by simply observing what this species does.

In Apis mellifera society, there is consistent division of labor among members of the colony and also a well-maintained social hierarchy.

The average population of a colony is 15,000 bees, though sometimes this can go up to 60,000 members if the conditions are ideal for population expansion. If not, the bee population will not rise as an instinctual response to resource scarcity. 

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