Man is using the animal products since time immemorial. Honey is one such animal product used by mankind since histories. The diverse qualities of honey have been mentioned in the literature as well as by many eminent workers. Honey is obtained from the tiny, teeny weeny honey bees. Bees teach us the lesson of work, work and work with cooperation. It is fascinating to think that for only one pound of honey the bee travels about twice the distance of earth’s circumference and pollinate twelve thousand flowers a day.
Honey bees belong to the class Insecta and order Hymenoptera. They are scientifically termed as Apis. Honey bees are highly organized social insects with well developed division of labour. They are active throughout the year but in winter do little work. In spring season, they build strong colony having honey rich combs that can be easily seen hanging down from the branches of trees, ceilings of houses etc. they communicate with each other by performing waggle dance as described by the eminent biologist Karl Von Frish.
Each honey bee colony bears forty to fifty thousand individuals encompassing three castes: Queen, drones and workers. The queen after fertilization lays both fertilized as well as unfertilized eggs. The unfertilized eggs develop into drones and the fertilized egg develops into a queen when fed on royal jelly and the larvae not fed on royal jelly develop into workers.
The Queen is a well developed fertile female with immensely developed ovaries and is present in each hive in a single number. She is the mother in the real sense and is guarded by a number of attendants and her sole function is to lay eggs only. It measures 15-20 mm in length and can be recognized by long tapering abdomen, short legs and wings. She is not able to produce honey and wax. She bears an ovipositor for egg laying and lays 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day. The queen mates only once in her life span and stores the sperms of drone in her spermatheca. The life span of the queen is about five years and she lays about 1,500,000 eggs. She feeds on royal jelly throughout her life. When a queen becomes old or she dies a new queen is given all the responsibilities of the colony. A new queen is formed when a worker is fed on royal jelly. A queen takes 18 days to develop from egg to adult.
Workers are the smallest of the three castes of the colony and are actually the real machinery for the proper functioning of the colony. They also develop from the fertilized egg laid by the queen in the worker cell. They take 21 days to develop from egg to adult. their whole life span is about six weeks. The workers are sterile females that sacrifice their lives for the well being of the colony. The outdoor and indoor duties are performed by them only and for this they have some specially modified body parts: long proboscis for sucking nectar, strong wings for fanning, pollen basket for collection of pollen, powerful sting to defend the colony from the predators, wax glands for wax secretion. The bees that look after the young ones and the queen are termed as nursery bees, those who work for building and repairing of the comb are termed as builders and repairers. Honey storage and the ripening is also done by the workers.
The male members of the colony are termed as Drone of the King. They develop from the unfertilized eggs and take 24 days to develop into adult from the eggs. They lack wax glands and sting but have well developed reproductive organs. Their sole function is to fertilize the queen and are often seen begging the workers for the food. they live in special chambers called drone cells. A drone dies after copulation.
The first swarm is led by the old queen and the second swarm is led by the seven days old virgin queen which is followed by a number of drones is termed as marriage flight or nuptial flight. Only one male copulates with the queen and dies and drops to the ground. The fertilized queen then returns to the colony and starts laying eggs. She lays one egg in each cell. The eggs are pinkish, elongated and are attached to the bottom of the cell. The larvae after emergence are fed for five days by the worker bees and then the cell is sealed for pupation. After three weeks adults emerge out, in the form of workers and are sent for outdoor duties. Only one larva develops into queen that is fed on royal jelly. The drones develop from unfertilized eggs.
Honey is sweet in taste and its color varies from white to black with variable smell. The nectar, pollen and cane sugar are mixed by the saliva of the honey bees and undergo enzymatic action and is collected in the honey sac until it reaches the hive. As the bee reaches the hive this compound is regurgitated in the hive and is called the honey and is now concentrated by a strong current of air by rapid beating of the wings. Chemically honey is made up of levulose, dextrose, maltose, pigments, enzymes, ash and water. honey has both medicinal as well as the food value.
Honey bees are also the good source of bees wax. It is yellowish grey in color, insoluble in water but completely soluble in alcohols and ethers. it is natural secretion of worker bees poured out in thin delicate scales and is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons. It has a good commercial value. Honey bees and honey both are of good commercial value. The bee keeping and rearing for commercial production is termed as apiculture. This practice has been developed in many countries all over the world.