Apis (Honeybee) is a social insect living in colonies of 50,000 or more individuals. Honeybees are mostly vegetable feeders preferably living on pollen and nectar of flowers. The larvae which have no legs are helpless and are fed by the nursing workers of the colony up to their pupation time.
The adults chiefly live upon honey, while the young ones are given pure pollen or pollen mixed with honey and water to form a paste called bees-bread. Although these insects thrive best in gardens and forests, yet they have been noticed lapping the honey dew of some plant bugs and also seeking sugar from places other than flowers.
The honeybees live in a highly organised colony wherein a perfect corporate life under strict discipline is exhibited. Excellent division of labour with the common aim of keeping the good of the society in view, make the life very harmonious and extremely busy.
In India three species of Apis are commonly found, viz., Apis dorsata, Apis florea, and Apis indica. Apis mellifica (European bee) occurs in the wild state in Europe. Apis adamsoni (African bee) is found in North Africa.
Apis dorsata (Rock bee) is the largest Indian honey bee (20 mm) and prepares large open combs (1 metre x 1.5 metre) singly on trees or caves, walls and other parts of the buildings. Several combs may occur closely in the same locality. They have a regular migratory habit of swarming in the hills during June and July but returning to plains in the middle of winter season.
The workers build a fresh nest every time and this follows the swarming by the queen. A single comb of this bee may yield approximately 25 kg of honey and crops per year. Bees-wax of this insect worth several lacs of rupees is exported from India every year.
Apis florea is the little bee of India. Their workers are very small in size but this species is non-gregarious and builds a single comb which is about 15 cm across, suspended on the branches or under caves of buildings. This does not yield much honey, hardly a few mililitres per comb.
Apis indica (Indian bee) is the common honey bee found in plains and forests throughout India. This is slightly longer than Apis florea and smaller than Apis dorsata. It builds several parallel combs about one foot across in protected places like hollow of trees, thick bushes, within caves of rocks, wells, on walls and other places of safety in buildings.
This is the only Indian honey bee which is capable of domestication in artificial hives although it does not yield much honey, not more than 3 kg annually. It very readily swarms although to some extent migrates also. Various forms are met within the hills and plains.
Castes of Apis (The Honeybee):
The colonies of honeybees are perennial. A good colony of Indian bees has 40 to 50 thousands individuals consisting mainly of three castes, viz., queen or fertile female, drones or males and workers or sterile females. The number of workers in one colony exceeds 90 per cent of the total population.
Duties of a Worker:
The workers attend to all duties of food collection, bringing nectar, secreting wax, tending the young, building and cleaning the comb.
Consequently their mouth parts are modified for collecting nectar and moulding wax, the epidermis of abdomen for secreting wax, and their legs for collecting pollen. In queens and drones the mouth parts are shorter because they do not collect nectar, their epidermis has no wax-secreting glands, and modifications of metathoracic legs are absent.
General anatomy is the same as in a worker, but it is larger in size, has a longer abdomen extending behind folded wings, since it takes no part in nest making or pollen gathering. It has no wax glands or modifications on legs for pollen collection.
It has notched mandibles, 12-jointed antennae and a sting which is used only to combat a rival queen, the sting can be used more than once. The queen, like the workers, is produced from fertilised eggs.
The male or drone is larger and stouter than the worker. It has holoptic eyes which touch each other dorsally, the frontal region is reduced. It has small notched mandibles because they do not mould wax, antennae are 13-jointed, it has no sting, but the 9th sternum has 2 claspers and a membranous aedeagus. Drones are formed from un-fertilised eggs.
Life History of Apis (The Honeybee):
When the population gets too large for the hive, then the old queen and a large number of workers swarm out to find a new colony. In the meanwhile a new queen is formed in the original colony. It takes a nuptial flight or mating flight with a number of drones. Copulation occurs in air and the new fertilised queen returns to the old hive.
The spermatozoa she has received must serve for all the eggs as the queen does not copulate again. The queen can control the fertilisation of eggs. Un-fertilised eggs are haploid with 16 chromosomes, they produce drones, fertilised eggs are diploid with 32 chromosomes, they produce the queens and sterile female workers.
The queen generally lays one egg in one brood cell. The egg is pinkish, elongated, cylindrical and generally attached at the bottom of a cell at the junction of any two walls. After three days a tiny larva is developed from each egg. For two days all the larvae are fed on a protein rich royal jelly.
Thereafter, the larvae of drone and workers are fed on honey and pollen, but larvae of queen are continuously fed on royal jelly throughout.
In this way the food supply causes them to develop differently. Each larva has moults and grows; then its cell is sealed with a wax-cap. It spins a thick silken imperfect cocoon and pupates. There, as a pupa, it undergoes complete metamorphosis and finally cuts the cell-cap with its mandibles to emerge as a young bee.
The time of development for each caste is standardised because of the temperature regulation in the hive:
The freshly emerged workers are first entrusted with the indoor duties for two to three weeks during which they act as nursing bees, dance attendance on the royalties, look after brood cells, build and repair the comb. Later on, they are put to outdoor duties and they are completely occupied in collection of nectar and pollen, guarding the hive, air conditioning, temperature regulation and ripening honey, etc.
The Indian honeybees as already stated live in hives, made of combs prepared by the workers with the help of wax secreted by them. Resin and gum from plants is also used for repairs of the hive. Each hive (Fig. 77.8) is made up of a number of combs generally remaining parallel to each other. Each comb has thousands of hexagonal cells arranged in two sets opposite to each other on a common base.
The cells are thin-walled and so arranged that each side-wall serves for two adjacent cells and each cell-base for two opposite cells. The worker cells, where workers are reared and honey is stored, are about 5 mm across, and the drone cells 6 mm across, serve to rear drones and for storage. Large vertical peanut-like queen cells, open below, are built along the lower comb margins for queen rearing.
The combs keep a vertical plane, while the cells a horizontal position. There are no special cells for lodging the adults which generally keep clustering or moving about on the surface of the comb. The cells are mainly intended for storage of honey and pollen specially in the upper portion of the comb, while those in the lower part for brood rearing.
Enemies of Honeybee:
Fortunately Indian bees do not so far suffer from two severe bee diseases, i.e., the isle of white disease and foul brood as commonly found on European bees. Nosema caused by microsporidian is decidedly injurious to bees and often colonies die from its effects, but rarely is an entire apiary destroyed.
Birds pick up a large number of bees; so also the wasps and a certain wasp (Philanthus ramakrishnae) very severely attack them. The common hawk moth (Acherontia styx) often eats away the combs and causes very serious damage. Man is probably their worst enemy.
Economic Importance of Honey Bees:
Honeybees require forty to eighty thousand trips to visit several times the number of flowers for collecting one kg of honey. Each trip of the bee is two to three km long. Honey, as derived from the beehive, is not the actual nectar or sugar-bearing secretion of plants, collected by bees from flowers and stored in the minute waxen bottles in the hive.
The insects swallow the nectar and carry it in their honey sac or within their crop until they are at their hive, where it is regurgitated after chemical changes due to its mixing with saliva, i.e., sucrose is hydrolysed to glucose, levulose and fructose, which are more readily assimilable by man.
The water contents of nectar are mostly evaporated away by a strong current of air produced by the rapid wing beats of the workers crawling over the cells. The nectar, thus, ripens and forms honey. The cells, in which it is stored, are capped over with wax plugs to be reopened at the time of need because it is the principal food of adults and larval bees.
Honey is used in many ways by man also as the chief source of natural sweet in preparing candies, cakes and bread, etc. It forms a very important food for patients of diabetes or for persons undergoing very strenuous physical exertion.
The great food value of honey can be estimated by the fact that 450 gms of honey is equal to 1 kg 600 gms potatoes or 2 kg grapes or 1 kg 350 gms bananas or 5kg 850gms cauliflower or cabbage or 3 kg 400 gms pear or 2 kg 250 gms apples or 3 kg 200 gms peaches.
Honey is also a very powerful tonic as it can be easily compared to 365 UG—vitamin B, (Thiamin) 268 UG—vitamin G (Riboflavin), 18 MG vitamin C (Ascorbic acid); 254 UG—Pantothenic acid or 0.60 MG Nicotinic acid. Half kg of honey contains 6 1/2 oz. Levulose (fruit sugar), 5 1/2 oz. Dextrose (Glucose), 9 gms Sucrose, 3 oz. moisture, 7 gms Dextrines and Gums, 1 gm of Fe, Ca, Na, etc., and about 4% of undetermined substances.
The worker bees secrete wax from glands situated in the abdomen. The secretion is exuded between the segments of the underside of the abdomen and scales of wax can be noticed as a result of hardening of this secretion. These scales are detached from the body by the setae of tarsi and passed onwards to the mouth, wherein they are chewed and made plastic to be used in building the comb walls.
This wax is isolated and forms an important base for an important industry concerned with the manufacture of toilet goods and cosmetics. A large quantity is utilised in pressing comb foundations and returned to the bees-hive wherever artificial methods of rearing is carried out.
Several thousand mounds bees-wax is used in preparing candles, shaving creams, cold creams, cosmetics, polishes, castings of models, carbon paper, cryons, electrical and other products.
The utility of honeybees is immense as can be determined by outstanding fruit crops in places where the bee population is very great. They are the only pollinating insects, which can be controlled by man and are, therefore, of great value to agriculturists.