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The European Honeybee

Apis mellifera mellifera

The European honeybee (apis mellifera mellifera) is the native bee commonly found throughout the UK and has become adequately adapted to the climate in this country.


Within any colony, the vast majority of the bees are female - daughters of the queen.  The females are responsible for all of the housework within the hive and later for the collection of food on which the colony is fed.  Approximately half of her life is spent as a housekeeper with the other half spent foraging.  The males, approximately 2 to 3% of the colony population, do nothing.  They exist for one single purpose and that is to mate with a virgin queen after which they die.


The life of the honeybee is drastically short with a life expectancy of around 6 weeks during the summer foraging period.  During her short life, she will fly around 550 miles and will continue to forage until she dies from sheer exhaustion.  When on foraging trips, some bees will collect pollen; some will collect nectar; some will collect water (when needed to regulate the temperature of the hive) and others will collect propolis for sealing up cracks and holes.

Whilst foraging for pollen or nectar, a honeybee will visit up to 100 flowers on each trip and make around 5 daily foraging trips.  During each foraging trip, she will carry on average, a load of 30 milligrams of nectar in her honey crop for transportation back to the hive.  Thus it may take around 20,000 trips to fill a 1lb jar with nectar - significantly more for a 1lb jar of honey.  The ladies will also fly some 55,000 miles and visit some 2 million flowers to make you that 1lb jar of honey.  A single honeybee in her lifetime will make around 1/10th of a teaspoon of honey.


During the course of a year, a colony will make around 160 lbs of honey.  Of this, they will consume some 100 to 120 lbs during the year for their own needs and some 40 lbs will be retained for winter stores on which the colony will feed in order to survive the winter.  Anything over this is surplus and belongs to the beekeeper. 


During the year, the honeybees will also collect around 45 lbs of pollen.  The rear legs of the honeybee have become highly specialised and adapted for carrying pollen loads back to the hive.  This is their essential source of protein and the oldest food source known to man.   The honeybee has been using this protein rich food source for some 20 million years and along with the flowers, the honeybee has evolved into the highly specialised social insect that it is today.

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