Above left: Special queen brood cells on the comb. Right: Swarming bees. With no hive to protect, swarming bees are reluctant to sting, although the appearance of a swarm can be rather frightening.
Meanwhile, back in the hive, young queens are emerging. Before they can become functioning queens, they need to mate. On warm sunny days, virgin queens fly out of the hive and will mate with several drones while flying high in the sky. On returning to the hive, the mated young queens will fight amongst themselves until there is just one queen that will take over the colony. In strong colonies, there may be one or more smaller swarms or casts emerging from the hive after the prime swarm has left with the old queen. These casts are often headed by virgin queens. Sometimes an old queen will be replaced by a new queen without swarming. This is known as supersedure and generally occurs in late summer.
Role of the honeybee in gardens
Honeybees have to visit flowers in order to collect the nectar and pollen that is used to feed themselves and their larvae. When a worker bee pushes her mouthparts into flowers to suck up nectar, the hairy head and body picks up pollen grains. When the bee moves to another flower of the same plant, some of this pollen rubs off onto the stigma of the flower, thus bringing about pollination. Honeybees, along with other types of bee and some other insects, are needed by many plants to bring about pollination and allow them to produce fruits and seeds. Most of the fruits and some vegetables grown in gardens require pollination by insects and will produce a poor crop if they are not pollinated.
Some conservation concern has been raised, that honeybee cpolonies, which are human-managed domestic stock, could compete and depress the success of wild bees and other pollinators. The evidence
suggests this is not a strong effect.
Honeybees also produce food for us in the form of honey. A productive beehive can produce more than 100 pounds of honey during the summer. Beeswax has many uses, including candle making and as an ingredient of hand creams and furniture polishes. Propolis has been used in traditional medicine, and has become fashionable within alternate medicine circles, believed (with little evidence) to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal powers.
Sources of information
Aston, D. & Bucknall, S. (2004) Plants and Bees. Northern Bee Books
Davis, I. & Cullum-Kenyon, R. (2012) BBKA Guide to Beekeeping. Bloomsbury
De Bruyn, C. (1997) Practical Beekeeping. Crowood Press
Hooper, T. (2010) Bees and Honey. Northern Bee Books
Kirk, W. D. J. & Howes, F. N. (2012) Plants for Bees. International Bee Research Association