Apiculture: Introduction, Bee Colony and Bee Dance
Posted on : 20-11-2017 Posted by : Admin

Apiculture, Apis, apinae, apidae, hymenoptera, insecta, animalia, arthropoda, scientific classification


Apiculture is the commercial production of Honey. Honey is mentioned in ancient books like Vedas, purana and epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. It has been an important element in the sweet diet of man. Before knowing the manufacture of sugar, man depended largely on honey as sweetener.  Honey is produced by honey bees.

Honey bees have been very closely associated with humans since ancient times and have reached highest degree of domestication. The first evidence of this association between man and bees came to light from the rock paintings made by primitive human. Thousands of years ago, Egyptians were well acquainted with bee keeping before the Christian era.

Apiculture is breeding honey bees for the production of honey and bees wax using modern scientific and commercial methods. The name apiculture is due to the scientific (generic) name of the honeybees which is ‘Apis’. Bee culture or apiculture is practices throughout the world. In India it is practiced in South as well as North India as cottage industry providing employment to lakhs of people. Two institutes namely, Khadi and Village Industries Commission and Indian Council of Agriculture research are making an effort to the raise the industrial status of apiculture in India.

Selection of surrounding flora

The place where the honey bees are kept is called as Apiary. The local surrounding flora is very important for selecting the location of the apiary. It is best practice to choose more nectar-yielding plants like neem, jamun, soapnut etc. in the surroundings. Plants like cherry, sheesham, coconut and guava serve both for nectar and pollen. Best choice of pollen yielding plants is maize, rose and sorghum.

Selection of honey bees

Selection of a good variety of honey bees is an important step before starting apiculture. In general the honey bees for the apiculture must have,

1. High honey yielding capacity

2. Must be able to form the hive anywhere

3. Worker bees must be smart and energetic

4. Must be able to protect themselves from the enemies

5. Must possess colonial habit

The following is the description of are four common species of honey bee found in India. Out of these four Apis indica is best suited for Indian apiculture industry.

Apis dorsata (The rock-bee or Giant honey-bee)

  •  This is the largest honeybee.
  •  Builds single large open comb on high branches of trees and rocks.
  •  Produces large quantity of honey, but this bee is difficult to domesticate.
  •  This bee is ferocious, stings severely causing fever and sometimes even death.

Apis indica (The small Indian bee)

  •  Medium - sized
  •  Hive consists of several parallel combs in dark places such as cavities of tree
  •  Trunks, mud walls, earthen posts, etc.
  •  This bee is not so ferocious and can be domesticated

Apis florea (The little bee)

  •  small - sized
  •  Builds single small combs in bushes, hedges, etc.
  •  Honey yield is poor.

Apis mellifera (The European bee)

  • This species has been introduced in many parts of the world including India.
  •  It is easily domesticated.

Importance of bee keeping

  1.  There are three main advantages of bee-keeping:
  2.  Provides honey- a valuable nutritional food
  3.  Provides bees wax- which has many uses in industry
  4.  Honey bees are excellent pollinating agents, thus increasing agricultural yields. In terms of actual value this advantage exceeds the other two.


The nest of the honey bee is known as the bee-hive. The population of an average sized colony consists of 30 to 50 thousand individuals. A colony is termed ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ according to the number of worker bees it possesses. There are three types of individuals in a colony, namely the Queen, worker and drone. Due to the existence of several morphological forms, bees are said to be a polymorphic species. The following is the description of each type of member of the bee colony,

The Queen bee

The following are the qualities of the Queen bee

  1. It is a diploid, fertile female.
  2. The presence of queen is a must in a colony
  3. The size of the body of queen is much larger than other castes of bees of the colony
  4. Her legs are strong as she always has to walk about on the comb
  5. The queen has a sting, curved like a sword at the tip of the abdomen, which is a modification of the egg-laying organ known as ovipositor. The sting serves as an organ of defense. She never uses it against anybody except her own caste
  6. The queen is responsible for laying eggs for a colony. She lays about 1000 to 1500 eggs every day and lives for about two to three years. She lays both fertilized eggs (from which females develop) and unfertilized eggs (from which males develop).

Bee colony, female bee, male bee, drone, honey production, members of bee colony

The Worker bee

The following are the qualities of the worker bee

  • It is a diploid, sterile female.
  • The size of a worker is the smallest among all the other castes but they constitute majority population of the bees in a colony.

The functions of worker bees are as follows,

  1. Collection of honey,
  2. Producing royal jelly for feeding the community,
  3. Raising larvae and  young ones,
  4. Cleaning the comb,
  5. Making wax,
  6. Constructing the beehive,
  7. Defending and protecting the hive,
  8. Clearing the debris and dead bees,
  9. Maintaining the temperature of the hive

Worker bees are again of different types depending on the type of work they do,

Laying worker: These worker bees lay unfertilized eggs in the absence of the queen bee.

Nurse workers: They serve the queen with royal jelly, larvae and drones with honey and beebread.

House workers: They perform house cleaning, comb building, accepting nectar and pollen for foragers and finally guard the hive.

Field workers: They travel to distant places to collect the nectar, pollen grains and resin from the flowers.

The Drone bee

The following are the qualities of the drone bee,

  1. It is haploid, fertile male.
  2. The drones are born out of unfertilized eggs in the brood chamber.
  3. The males are larger than workers and are quite noisy.
  4. They have large wings, robust body and reduced mouthparts.
  5. They are unable to gather food, but they voraciously eat the food fed to them by the worker bees.
  6. They are stingless and their sole function is to fertilize the queen during the nuptial flight after which they are starved to death.
  7. The number of drones in a colony varies from 200-300.
  8. The drone develops parthenogenetically from unfertilized eggs.
  9. Drones live only for a short period of time.


Just like any other animal, bees locate their food through sensory input and an understanding of the features of their environment. They can find their food both by scent and sight. According to Prof. Karl Ernst Von Frisch, an Australian scientist, the foraging bees return to the hive and indicate there inmates about the sources of nectar and pollen by performing certain rhythmic body movements called as the bee dance or bee dance language. This bee dance is readily understood by other bees of the colony.

The life of a solitary bee depends on her ability to find food, gather it and return it to the nest. On the other hand the life of a social bee depends on the same things, along with her ability to tell her hive mates about the location of food. Honeybees communicate and teach each other how to find food, water, resin and new nest sites by dancing. When a honeybee finds food, it uses two known tools to understand the location.

Solar Compass: This tool helps her remember location of the food or hive in relation to the sun The bee's ability to see polarized light lets her determine where the sun is even though when sun is covered by clouds.

Internal Bio-clock: This tool helps her keep track of how far she has flown and how much the sun moved during her journey. In other words, when she returns to the hive, she can tell her sisters exactly where the food is in relation to the current position of the sun. As a bee matures, she also learns about sun's path across the sky during different seasons of the year and at different latitudes if her hive is moved.

bee dance, round dance, waggle dance, honey bee

The area on which she performs the dance is commonly known as the dance floor, and the worker bees who observe the dance are followers.

Round dance: When the food is nearby, the bee performs a round dance by travelling in circles once to left and once to right.

Waggle dance: When the food is far away in other words more than 100 meters away, the bee performs a waggle dance. The waggle dance involves the shivering of the abdomen in side-side motion. During this dance the bee forms a figure eight.

The strength of the waggle, the number of times it is repeated, the direction of the dance, and the sound of the bee makes communication amazingly accurate. The dancing bees pause between the dances to give taste of the food.

The following are the few indications about the direction of the food,

  • Running vertically up to the hive means food is in the same direction of the sun.
  • Running vertically down the hive means the food is present in opposite directions to the sun.
  • When it is dark, the worker bees touch the runner with the antennae to determine the direction of its run.


  1. Discuss on the selection of honey bees for commercial production of honey.
  2. What is the importance of bee keeping?
  3. Write down the scientific classification of Apis species.
  4. What are the flora that must be surrounding the apiary?
  5. Write the names of different members of a bee colony. Also mention the types of worker bees.
  6. What are the characteristics of a queen bee?
  7. Mention important features of drone bees.
  8. What are the tools used by the honey bees to understand and communicate the location of food?
  9. Discuss the two types of dances performed by the honey bees to communicate the location of food.

- Share with your friends! -