Bees are important pollinators. There are many types of bee of different sizes and lifestyles. Beekeepers in Europe and USA keep the Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), which is native to Europe and Africa.

Honey bees live in colonies which beekeepers keep in bee hives. The colony size may reach 50,000 at the height of the season. Each colony has one queen bee. After mating soon after being born, she lays all the eggs in the colony and can continue to do this for two or three years.

The worker bees are all female, but do not normally lay eggs, and are responsible for all tasks in the colony at different stages in their lives. This includes looking after the queen, cleaning, feeding larvae, building comb, heating and cooling the hive, defence, collecting nectar, pollen, water and resin, and making honey.

The few (stingless) male bees (drones) have one obvious task – to mate with new Queens from other colonies, after which they will die. There is a lot of speculation about what other parts drones play in the colony. There is still a great deal we do not know about the lives of honeybees. Modern instruments have enabled some amazing discoveries in the last few years.

Colonies split and multiply through the swarming process. The colony produces queen larvae. Just before they emerge, the queen along with most of the flying bees will leave to find somewhere new to live. Some of the new queens may accompany further departing swarms (‘casts’). Finally one of them will be allowed to stay, kill her remaining rivals, go on her mating flights and resume laying bees for the home colony.

Human have been managing colonies honey bees for thousands of years for the production of honey and wax, and more recently propolis, and for pollinating crops. Beekeepers in East London keep bees for a variety of reasons including the sheer fascination of these remarkable animals.

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