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1. Honeybee Origins and Beehives

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Flowering plants along with the first bees began to appear in the late Jurassic period (dinosaur age), although the earliest animal-pollinated flowers were pollinated by insects such as beetles.

The oldest fossilized evidence of bees found to date was discovered in a piece of amber in a mine in northern Burma. It is about 100 million years old and dates to the time when bees and wasps were separating on their evolutionary paths. The fossilised insect appears to share features both common to the bee and wasp, but is considered to be more bee than wasp. The switch from insect prey to pollen may have resulted from the consumption of prey insects that were flower visitors and were partially covered with pollen when they were fed to the wasp larvae.

The European honeybee (Apis mellifera – the one in these articles) developed social behaviour about 35 million years ago. Honeybees seem to have first evolved in eastern Africa and then spread northwards into Europe and eastwards into Asia. They did not appear in the Americas, Australia or New Zealand until European settlers introduced them in the 17th century. They have lived in England since 5500BC.  Nowadays there are 20,000 species of bees globally.

Honeybees are social insects with a highly structured social order. They cannot survive on their own. Social honeybees work as a group and every worker has a specific task to do that will benefit the colony as a whole. Consequentially they are far more efficient than non-social insects in getting necessary jobs done and have become extremely successful. For example, when you have a number of individuals solely responsible for feeding larvae, there is a higher likelihood that the larvae will be fed by at least one individual.

Collecting honey from wild bee colonies is one of the most ancient human activities and is still practiced in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Some of the earliest evidence of a honey gatherer is depicted on an 8000 year old cave painting was discovered near Valencia, Spain.  At some point humans realised that it was easier to keep colonies in artificial hives, rather than face the difficulties of harvesting honey from the wild. Hives were made from hollow logs, wooden boxes, woven straw baskets and pottery vessels.

The oldest beehives found to date were a 3000 year old collection of clay hives. They were discovered in the ruins of Tel Rehov, Israel in September 2007. They were found in orderly rows, three high, in a room that could have held around 100 hives. This was evidence that an advanced honey industry existed. The beehives were made of straw and unbaked clay. They have a hole at one end to allow the bees in.

At the other end is a lid to allow beekeepers access to the honeycombs inside.

The remains of bees, bee larvae and pupae were also found.

In 2010, using DNA from the remains of bees, researchers identified them as a subspecies, similar to the Anatolian bee, found now only in modern day Turkey.Possibly the bees range has changed, but it is more likely that inhabitants of Tel Rehov imported bees because they were less aggressive and provided a better honey yield than Israel’s native bees.



There are many different types of hives.
This one is a National

Hive parts from top to bottom in this photo
1 Weight on roof to secure hive in case of high winds.
2 Roof which is ventilated for air circulation.
3 Crownboard (hidden under roof in this photo) – enables you to peek in to see if the bees are ok.
4 Supers x 2 - these hold frames that the bee will fill with honey. The boxes are not as deep as a brood box.
5 Queen excluderthis is put on top of brood box to prevent queen from going up and laying in honey frames. Slots are just wide enough to allow worker bees to pass through.
6 Brood box – this is where the queen lays her eggs. During a hive inspection it is not always necessary to find the queen as long as the beekeeper can see eggs.
7 Ventilated mesh floor – this allows parasitic varroa mites to drop out to their doom!  These mites are considered the biggest global killer of honeybees.

Every box in the hive has wooden frames. These are made up by hand complete with a base foundation sheet of wax on which the bees can build honeycomb.
Link to Making Beeswax.

Crownboard (left)  Super boxes (middle)  Brood box (right)

Queen excluder - Photo P PerryQueen Excluder

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