Western honey bee

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Western honey bee
Western honey bee (Apis mellifera)

Western honey bee ( Apis mellifera )

Superfamily : Apoidea
without rank: Bees (Apiformes)
Family : Real bees (Apidae)
Subfamily : Apinae
Genre : Honey bees ( apis )
Type : Western honey bee
Scientific name
Apis mellifera
Linnaeus , 1758

The western honeybee ( Apis mellifera ), also European honeybee , usually simply called bee or honeybee , belongs to the family of real bees (Apidae), within which it is a representative of the genus of honeybees ( Apis ). Their original distribution area was Europe , Africa and the Middle East . Since it produces honey , it is used by humans ( beekeeping ) and has been distributed worldwide; so already during the colonization of other continents by the Europeans. The pollination of the flowers by the western honey bee is important for agriculture, which makes it one of the most important livestock . Like some other bee species, the western honey bee is a colony-forming flying insect. In Asia there are eight other species of the honeybee genus. The most famous of which is the eastern honey bee ( Apis cerana ), the original host of the bee pest Varroa mite ( Varroa destructor ), which is considered the most important bee pest worldwide.


Original distribution area of ​​the subspecies in Europe and the Middle East (after the last ice age).

There are around 25 subspecies of the Apis mellifera , commonly referred to as bee breeds. This is because the European subspecies, which are mainly kept in beekeeping , have been cultivated and are now distributed worldwide. Therefore, in bee science, the term breed is also used for subspecies. The European races only emerged in their current form after the last ice age when they were resettled. The breed of dark European bee ( Apis mellifera mellifera ) spread in the temperate and cooler climates of Europe, for example in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with the Alps as a natural barrier against warmer southern countries. In beekeeping, the Carinthian bee ( Apis mellifera carnica ), the breeding breed Buckfast bee and in southern countries the Italian bee ( Apis mellifera ligustica ) are used most frequently . In North, Central and South America, the spread of the Africanized honeybees , which is not appreciated because of their aggressiveness, is increasing .

The subspecies of the western honey bee can be divided into groups (largely according to Ruttner):

  • dark honey bees from Northern and Western Europe and North Africa
  • Carnica group
  • Bees of tropical Africa
  • Bees of the Middle East
  • the Central Asian Apis mellifera pomonella

There are also breeding breeds such as the Buckfast bee and the Africanized honey bee, which is now spreading automatically in America .


Honigjagende person as Mesolithic cave paintings in the Cuevas de la Araña in Valencia (Spain)

The honey bee has always played an important role in many ecosystems and is responsible for pollinating a large number of plants (→ symbiosis ).

Humans have been using honeybees in Europe for several thousand years. This is how the rock painting from Cuevas de la Araña , which shows an early form of use of bees, was created around 10,000 to 6,000 BC.

Although since the 7th millennium BC at the latest When farmers of the Neolithic kept bees in a targeted manner, the species has not really been domesticated to this day . Breeding honey bees was made more difficult by the fact that the desired properties, such as high honey yield, are performances of the entire colony, which are not genetically identical, while only queens are influenced for breeding. Because of the multiple mating off the cane, it was almost impossible to influence the paternal line. Actual beekeeping, with the targeted selection of queens, began no earlier than the 19th century. Beekeeping was previously based on the selection of suitable strains or races, which backcrossed with the wild form in the range of distribution and are genetically hardly distinguishable from it. This also has advantages: unlike other domestic animals , beekeeping has never had a genetic bottleneck .

The targeted keeping of bees began in Central Anatolia about 7000 years ago , and there was also highly developed beekeeping in ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago. The symbol of the bee became the symbol of power for the pharaohs in Lower Egypt. In hieroglyphic writing , rule is symbolized by the queen bee . The king was represented by the queen bee, while ordinary workers were represented as bees. The ancient Egyptians probably operated more than 2000 years BC. Chr. Beekeeping . There hives consisted of plaited cane , smeared with clay , or of baked clay , as is still common in some areas today.

The Hebrew scriptures speak of honey in many places . John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey. In the Talmud knowledge of development and the swarming of bees are included. There are reports of various beehives made of straw and cane.

In Greece around 600 BC. The first laws concerning bees were passed. Today's bee law also has a long tradition and is anchored in the BGB . It is only in the past 300 years that biologists have also been researching bees and investigating their behavior.

Pope Urban VIII wore three bees as symbols of work, thrift and sweetness in his coat of arms .


Honeybee anatomy

The body length of the animals is 15 to 18 millimeters for the queen, 13 to 16 millimeters for drones and 11 to 13 millimeters for workers. The workers reach an average weight of 82 milligrams, the queen, on the other hand, a weight of 250 to 300 milligrams. These numerical values ​​apply to the European breeds of western honeybees , which are almost exclusively kept in beekeeping worldwide , while some breeds from the warmer climatic regions of Africa are smaller. One can easily recognize the queen by her size and elongated abdomen. The main difference between the drones and the workers is their significantly larger compound eyes .

The basic color of the western honeybee is brown, although in some breeds the first abdomen segments in particular can also be yellowish, orange, red to leather-brown. In the rear (basal) area, the segments of the abdomen ( abdomen ) each have a light, felt-like hair band that causes the light and dark stripes. Unlike often z. As shown in children's books, for example, the honeybee's abdomen is not colored black and yellow, in contrast to the black and yellow warning color of the wasp . The chest part ( thorax ) of the animals is hairy yellow-brown.


Comparison of the front wings of the western (left) and eastern honeybees

The clear distinguishing feature of all honey bees compared to some similar-looking solitary bee species , e.g. B. the common silk bee , is the radial cell of the fore wing. This is narrow and very elongated and has almost parallel sides with only a slight curvature. The bees have strong wing drive muscles, which ensure the wing movements. In addition, the vibrations of the thoracic muscles can be used to regulate the temperature in the pole. Either heat is generated through them, or the bees use the wing fanning for ventilation. With the help of their flight muscles, the bees can also make sounds, which happens very rarely. Examples of this are the so-called tooting and croaking of young queens shortly before and after hatching and the "beeping" during traditional dance when the traditional source has dried up.


Honeybee stinger

As females, queens and workers have a poisonous sting . In favor of the egg-laying, however, the prickly apparatus has receded in the "incubator" queen. This is therefore only fully developed among the workers. In the history of development, the venomous sting of the honey bee emerged from a laying stinger . Most species of bees also have a poison sting for defense. The sting of the workers has small barbs as a special feature .


Inside of a hind leg; First, greatly enlarged tarsal link with “brush” in the center of the picture.

The legs of the honeybees are articulated like those of other insects. As in many other bee species, the hind legs of the workers play a major role in collecting pollen , which is why the first tarsal segment is greatly enlarged. On its inside it has a dense coating of hair bristles, the so-called “brush”, with the help of which the bee can brush off pollen that has stuck on its hairy body or other legs. A pollen comb at the end of each lower leg helps to comb the pollen out of the brush on the other hind leg. The lower leg is covered with long hair on the outside, which surrounds a shallow depression, the "cup". With the help of a heel spur, the pollen is pushed out of the pollen crest through a gap between the foot and the lower leg and onto the cup side of the lower leg. In the basket, larger amounts of pollen can then be collected in the form of "panties" and transported to the hive.

Honey bee with mouth tool

Mouthparts and digestion

The honey bee, like all bees, has licking-sucking mouthparts. In addition to the mandibles , they have a proboscis made up of the fused maxilla and the labium . With nectar sucking, the nectar gets into the esophagus after it has passed the trunk and then into the honey stomach, which is upstream of the actual intestine. This honey stomach (synonyms: honey bladder, social stomach ) serves as a container from which other members of the stick can be supplied with food by the worker vomiting the nectar again. Part of the nectar hoarded there is also used for self-sufficiency. The honey stomach is connected to the bees intestine via a valve-like connector. When the valve is opened, nectar flows into the intestine and can be digested there.

Social structure

The queen bee (center) with her court. The queen is being fed by a worker.

Honey bees are insects and can be domesticated but not tamed . Successful keeping requires understanding the bee .

There are three types of bees in the beehive, which differ in size and body shape. The queen is slightly larger and has a long and slender abdomen that extends far beyond the wing tips. She is usually the only fully developed female in the entire hive, the mother of the entire bee colony, so to speak. The great mass of the colony is made up of the workers , tens of thousands of smaller females, whose ovaries are much smaller and much less efficient than the queen, but are nevertheless fully functional.

A healthy queen continuously releases a messenger substance mixture, the so-called queen substance (English: Queen Mandibular Pheromone - QMP), from her mandibular glands into the hive. The pheromone contained in this mixture, called 9-oxo-trans-2-decenoic acid, suppresses the function of their ovaries and thus the possibility of oviposition. For various reasons, it sometimes happens with one or the other worker that the queen's pheromones do not work as intended and that worker then lays eggs. Therefore, all workers constantly check each other whether one of them lays eggs, which are then immediately killed by the other workers or the queen.

Drone (male bee)

In addition, this mixture of messengers ensures a change in the learning behavior of the young workers. As newly hatched bees, they are responsible for feeding and caring for their queen in their first days of life. During this activity they are exposed to high doses of QMP, which primarily has the effect of preventing aversive learning in young workers . As a result, they do not develop any aggression with one another or against their activities, and they do their job peacefully and without resistance. In particular, they do not need to use their sting in the event of unpleasant experiences in the beehive. In contrast, appetitive learning is quite pronounced; H. pleasant stimuli lead to learning experiences. As the bees get older, the influence of the pheromones on their survival advantage diminishes, as the workers now have to take on other tasks such as foraging for food. Learning through unpleasant experiences is essential here.

At the time when swarms are also possible, for example from April to July, there are also around 500 to a maximum of 2000  drones in the bee colony as a third phenotype . These are larger than the workers and are noticeable because of their plump, stocky body shape and large eyes . As male animals, they have no poisonous sting . Their antennae specialize in picking up the pheromone scent of young queens and then mating with them high in the air (in flight), see also drone assembly point .


About 3 to 4 days old drone larvae lying in the milky fodder juice and stick-shaped eggs sticking to the cell floor

The breeds of western honey bees kept in beekeeping worldwide today live in a state that houses 40,000 to 60,000 bees as a maximum around the summer solstice . Most of the year the bee colony consists only of females : the queen , who is the only one to lay eggs (up to 2000 eggs a day), and the sterile workers who collect pollen and nectar, raise the larvae and defend the hive . From early summer onwards, several hundred male bees ( drones ) are constantly being raised.

The drones are created through parthenogenesis , when the queen lays unfertilized eggs. The special shape of the queen cell on the honeycomb and the different ways in which the larvae are fed determines whether a fertilized egg develops into a queen or worker. The differentiation of the larva from the queen is mainly determined by the fact that it receives the so-called royal jelly feed juice to a far greater extent than the worker larvae . Queens live for several years while the lifespan of workers is a few weeks or months.

If a bee colony reaches a certain size from around May, the space available in the hive disappears (for example in the magazine hive ). If the concentration of certain pheromones falls below a threshold value, the rearing of new queens and the swarming instinct are triggered. The bee colony splits in that about a week before the first new queen hatches, half of the colony swarms with the old queen and founds a new colony.

A young queen flies out several times for a wedding flight at the age of six days if the weather is suitable . It mates with a total of up to 20 drones from other countries high in the air. The drone dies during copulation . The fertilized queen flies back to the hive. In summer, also around the solstice, the remaining drones are then expelled from the beehive in the so-called “drone battle” because they are no longer needed.

A proven advantage of the promiscuity of the queen bee is the increase in the genetic diversity of new free bee colonies. This has the effect that such colonies raise more offspring compared to experimentally generated genetically uniform bee colonies, collect more food and create larger supplies, whereby at least a quarter of these colonies usually survive the first winter. Genetically uniform bee colonies, on the other hand, had used up their supplies by December at the latest and then starved to death.

Comparison of development times of the honey bee
queen Worker drone
Egg ( "pen" ) fertilized fertilized unfertilized
gender Venus symbol.svg Female Venus symbol.svg Female Female (801864) - The Noun Project.svg male
Genome diploid diploid haploid
Storage in Queen wells Worker cell Drone cell
feeding Queen or
royal jelly
feed juice later compound feed
Drone feed juice
Development time
  • egg   • 3 days   • 3 days   • 3 days
  • larva   • 5 days   • 6 days   • 7 days
  • Doll   • 8 days   • 12 days   • 14 days
  (in total)     16 days     21 days     24 days
Hatching weight about 200 mg about 100 mg about 200 mg
body length 18-22 mm 12-15 mm 15-17 mm
Puberty about 7 days about 14 days
lifespan 3-4 years 4–7 months (in winter)
2–6 weeks (in summer)
1-3 months

Swarming and looking for nesting sites

Swarm of bees

Bees found new colonies by a swarm, part of the existing colony, moving out and looking for a new home. How bees do this was first researched by Martin Lindauer , a student of Karl von Frisch . Thomas Dyer Seeley later discovered the complex democratic decision-making principle when agreeing the swarm for a new nesting site.

The swarming season is in early summer so that there is enough time to look for a suitable place and to stock up on winter supplies. The swarm of bees , the so-called pre- swarm , that is around 6000 to 14,000 bees or two thirds of an old bee colony, leaves its colony with the old queen, who has not been fed for some time. The swarm bees had previously become very saturated with honey and were very inactive until then. The muscles of the willing bees begin to tremble, their ready-to-fly temperature rises to 35 degrees. To date, it is not known which stimuli trigger the signal in the bees who are willing to leave that they suddenly break open together. Then the swarm will settle down as a grape for a few hours, for example on a tree. A few hundred scouts, about 3–5 percent of the swarm, explore the surrounding area for a new, optimal nesting site. They tell the other bees in the flock of several suitable places by wagging on the back of the waiting bees. First, the scouts point out various suitable locations within a radius of up to 5 kilometers. These places are rated by the scouts according to six to ten criteria. In addition to the criteria mentioned, the height of the entrance above the ground, possibly existing honeycombs of a previous swarm of bees, humidity and the distance from the previous bee colony are also included. With the duration and intensity of the waggle dance, the bees in the swarm are informed of the quality of each potential nesting site. Particularly eager scouts (track bees) cause the others to also check their offers. Only rarely are the bees in the swarm unable to agree on a place or lose their queen, which they usually look for again. Rather, in the available time of a few days in which the bees do not eat any food, a complicated, optimal weighing and decision-making process occurs .

If, at the end of the day, a large number of scouts point to the same location, a threshold value or quorum that has not yet been further analyzed biochemically is exceeded in the swarm . Seeley was able to mathematically simulate the threshold value principle when choosing a nesting site. Once the threshold is reached, the swarm breaks up with the queen. The queen herself has no part in the swarm decision. In the swarm cloud, trace bees show the way by repeatedly flying forward in the swarm and slowly back again at the edge. Near the destination they fly to the entrance and stumble, so they use scents to show the swarm the way.

With the entire process described, a combination of individual intelligence (evaluation of a nesting site by individual scouts) and collective intelligence or swarm intelligence (decision of the swarm), a democratic process by a few representatives of the swarm in a short time creates the best possible and for the whole swarm Consensus accepted by all was found for the new dwelling and moved into it.

Building the nest

Bees build their honeycombs out of wax , which they sweat out in the form of small scales from the wax glands of their belly rings. They raise their offspring in the honeycombs and store honey and pollen. The honey serves as an energy source and provides the bees with the heating and operating material, so to speak. The protein-rich pollen provides the building materials for the growing bee body. The honey is produced by the bees either from the nectar of flowers or from honeydew . Honeydew can come from secretions from living plants or from secretions secreted by insects that live on these parts of the plant (example: pine honey).

Since the insects live together in a very small space at around 35 ° C in a beehive , there are basically ideal conditions for diseases to spread. This is why a putty ( propolis ) made by the bees themselves primarily from tree resin and pollen, used to seal small openings, crevices and cracks, serves to remove bacteria , fungi and other microorganisms that could be introduced into the hive or are present to inhibit or even kill in their development. For this purpose, surfaces, for example the inside of the honeycomb cells for the brood, are covered with a wafer-thin propolis film.

Diet and Metabolism

Bee collecting nectar
Arrival in front of the floor entrance with and without pollen

Honey bees, like all other bee species, normally have a purely vegetarian diet. For this, the somewhat older beehive workers fly out and collect nectar and pollen from flowering plants. The nectar is brought home in the honey stomach and the pollen in the so-called baskets, a special device on the hind legs, and distributed directly in the brood nest to younger workers to feed the brood. If there is an excess - the beekeeper then speaks of a costume - the pollen is stored as a source of protein next to and the nectar above the brood nest in honeycomb cells. The nectar is thickened by dehydration, which makes it durable. The result is an oversaturated, strongly osmotic and syrupy sugar solution that is no longer fermentable, the honey . The pollen is provided with a little nectar and undergoes lactic acid fermentation .

Cells with pollen are close to the brood. Most of the brood cells are already closed with a wax lid.

From a certain age, so-called fodder glands ( hypopharyngeal glands) have developed in the workers involved in brood rearing . You can use it to create a protein-rich, milk-like nutrient solution from pollen and nectar. They spit these into the brood cells with the very young larvae, which then seem to swim in them. After three days, however, the diet is switched to nectar and pollen. Only queen larvae and the queen herself continue to be fed exclusively with this special juice, which is therefore also called royal jelly . Adult bees only feed on nectar and some pollen.

In times when the foragers cannot fly out due to the weather, the bee colony draws on its stored supplies. Only the pollen can be used directly. The honey must first be liquefied again, i.e. brought into a nectar-like state. The combustion of the sugar content mainly contained in honey, which takes place in the muscle tissue, produces water, among other things, which can be used to liquefy further supplies. But if brood needs to be fed, this is often not enough. In addition, foragers have to fly out to get water into their honey stomachs (for example from a body of water nearby). In particularly adverse weather conditions, only a small proportion of these workers can return home.

Due to bad weather, which prevents the bees from escaping, or a lack of pollen in the area, it can happen that the pollen stores in the beehive run out. In such a case, some larvae are killed and eaten in order to obtain protein for rearing the other larvae. First the youngest larvae are eaten and the oldest larvae are brought through.

At the end of winter or in early spring there is a cleaning flight on a mild day with an air temperature of at least 10 ° C around noon . The bees get rid of their excrement , which has accumulated in their feces during the weeks or months of winter rest . Since bees do not defecate in the beehive because of the spread of pathogens , the cleaning flight is the only way to empty them .

Flying is very energy consuming. The “fuel” for this is the sugary nectar or the reliquefied honey. A honeybee of the Carnica or Buckfast breeds kept in Europe can fly about eight kilometers when started with a full honeycomb. However, for reasons of efficiency, the collectors rarely cover such distances. The predominantly used area around a colony of bees set up in the area only has a radius of about one kilometer.

A special feature of honey bees is that they have the simple sugar glucose in the hemolymph as an energy supplier , just like mammals do in their blood. Most other insects, on the other hand, have trehalose, a double sugar, in their hemolymph. As a result, honey bees cannot be described as typically cold-blooded . As a colony of bees ( superorganism ), they generate a constant temperature of 35 ° C during the vegetation period ( when brood is present). At a value below 10 ° C, they solidify and die. Other insects, on the other hand, only solidify at even lower temperatures and are protected by the different composition of their hemolymph like an antifreeze.

Importance of honeybees

Bee collecting pollen on a plum blossom

In the temperate latitudes, honey bees are the most important pollinators of flowering plants . Around 80 percent of all plant species are dependent on cross- pollination and of this, around 80 percent can potentially be pollinated by honey bees. Mainly because of their pollination capacity , honey bees are livestock : Bee states can be rented for pollination and placed in plantation environments from which naturally occurring pollinators have been driven mainly by the destruction of their nesting sites. The global economic output of honey bees and other pollinating insects for the industrialized agriculture of western economies, and especially in the monocultural land management of the USA, is estimated at around 153 billion euros. In Germany, the utility value of animals reaches around 4 billion euros. This makes the honey bee the third most important livestock after cattle and pigs. The utility value results from the pollination of the 100 most important cultivated plants.

Honey bee products used by humans include honey , beeswax , pollen , bee venom , royal jelly and propolis as well as mead made from honey .

The drone larvae are edible, which is why honey bees are also known as food insects . The European Commission currently has an application to use male larvae of the European honey bee as a novel food .


In contrast to humans, bees can not perceive the red part of the color spectrum , but they can perceive part of the ultraviolet light. In addition, they see the light polarized , which in combination with the daytime position of the sun enables them to precisely determine the direction of the compass. When the bee is not moving, it sees relatively poorly with its compound eyes (comparable to a digital camera that has only a few thousand pixels ). However, this changes significantly during flight. In this analogy, in contrast to the static image, a film is now running, with many image changes per unit of time. The image resolution is improved through interpolation .

In addition to seeing, the bees' sense of smell is very well developed, so it can be assumed that the bees at close range are primarily guided by this sense. After all, pheromones also play a role, which, for example, alert the drones during the wedding flight of the queen bee . For more information on how to behave during the wedding flight, see also the drone assembly point .


To communicate, the bees use the so-called waggle dance , which, like other sensory activities of bees, was researched by the later Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch : Here, mainly new sources of forage (food sources) are communicated, or information about more or more during the swarming process (see swarm instinct ) less suitable nesting facilities are provided, which then lead to a location decision.

Other dances of the bees are the "ring dance" to indicate food sources nearby, the "shake dance" to encourage the non-forager bees to become foragers, and the "tremor dance" to encourage them to act as nectar takers; There are also reports of a “wedding” or “ courtship ” dance.

Thermoregulation of the honey bee

Temperature ranges

The honey bee needs a body temperature of 35 ° C to be able to fly. The brood needs the same temperature for a longer period of time in order to be able to develop, and this temperature is also ideal for wax processing.

Core temperatures of the honey bee

In a swarm of grapes, the core temperature is 35 ° C, the jacket temperature fluctuates with the outside temperature. In the winter cluster, the core temperature is 20 to 22 ° C.

The optimal outside temperature for collecting is 22 to 25 ° C. In any case, it has to be lower than the body temperature necessary for flying, as the relatively large flight muscles generate a lot of heat during this movement, which has to be dissipated.

Below about 7 to 10 ° C, bees go into cold rigidity, above 38 ° C they go into heat rest.

For a short time, bees can cope with ambient temperatures of almost 50 ° C, a fact that the Eastern honey bee uses to defend itself against the Asian giant hornet , against which it would have no chance with its sting: If bees of this species discover one scout in the vicinity of their nest, then several people form A dozen bees put a ball around the flying hornet and heat it up to over 45 ° C with violent wing movements. The scout hornet does not take this for long, dies and cannot return to its colony, so that the bees are spared an attack.

Regulation possibilities in the grape

In a swarming cluster, the outermost bees form a roof-tile-like, insulating layer. Your body temperature fluctuates with the outside temperature, but is always 2 to 3 degrees higher. Shortly before a swarm of clusters breaks out, the mantle is also at 35 ° C. With the usual size of a cluster of a few thousand animals, the bees in the kernel generate more energy at rest than they need to maintain 35 ° C. They give off the excess heat to the environment. The swarm is in a thermodynamic equilibrium with its environment without a large expenditure of energy . If the core becomes too hot, the grape is restructured: Rigid chains of bees form, leaving corridors between them, in which bees run from the overheated core to the outside and cooler bees from the mantle to the inside. The corridors also facilitate air circulation. If the mantle temperature drops to a critical value (13 to 17 ° C), the mantle bees generate heat through muscle tremors so that their body temperature cannot drop any further at lower outside temperatures. At the same time, they crawl inwards, thus closing the corridors.

At low outside temperatures, the swarm is dense and compact, at higher temperatures it loosens up to avoid overheating.

Core bees are passively warmed up, mantle bees generate heat through muscle tremors. The regulation of the temperature conditions in the swarm takes place without a communication system. The individuals behave independently of each other and without knowledge of the temperature elsewhere in the swarm.

The temperature regulation in the winter grape is basically done in the same way.

Regulation options in the nest

Cooling of the nest

Air-fanning honey bees ( Apis mellifera ) at the entrance of their hive

In spring and summer, a temperature between 32 and 36 degrees must be maintained in the beehive. If it gets too hot in the hive, some of the workers leave the building, which means that less heat is generated in the hive. In addition, in front of the entrance they fan the hot air from the stick with their flapping wings, creating a cooling air flow . Furthermore, foraging bees can distribute water droplets on the honeycombs, the evaporation also cools the air in the hive.

Warming up the nest

Below 30 ° C the brood dies or hatches with developmental damage. If there is a threat of cooling, the hive bees crowd together during the brood or slip into specially released cells between the brood cells and raise the temperature through muscle tremors. In winter the temperature in the beehive is around 20 degrees. When it gets too cold, the insects form a so-called winter cluster with their bodies and warm each other.


Spiked apparatus of a worker

The stinger is primarily used to defend itself against other insects, in whose non-elastic chitin shell its barbs do not get caught. In humans or other vertebrates, however, the sting remains stuck in the elastic epidermis due to the barbs, which is why the bee, unlike wasps , for example , cannot or only rarely can pull it out again. Your entire lancing device, including the poison bladder , is therefore torn out of your abdomen when it flies away, which means fatal injury to the bee. The lancing device torn out in this way pumps more bee venom into the body of the enemy via the sting . Furthermore, the moment the bee loses its sting, it releases an alarm pheromone . This can call other conspecifics on the scene near the beehive , who in turn attack the enemy. They prefer to prick the same spot, where the alarm pheromone is most concentrated, but often also in the face and head if the eye area or dark hair can be seen. Therefore, in such a case, you should move away from the beehives quickly. Beekeepers avoid this danger when working on the colonies by creating smoke. As the bees then await a fire, many get ready to leave the hive by ingesting honey, which in turn distracts them. You can also counteract stings by using a beekeeper veil and bright, concluding clothing and by not using deodorant, shampoo and perfume (some ingredients can make bees aggressive).

The amount of poison injected with a sting is given as 0.1 mg. Bee sting deaths are rare but do happen. In Germany, 20 to 30 deaths are expected each year.


In the immediate vicinity of bees it is advisable to remain calm so as not to be attacked or stung and not to make hectic movements. Bees only sting when they see themselves or their structure threatened or attacked. Bees that visit flowers in the garden to collect nectar and pollen, for example, are by no means aggressive. A quiet humming sound and slow flying around from flower to flower signalize the bee's "good mood", while a high-frequency, "high-pitched" buzzing and nervous zigzag flying indicates a suspicious bee that is ready to defend itself. Even if a bee lands on a person's skin, it only probes its surroundings and usually does not intend to sting - in contrast to e.g. B. to a mosquito for which human blood is a source of food. If you are stung, calmly push the stinger out with your thumbnail and cool the sting area.

A single bee, locked in a room, can be carried out of the room with your bare hand if you don't try to catch it, but instead slowly approach it and let it crawl onto your hand. If the bee shows signs of restlessness, one should stop, do not move and briefly interrupt the action.

Another simple method of catching bees (or other insects) and transporting them out of a room is with the help of an empty matchbox: Two-thirds of this is pushed open and the opening is then placed over the insect to be caught. You can then slowly slide the box closed, which pushes the insect into the box. Then you can carry it out and release it there. You can also put a drinking glass over the bee, then carefully slide a sheet of paper under it and then bring it outside.

Beehive shortly after swarming

A swarm of bees in the garden on a tree or the like. settles down, is usually peaceful and has no tendency to sting at all. Even at the moment of arrival, when a cloud of up to 25,000 bees approaches, there is hardly any danger; you can observe such a swarm up close, but you have to expect to be chosen as a landing or short-term resting place by individual bees. It makes sense to notify a beekeeper as soon as possible to catch the swarm of bees. Where no beekeeper is known, the fire brigade, police, city administration or environmental agency who maintain contact with beekeepers can help. In Germany, the beekeeper is allowed to enter foreign properties when chasing his swarm of bees ( § 962 BGB ).

Diseases and pests

Doll of a worker with parasitic Varroa mite

The diseases of the honey bee are caused by parasites, bacteria, viruses or fungi. Bee diseases can be roughly divided into diseases of the adult bee and brood diseases. There are also a number of pests that can lead to symptoms of infestation such as alarming of the people, loss of heat, lack of food, susceptibility to disease and so on.

There are currently 22 known honeybee viruses. Honey bees can carry viruses such as B. the wing deformation virus transmitted to wild bees and bumblebees .

Menacing diseases

There are individual articles about the diseases in the list of diseases of bees . Therefore they are only listed here as an overview:

  • Varroosis - a parasite infestation which, if left untreated, leads to the collapse of the bee colonies in beekeeping
  • Nosemosis - a dangerous bowel disease
  • Foulbrood - two different and also differently dangerous types of bacteria (notifiable)
  • Kalkbrut - a fungal disease
  • Sac brood - death of the larvae
  • Colony Collapse Disorder - it is not yet clear whether this is just a disease at all, see also "Mass deaths" below.

Mass extinction - CCD

In the spring of 2007, reports increased, particularly from the United States , that honeybees had mass deaths in some states . Up to 80% of the bee colonies were affected, some beekeeping even reported total loss. The reasons have not yet been clarified. There were also heavy losses in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and years before that in other parts of Germany and in 2003 also in France. A typical symptom is that the colonies are balding; that is, the foragers do not return to the hive. The unsupervised young bees with the queen and the brood then die. All types of pathogens can be found in the bees' intestines. a. it is believed that the bees' immune system has collapsed.

A drastic case of bee deaths with 11,500 affected bee colonies also occurred in the early summer of 2008 in the Rhine Valley. The cause was clearly shown to be poisoning by an insecticide from the group of neonicotinoids . It is suspected, especially in beekeeping circles, that this group of relatively new, modern pesticides, which are highly toxic to insects, often has a very negative influence on the vitality of bee colonies. Especially in combination with other loads such as For example, nosemosis or varroosis , colony collapse can occur much more easily. The EU Commission banned some neonicotinoids for a certain period of time in order to observe whether this would improve the situation of the bee colonies.

A team led by Lena Wilfert , who was then working at the University of Exeter (Great Britain) , examined the genome of the Deformed wing virus (DWV), one of 22 known honey bee viruses, and came to the conclusion that the virus was in spread from Europe over the past century. A connection between the CCD and the DWV is suspected.

More recent results suggest that the increase in carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels may lead to bee deaths. Higher CO 2 concentrations in the atmosphere lead to a decrease in the protein values ​​of many crops and thus in the nutritional value, which is also true for certain important pollen suppliers such. B. the Canadian goldenrod applies. As a result of the CO 2 increase from 280 to 398 ppm between 1842 and 2014, protein decreases of around one third were found; That the increase in CO 2 was the cause was then experimentally confirmed in the laboratory by tests with various CO 2 levels between 280 and 500 ppm. Since pollen is the only source of protein for bees, it can weaken the health of bees and lead to colony death.

Scientific Research

Because of the importance of honey bees, bees are the subject of scientific research. The Apiculture (lat.  Apidologie ) deals with the insect group of honeybees and specifically their functions as pollinators of crops and their direct use by the extraction of honey. There are research departments for this at several German and Austrian universities, some with the establishment of chairs such as in Frankfurt am Main, Halle, Jena and Linz. Research also takes place at various state apiculture institutes in Germany. In Austria , the Federal Office and Research Center for Agriculture (BFL) runs the Institute for Apiculture. There is an institute for bee health at the University of Bern .


The complete genome of the western honey bee has now been sequenced and, according to the researchers, consists of 10,157  genes with around 238 million base pairs. The human genome is about ten times larger. When deciphering the gene sequence, it was also possible to find locations for 163 chemical odor receptors , but only for 10 taste receptors. In addition to the discovery of new genes for the use of pollen and nectar , it was found that the western honey bee has fewer genes for innate immunity , detoxification and formation of the cuticle compared to many other insects .

On the basis of population genetic analyzes, Africa is regarded as the original home of the western honeybees and it is concluded that their spread to Europe must have occurred in two separate migrations. The genetic diversity of African bees is therefore higher than that of European bees.

Bees in the right

In Germany , today's bee law has a long tradition and is anchored in the BGB . Some of the regulations in the Austrian ABGB go back to 1812.

In the Austrian federal states of Vienna , Lower Austria , Styria and Carinthia , only the keeping or breeding of Carinthian bees with their associated strains and lines is generally permitted. The keeping of other “pure-bred” bees there requires a permit.

Gold bees from the grave of Childerich I.

Bees in heraldry

The Florentine Barberini family had bees in their coat of arms, as did Pope Urban VIII , who came from their ranks . Napoleon Bonaparte gave the bees in the coat of arms of many cities as an award ( Bonne ville de l'Empire français ).

Symbolic interpretation

As the epitome of diligence the bee is used as a symbol in many cases; In some cases, instead of the bee, the beehive symbol (for example as a money box ) or the typical honeycomb structure is used.

Due to ancient notions of the non-sexual reproduction of honey bees, they could become the common image in Christian literature for religiously motivated sexual asceticism.

See also


  • May Berenbaum : bloodsucker, founder of the state, silk manufacturer. The ambivalent relationship between humans and insects. Spectrum, Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 1997, ISBN 3-8274-0078-3 .
  • Ralph Dutli : The song about honey. A cultural history of the bee. Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8353-0972-2 .
  • Guido Fackler , Michaela Fenske , Franziska Gleichauf (eds.): From the honeycomb into the world: the bee makes culture. (= Catalog of the exhibition of the same name in Lab 13 at the Landesgartenschau Würzburg 2018 / Writings and materials of the Würzburg Museology, issue 6). Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg, Würzburg 2018, ISSN  2197-4667 ( PDF ).
  • Karl von Frisch : "Language" and orientation of the bees. 5th commemorative lecture, November 19, 1960. 2nd, extended edition. Huber, Bern / Stuttgart 1964.
  • Jutta Gay, Inga Menkhoff: The big book of bees. Fackelträger-Verlag, Cologne 2012, ISBN 978-3-7716-4495-6 .
  • Randolf Menzel , Matthias Eckoldt : The intelligence of bees. Knaus, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-8135-0665-5 .
  • Rudolf Moosbeckhofer, Josef Bretschko: Natural beekeeping. Decision-making aids for beekeeping in various hive systems. Stocker, Graz / Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-7020-0740-7 .
  • Georg Rendl : The bee novel. Insel-Verlag, Leipzig 1931. (New edition: (= Salzburg Library, Volume 4). Müller, Salzburg 1996, ISBN 3-7013-0932-9 )
  • Friedrich Ruttner : Natural history of honey bees. Kosmos, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-440-09477-4 .
  • Thomas Dyer Seeley : Bee Democracy: How bees decide collectively and what we can learn from it. Fischer Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2015, ISBN 978-3-596-19407-0 .
  • Thomas Dyer Seeley : Honeybees. In the microcosm of the beehive. Springer Basel, Basel 2012, ISBN 978-3-0348-7834-0 .
  • Ulrich Sommermann: Body structure of the western honey bee. Insects in worksheets. Klett, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-12-030920-6 .
  • Armin Spürgin: The honey bee. From bee colony to beekeeping. 5th edition. Verlag Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-8001-7848-3 .
  • Jürgen Tautz : The honey bee phenomenon. Spectrum Academic Publishing House, Heidelberg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8274-1845-6 .
  • Jürgen Tautz, Diedrich Steen: The honey factory. The wonder world of bees - a company tour. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2017, ISBN 978-3-579-08669-9 .
  • Michael Weiler: Man and the bees. Reflections on the expressions of life of the BIEN. Reprint, unchanged reprint of the 2nd, extended edition. Verlag Lebendige Erde, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-921536-60-X .
  • Karl Weiß: Bees and bee colonies. Beck, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-406-41867-8 .
  • Noah Wilson-Rich (Ed.): The bee. History, biology, species. Haupt, Bern 2015, ISBN 978-3-258-07869-4 .

Web links

Commons : Western honeybee  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 13, 2005 .