Apis mellifera is a species of honey bee commonly called the Western honey bee or European honey bee. Its genus name Apis is Latin for “bee”, and mellifera means “honey-bearing”. There are currently 29 extant subspecies. Apis mellifera is native to Europe, western Asia, and Africa. Human introduction of Apis mellifera to other continents started in the 17th century, and now they are found all around the world, including east Asia, Australia and North and South America.
Meadows, open forested areas, and gardens are ideal homes for European honeybees because they have an abundance of flowering plants. If there is enough water, food, and shelter, they can thrive in grasslands, deserts, and wetlands. They require cavities to nest in (for example, hollow trees).
Apis mellifera is often red/brown in colour, with black bands and orange yellow rings on the abdomen. They have hair on their thorax but not on their abdomen. On their rear legs, they also feature a pollen basket. The legs of honeybees are generally dark brown/black.
Females are divided into two castes: sterile workers (adults 10-15 mm long) and fertile queens (adults 15-20 mm long) (18-20 mm). At maturity, males, known as drones, are 15-17 mm long. Workers have longer wings than drones, despite their lower size. Females of both castes have a stinger made of modified ovipositor components. When used on workers, the sting is barbed and tears away from the flesh. The stinger is fed with venom by glands in the abdomen in both castes.
Males have substantially larger eyes than females, which is likely to aid in the detection of flying queens during mating flights.
Apis mellifera is divided into 26 subspecies, each with its own morphological and molecular traits. The distinctions between the subspecies are mainly examined in terms of their agricultural output in different environments. Some subspecies are able to adapt to warmer or colder environments. Defensive behaviour, tongue length, wingspan, and colouring may also differ across subspecies. Abdominal banding patterns vary as well, with some being darker and others having a mix of darker and lighter banding patterns. Honeybees are somewhat endothermic, which means they use their flight muscles to warm their bodies and the temperature in their hive.
mellifera eggs hatch in 28-144 hours, depending on their temperature. The larva that emerges is a small white grub. It stays in its wax cell, growing, and is fed and groomed by adult workers. The food that a female larva receives determines whether it will be a queen or worker. At 34°C, larvae feed and grow for 4-5 days, queens for 6 days, and males for 6-7 days. At the end of that period their cell is sealed by adult workers, and the larva molts, spins a silk cocoon, and transforms into the pupa stage. Pupae undergo a massive metamorphosis that takes about 7-8 days for queens, 12 days for workers, and 14-15 days for males. Once their final metamorphosis is complete, they chew their way out of the cell and begin their adult life. They will not grow or molt after emerging. Adult workers will live for 2-4 weeks in the summer, or as long as 11 months if they live through the winter. Males only survive for 4-8 weeks, and do not live through the winter. Queens live 2-5 years.
The larval stage follows, during which the caterpillar is fed a mixture of royal jelly, pollen/nectar, and honey. The larva then enters the pupae stage, where it seals itself inside its cell in preparation for metamorphosis into the mature stage. Queen bees typically mature in 16 days, worker bees in 21 days, and drones in 24 days. In a hive, the vast majority of female A. mellifera are sterile workers. Only queens are capable of mating and laying eggs. In most hives, there is only one reproductive queen.
Males depart the hive during periods of suitable mild weather in spring and summer and congregate at “drone assembly zones” near the hive. Virgin queens will fly around these locations, releasing pheromones that will attract males. The males pursue the queen in flight and attempt to mate with her. A “comet” can form when a group of males forms around the female, with a string of additional males chasing them down. Each guy who is successful in mating dies after a few hours or days.