Apiculture is the science of beekeeping. Humans have collected honey from wild bee hives for more than 8,000 years, as shown in Mesolithic rock paintings dating from 6000 B. C. E. By 2500 B. C. E. , Egyptians were keeping bees in artificial hives. Hives exploit the honeybees’ natural tendency to build nests in cavities, and allow apiculturalists to easily move (via boat, wagon, truck) and manipulate bee colonies. This mobility has allowed beekeepers to introduce honeybees around the world: The first hives were brought to the New World in the 1620s by European settlers.

Primitive hives were made of hollow logs, holes built in mud walls, or cones of mud, earthenware, or thatch. A modern apiary hive is a series of stacked boxes. The bottom box serves as the brood chamber where larvae develop; the upper boxes provide a space to store honey. Each box contains eight to twelve frames, which are set so they approximate the distance between combs in a natural hive. Bees then build their comb on the frames, which can be removed individually. Beekeepers remove the wax caps that cover each cell of the comb and let the cells’ contents drip out by gravity, or use a specialized machine to spin the frames and draw the comb contents out by centrifugal force. The honey is then filtered and stored. Honey quality is determined by its flavor, clarity, and color.

The Products of Apiculture

The most widely cultivated and economically important bee species is the European honeybee (Apis mellifera), but beekeepers also keep a range of other species from the subfamilies Apidae (honeybees) and Meliponinae (stingless bees). Honeybees gather large amounts of flower nectar and pollen. They transform nectar into honey by evaporating water through fanning the nectar with their wings, and by adding enzymes produced by specialized glands on their bodies. Finally, the bees usually seal the finished honey in the hexagonal cells of their comb. Pollen is a source of protein, fats, and vitamins for the bees; carbohydrates from honey provide vital energy. While gathering pollen and nectar, bees cross-pollinate flowers and allow or improve the production of seeds and fruit. Economically, honeybees are more valuable as pollinators than as honey producers. Farmers rent more than one million colonies each year to pollinate crops valued at more than $10 billion. Unlike other pollinating insects, bees can be easily moved to agricultural fields where crops need to be pollinated.

Most beekeepers maintain hives for honey, but bees also produce other useful products. Beeswax from cell caps and old combs is used for high-quality candles, pharmaceuticals, lotions, and friction-reducing waxes for skis and surfboards. As well as honey, several other bee products are sources of food for humans. Bee brood (young bees that are housed in the brood comb of a hive) is consumed as a form of meat in many non-European countries. Food additives for humans and domestic animals are made from bee-collected pollen and from royal jelly, which bees produce as food for their larvae. Several bee products are also used as medicines. Since the 1930s, researchers have been refining extraction techniques to collect bee venom, because bee stings can relieve the symptoms of arthritis, rheumatism, and other diseases. Propolis, a gluelike plant resin that bees use to maintain the comb, is used in cosmetics and healing creams and may have antibiotic or anesthetic properties. Propolis was formerly an ingredient in some varnish, including the varnish on Stradivarius violins.

process of honey production

Worker bees collect the nectar, pollen and sucrose from the flowers. These collected materials are then mixed up with the saliva of bees and undergo some chemical changes by the action of enzymes. As a result this sucrose is converted into dextrose and laevulose. The water content in this mixture is also reduced and the whole mixture is then deposited in the crop of bee. When the worker bee reaches the hive, this whole mixture is regurgitated to the strong Chambers of the hive. A strong current of air is produced their by the rapid beating of workers bees wings and as a result, honey is concentrated in the storage Chambers. In this way honey is produced in the comb.



Threats to Apiculture

Cultivated bee colonies are susceptible to a number of diseases, parasites, and insect predators. Honeybee populations declined dramatically across the United States during the 1990s, when tracheal and Varroa mites destroyed up to 90 percent of hive populations in some areas. Another recent and widely publicized threat to apiculture comes from Africanized bees, Apis mellifera suctellata. This subspecies of the European honeybee commonly takes over the hives of its more docile European relatives. Africanized bees were imported from Africa to Brazil in 1957 with the hopes that their hardiness in tropical conditions would improve the Brazilian apiculture business. Unfortunately, some colonies escaped captivity and founded populations in the wild or took over other cultivated hives. The bees steadily spread northward into the United States, reaching Texas in 1990 and continuing to move up both coasts. The presence of Africanized bees in a hive makes beekeeping difficult because they are aggressive toward handlers, tend to swarm and leave the hive, and produce less honey than European honeybees. These bees are famous for their easily provoked mass stinging, which can be lethal to humans and other animals and has caused the deaths of several people. Public concern over Africanized bees has led to increased insurance liability for beekeepers, since they have had to pay more insurance because of the risk of keeping hives that may be taken over by Africanized bees, hence posing a threat to humans and animals in the area. Beekeepers in regions of Venezuela where people have been killed by Africanized bees have had their hives burned and been physically attacked by other citizens, regardless of whether their hives housed the Africanized bees that caused the problem. Many beekeepers also voluntarily destroyed their hives because they were unable to handle the more aggressive bees.

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