The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is not native to North America. It was domesticated for honey and wax in medieval Europe, and was brought over by early European settlers around 1638. The practice of collecting wild honey began at least four to five thousand years ago and beekeeping may have started as early as 3,500 years ago. All of our “wild” honeybees are from colonies that have escaped from domesticated hives. Honeybees have easily adapted to life in forests and wooded shelters throughout Canada, since they have the ability to generate heat to warm their hives during winter.
Honeybees are social insects and live together in large hives, which are located in cavities of trees or dead wood. A complex social system, a honeybee colony has one queen, around 30,000 workers, and several hundred drones. The queen, the only sexually developed female and the biggest bee, mates with multiple males and can lay 2,000 eggs a day. The workers, sexually undeveloped females, collect nectar and pollen, feed the queen and the larvae, and make honey and wax, in addition to guarding the hive. Without the workers there would be no functioning hive. Drones are male bees, which serve the sole purpose of mating with the queen. They do not even have stingers, something only females possess. Honeybees will usually only sting in defense. They can only sting once, because the barbed stinger becomes stuck in the victim's skin and pulls out as the bee flies away.
Honeybees spend their time collecting nectar and pollen to provide for the colony’s needs. Adult honeybees feed exclusively on the nectar of flowers and feed pollen, which is rich in protein, and honey to developing bee larvae in the hive. The bees also secrete beeswax and mold it into honeycomb, which constructs the cells of the hive where the eggs are laid and the honey and pollen is stored.
The honeybee is extremely effective as a pollinator. Honeybees have long tongues for reaching inside flowers, and hairy pollen-collecting coats, as well as baskets behind their legs in which to collect pollen. The bees have a high frequency of floral visits during their lives. Honeybees live year-round, so they must use whatever plants are in flower and cannot afford to specialize. However, individuals or entire colonies may concentrate upon particularly rewarding flower species for short periods of time.
The honeybee has been domesticated for many centuries. The practice of beekeeping is extremely widespread and the bees are highly valued throughout the world for their honey, bees wax and pollination abilities. Commercial beekeepers rent entire bee colonies to farmers for the pollination of their crops, transporting them by large trucks.