What is Apiculture?
Apiculture is the management and study of honeybees.
- Apiculture is derived from the honeybee's Latin name Apis
mellifera, meaning ‘honey gatherer’. Since bees do not
collect honey but nectar from which honey is made, the scientific
name should actually be Apis mellifica meaning ‘honey
- Although apiculture refers to the honeybee, the vital role all
bees play in the pollination of crops and flowering plants has
caused apiculture to also include the management and study of non-Apis
bees such as bumblebees and leafcutter bees.
- Some 90 million years ago, flowering plants first appeared on
earth. The wasp-like ancestors of bees took advantage of the
food made available by flowers and began to modify their diet and
physical characteristics. Since then, flowering plants and bees
co-evolved. This eventually led to a complete interdependence,
meaning that flowering plants and bees cannot live and reproduce
without each other.
- The genus Apis is comprised of a comparatively small number of species including
the western honeybee Apis mellifera, the eastern honeybee Apis
cerana, the giant bee Apis dorsata, and the small
honeybee Apis florea.
- Honeybees are indigenous to the Eurasian and African continents
and were introduced to the Americas and Australia by European settlers.
- The western honeybee is comprised of some 24 races or
sub-species. The African honeybee, sometimes referred to as ‘Killer
bee’, is a race of the western honeybee and can therefore
- Bees collect pollen and nectar. Pollen is the protein source
needed for bee brood development while nectar is the carbohydrate
source providing energy.
- Nectar is a sugar solution produced by flowers containing about
80% water and 20% sugars. Foraging bees store the nectar in the
‘honey sac’ where the enzyme invertase will change complex
sugars into simple sugars called mono-saccharides. Upon return to
the hive, the foraging bee will disgorge the partially converted
nectar solution and offer it to other bees. Housekeeping bees will
complete the enzymatic conversion, further removing water until
the honey solution contains between 14 – 20% water.
- Honey is too dry for any microbes to live in. Honey is
non-perishable and can be kept indefinitely in a cool, dry place.
- The flavor, aroma and color of honey is determined by the floral
source. For example, buckwheat honey is almost black while fireweed honey is
- Unlike other bees, honeybees can communicate details about the
location, quality and quantity of food sources. This allows
honeybees to access and utilize food sources efficiently at great distances.
- Honeybees maintain temperatures in the brood nest of between 30
and 34oC, even in the middle of winter.
- The honeybee colony is comprised of one queen, thousands of
worker bees and a few hundred male bees called drones. Colony size
varies according to season and condition of the colony.
- Several diseases including viruses, various microbes and mites
can affect the honeybee.
- Honeybees are used in pollination and play a critical role in
the production of many crops, representing a value of over $14 billion per year in North America.