The Sheldon Honey Bees - Toronto Outdoor Education Schools

The Sheldon Honey Bee Book
The Sheldon Honey Bee Book
Written by Steve McElroy
Photographed and Edited by
Steve McElroy
Andy Kennedy
Tricia Barrett
Paul Thornton
Nicole Espenant
Tracy Carreau
Brenda Carling
March, 2010
All photos taken at
Sheldon Centre for Outdoor Education,
Toronto District School Board
Table of Contents
What is a Honey Bee?
Why Bees are Important
Life of a Honey Bee
The Queen
Cleaning Cells
Feeding Larvae
Comb Construction
Making Honey
Checking Hives
Adding a Queen
Collecting Honey
End of the Year
Words in italics are in the glossary
What is a Honey Bee?
Potter Wasp
Honey Bee
Bumble Bee
The honey bee is one of the thousands of bee species in the insect class.
Many bee species live alone. Honey bees live in colonies of 50,000 or more.
The colony can survive through the winter by eating honey. People often
confuse bees and wasps. Bees are hairy and less aggressive than wasps.
Why Bees are Important
Tiny yellow pollen grains are sticking to the hairs on this bumble bee
Millions of years ago, bees and plants with flowers evolved to depend on each
other. The bees need pollen and nectar from flowers for food. The plants need
bees to spread pollen between flowers. This is called pollination. The pollen is
needed so the plants can grow fruit containing seeds. The seeds are spread by
animals that eat the fruit. The bees, the plants, and the fruit eating animals all
need each other for survival.
The entrance at the bottom can be covered if this colony is moved
Many kinds of insects act as pollinators. Honey bees are especially important
to people because beekeepers can move colonies to crops and orchards that
are too large to be pollinated naturally. About one third of our food comes from
plants that need to be pollinated.
These apples started as flowers requiring pollination
Just a few examples of bee-pollinated foods are apples, oranges, strawberries,
pumpkins and almonds. Bees also pollinate crops like clover and alfalfa that
are fed to animals raised for meat and dairy products. Honey bee pollination
services are much more important to humans than the honey and wax that
bees also provide for us.
Life of a Honey Bee
The frames containing the wax cells can be removed for inspection
Bees cooperate so well that a bee colony (also called a hive) appears to
behave as one animal. Each bee instinctively performs the tasks that help
the colony survive. A colony needs a queen, many thousands of female
workers, and several dozen male drones.
Adult workers, capped larvae and uncapped larvae
After three days an egg will hatch into a helpless larva. It grows very quickly.
The larva is fed by adult bees for five to seven days before its cell is capped
over with wax. While it is capped it will pupate then emerge as an adult bee.
The time from the egg being laid to emerging as an adult bee is 16 days for a
queen, 21 days for a worker, and 24 days for a drone.
The Queen
The queen can lay more than a thousand eggs per day
The queen is the mother. When a new queen is needed, the workers
continuously feed a few worker larvae large amounts of royal jelly. The first
queen to hatch stings the others to death, or fights if another queen
emerges at the same time. After a one time mating flight, the queen might
not leave the hive again. There can only be one queen.
Many workers and one drone
Drones cannot sting
Drones are large, male bees with big eyes. They must be cared for by the
worker bees. The strongest and fastest might mate with a queen on a
mating flight. Drones die immediately after mating. Since they are only
needed for reproduction they are forced out of the colony before winter.
This worker is collecting nectar to make honey
Workers are female bees but they cannot lay fertilized eggs. Most of
the bees in a colony are workers. They are extremely important to the
hive because they perform many, many duties that the colony needs for
survival. The tasks workers perform can change according to their age,
the season and the needs of the colony.
Cleaning Cells
These cells were cleaned and are now being used to store pollen
After emerging as adults the workers begin tasks such as cleaning cells. The
cells can now be used to store honey, nectar and pollen. They are also used
by the queen to lay eggs.
Feeding Larvae
Larvae can double in size in one day
After three days workers are old enough to feed larvae. The larvae need a lot
of protein to help them grow. The protein comes from the pollen collected
from flowers. This is why the pollen is usually found next to the larvae inside
the hive.
Comb Construction
These freshly-made cells are being used to hold nectar
At thirteen days old workers’ bodies are able to produce bits of wax that they
use to build six-sided cells. Engineers will tell you that a hexagon shape is
the best shape for maximizing strength and storage space.
Making Honey
After nectar has been turned into honey the bees cover it with a wax cap
Another task workers might begin at thirteen days old is turning nectar
into honey. The bees add enzymes produced in their body to change
the type of sugar in the nectar. They also fan the air with their wings to
evaporate some of the water in the nectar. Fanning can also control the
hive temperature and provide air flow.
Bees at the entrance could be arriving, leaving or guarding the hive
At eighteen days old some workers will start guarding the hive. You might
see them hanging around the entrance at the bottom. Many animals
including wasps, skunks, bears and bees from other hives would love to eat
the larvae or the honey. If something threatens the hive, or does not have
the right smell, the workers may sting it to protect the colony.
This wasp (called a yellowjacket) was killed because it tried to enter the hive
Stingers have a poison sac and barbs that stick into mammal skin. A
honey bee dies when it loses its stinger. Stings are relatively harmless to
people, but they can kill an insect. A stinger should be carefully scraped out
of skin to avoid squeezing the poison sac. A few people have a serious bee
allergy. Just as people with a peanut allergy should avoid peanuts, those
with a bee allergy should avoid bees.
Workers visit many flowers on each trip, spreading pollen as they travel
When worker bees are three weeks old they become foragers. Foragers
collect pollen, nectar and water. A few gather resin from buds to make the
sticky, dark red propolis that is used to seal up the hive. Foragers are also
called field bees.
Pollen baskets are attached to the back legs of worker bees
Pollen that gets stuck to a bee can be scraped into its pollen basket.
The pollen it misses, or ignores because it is collecting nectar, can
pollinate other flowers. If a bee finds a good source of flowers, it will
communicate the location to the other bees with a waggle dance inside
the hive. The shape, colour and smell of a flower are all designed to
attract pollinators.
The shape of a flower helps pollen stick to the hair on a bee
Nectar is the bee’s reward for coming to the flower. Nectar is carried in a
honey stomach and regurgitated when the bee returns to the hive.
Sugar from nectar is the source of food bees need to fuel their activities.
Collecting wears out a bee’s body parts, causing foragers to die when
they are about six weeks old. In winter, workers are able to survive until
The Sheldon Apiary
Beekeepers have a lot of responsibilities. They must visit a bee yard
regularly to help keep the bees strong and healthy. A hobby beekeeper
might have a few hives. A commercial beekeeper might have hundreds of
hives. A bee yard is also called an apiary.
Checking Hives
Students at Sheldon are able to hold and inspect the frames in a hive
Humans collected food from wild honey bees thousands of years ago.
Europeans brought honey bees to North America hundreds of years ago.
Modern hive boxes are designed to allow beekeepers to look inside or
remove extra honey without destroying the hive.
A student examining activity at the entrance
You can tell a lot about the health of the colony by watching the entrance.
If you see many bees bringing pollen into the entrance on a warm day the
bees are probably raising larvae. Honey bees don’t like to leave the hive
when it is cold or rainy.
Students at Sheldon wear a protective bee suit when working with bees
Beekeepers usually wear a veil to protect their face but do not always wear
a protective bee suit. This is because the suits can be hot to wear and the
bees will usually not sting if they are treated gently.
A small amount of smoke is used to calm the bees
Beekeepers use a smoker to calm the bees when they work with a hive.
The smoker helps hide the smells (called pheromones) the bees produce
to alert each other to danger when they are alarmed or killed.
The hive tool is being used to pry apart frames stuck together with propolis
A hive tool and a frame lifter are used to help take out the frames for closer
inspection. When checking a hive, beekeepers look for the amount of
young larvae, capped larvae, adult bees, pollen and honey. They also
check on the overall health of the colony.
A frame from a healthy colony
A commercial beekeeper will often transport healthy colonies to farms
to pollinate the crops or orchards. The farmer pays the beekeeper for
these important pollination services.
Adding a Queen
A new queen is kept in a cage for several days until the bees accept her
A queen can live for several years, but beekeepers often replace a
queen after 2 years. Beekeepers want queens that produce gentle
bees that keep the colony clean, produce large amounts of honey, and
are not likely to swarm. Swarming happens when a large colony
divides and the old queen leaves to find a new home with part of the
Medication to prevent a disease called foulbrood
Formic acid pads reduce the number of mites in a hive
Mites, wax moths, foulbrood, nosema and a new problem called colony
collapse disorder all harm bee colonies. Beekeepers add medication or
use organic methods to prevent or treat unhealthy conditions.
A varroa mite is on the thorax of this worker
Mites are tiny arachnids that live on or inside individual bees. Mites
have become such a big problem that wild honey bee colonies usually
do not survive. Beekeepers will add formic acid pads or put a screen on
the bottom of the hive to control mites.
Collecting Honey
The wires on the queen excluder will not allow the queen to fit through
As a colony grows it needs more space to store honey. A beekeeper will
add another box, called a honey super, to the top of the hive. A screen
called a queen excluder goes between the honey super and the rest of
the hive to keep eggs out of the honey. No medication is used when the
honey supers are on.
This hive has one honey super on the top of the colony
Sometimes more than one honey super is added to a strong colony. The
supers are removed at the end of the summer so the honey can be put
into jars for people to eat. This does not hurt the bees as long as
enough honey is left in the hive for the colony to survive the winter.
A capping tool is being used to remove the wax capes covering the honey
After the honey is collected the wax caps are removed. The caps are
collected and cleaned. The wax can be used for high quality candles
and many other products. Each frame can contain over a kilogram
and a half of honey.
Spinning causes the honey to spill out and collect at the bottom
Next the uncapped frames are put into an extractor that spins the
frames and removes the honey. Nothing needs to be added to the
honey to make it ready to eat.
Honey pouring out of the extractor
Pouring honey through a filter
The honey is put through strainers and filters to remove bits of wax
before going into jars. Honey is unusual because it will last for years
without refrigeration if you keep it sealed. Honey will usually granulate
(turn more solid) after a few months, but it can be liquefied again if you
warm it up.
A ribbon won for Sheldon honey
A jar of granulated honey
Beekeepers often sell jars of honey as a part of a business. Some
beekeepers enter their honey or wax into competitions. The colour and
flavour of honey varies with the qualities of the flowers the bees used to
make it. Consider trying some honey made in Ontario.
End of the Year
Hives with a winter cover
As winter comes, beekeepers wrap the hives to help keep out the cold.
The bees cluster together inside the hive to keep warm. Now the bees
will survive on their honey supply until the flowers return to make them
busy once again.
Words in the book written in italics are listed here
Arachnids a class of animals including mites, spiders and scorpions that have eight legs as an adult
Bee Yard an area where honey bee colonies are kept
Bumble bee larger and hairier than a honey bee. Only the queen survives the winter. Many species are native to
Colony a group of the same species living and working together
Commercial operating as a business to make money
Enzymes proteins that help cause a chemical reaction
Evaporate to turn liquid into vapour. Bees remove water from nectar to help turn it into honey
Frame lifter a hinged beekeeping tool designed to lift and hold the frames inside a bee hive
Hive tool a multi-purpose beekeeping tool with a flattened end that is useful for prying or scraping equipment
larva(e) the stage of life between egg and pupa. The plural of larva is larvae
Pupate turn into a pupa. This is the stage in complete metamorphosis when a larva changes into an adult insect
Regurgitated brought back up from the stomach
Royal jelly a high protein substance produced in the glands of worker bees
Waggle dance honey bees waggle their abdomen, and run in a circle or figure eight, to show the direction and distance of
a flower source
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