As a qualified Beekeeper, I combined my hobbies and over the years accumulated an interesting selection of stamps which I present here. It is not intended as a Science lesson but I will explain the various aspects of Bees and Beekeeping to describe what the stamps may be depicting.
British bees are named scientifically as Apis Mellifera
, Honey Bees play a vital role in nature, for millions of years they have been crucial to the pollination of plants, trees, flowers and crops, and for many thousands of years their honey crop has been valued by man as a valuable source of food. All Bees and Wasps are related, and many hundreds of different varieties are to be found Worldwide, most of the Bees in the UK are of Italian stock, as the English Black died out from disease in 1901, though was a close relative of the French Black.
For many years Bee colonies were raided by Man from woods and forests, until a method was devised to "catch" a colony's swarm and farm the Bees in upturned baskets or "skeps", though unfortunately the Bees were destroyed when the honey was harvested. The invention of the Moveable Frame Hive in the 19th Century revolutionised Beekeeping, allowing some of the Honey crop to be removed without damaging the colony, and extending their productive life for much longer. The most common "National' Hive consists of a Floor, a Brood Box containing ten foundation frames for the Bees to build their brood cells on, a Queen Excluder sheet, and a smaller Super containing ten frames to build their Honey cells on, a Crown board and a roof. The metal Excluder sheet stops the Queen laying in the upper honey supers. Depending on the stength of the colony, up to three or more supers can be added.
Honey Bees are a matriarch society consisting of mainly females, Drones exist to inseminate a new Queen if the old Queen stops laying or is killed, a few Queen cells are created by the workers, in various stages of growth, and the larvae fed with "Royal Jelly" only, the ordinary larvae in the brood chamber cells are fed with ordinary Brood Food or "Bee Milk" produced by nurse bees. Should the Queen die, the first Pupa to emerge will destroy the other Queen Cells and proceed to mate with a number of Drones many feet in the air above the Hive, once stored with enough semen to last 5 years will continue to lay eggs and the Hive will continue as normal.
During Summer a typical Hive will contain 20,000 to 40,000 bees, in Winter many of the old bees die off, the Drones are excluded, and the population drops to 10,000 including the Queen, they do not hibernate, they remain inside the hive in a cluster and their Honey store will see them through until early Summer, but on a warm sunny day during Winter or Spring you may see one or two out flying around.
Bumble Bees are a different species, live in small fist-sized nests in the undergrowth and hibernate during Winter along with Wasp Queens, who abandon their nest and whose workers die off at the end of the Summer.
Honey Bees communicate with each other by chemical pheremones or "Bee Dance" movements indicating a good source of pollen to their fellow workers.
A pollen collector will fly within a three to five mile radius of the hive, and use sohisticated navigation techniques to find their way back. The Bees use pollen for food, and convert this into Honey for storage. Urban areas are ideal for Bees as they are close to an abundant variety of Trees and flowering plants.
The bees go through four development stages : Egg, Larva, Pupa, Bee. The Queen lays 2,000 eggs a day during the height of the brood season, and attaches each egg to the bottom of the cell, the egg is fertilized to produce a worker bee, the unfertilized eggs emerge as Drones, during her busy life she is fed by worker bees. The egg hatches and the larva is fed Bee Milk by the young Nurse bees, when big enough the larva pupates, and eventually the bee emerges, ready to take on its role as Nurse Bee then Pollen-collecting worker and Hive defender.
Bees have a natural fear of Bears, and will tolerate humans if handled very carefully. If the bees sense an attack on their Colony the first stinging bees will send off alarm Pheremones, bringing out many reinforcements to see off the invader, though a stinging bee will die after stinging, and will leave the sting behind which will continue to pump venom into its victim, the sting should always be scraped
out, not pulled.
Today Bee pollination is still the most effective way for Market Gardeners to polinate their trees and crops, and there would be a major food shortage if the Honey bees died out, not to mention a natural disaster for all flowering plants. Swarmimg is a natural instinct for Bees when the Queen feels they have outgrown the Hive - Scouts will be out looking for a new home and report back, many of the Bees when given the signal from the Queen will swarm out of the Hive to their new destination, sometimes even if one hasn't been found, and follow the Queen into the new "Hive" or wherever, leaving the old Hive with enough workers and Queen cells to start again.