The Hardworking Honey Bee: Apis mellifera

I am getting very short of time as all 16 bees have to be in the post today along with a small book, luckily my painting is slightly ahead of my posting. I was so caught up in discovering the “other bees” that I almost forgot to include a Honey Bee in this set.

The trouble with writing about the Honey Bee is where to start and when to finish. Should it be about their incredibly organised society, their complicated navigation systems, the delightful waggle dance, or their gift to us of delicious honey.. and that’s without even considering honey bee lore, superstition and symbolism. All that will have to wait for next year.

Hmmm.. I am afraid that this bee thing will not come to an end at Christmas, as I now have a couple more projects to do and will be getting back to my bee books, cards and more paintings.

But I may take a short break.. unlike the Florida Honey Bees who I saw only yesterday, busy in the Rose Garden at Leu. With flowers still abundant and temperatures mild they carry on regardless. Northern bees are not so lucky and may have to overwinter in some very harsh conditions.  Today I am reading of heavy snow in the UK and thinking about friends, family and bees.

Winter Snuggling for the Honey Bee.

Snowed up, frozen conditions are not good for bees. Apart from hoping for a warm break, warm enough for the bees to leave the hive to attend their own call of nature, there is the problem of keeping warm.
Hives can be wrapped and insulated but the bees have to work hard at keeping warm.
Here is a seasonal passage from “Winter for the Bee-Keeper”  a chapter from Stephens Buchman’s excellent “Letters from the Hive”.

“Throughout the long cold months, the bees congregate in what is called the winter cluster, a tight sphere of bee bodies forty thousand strong usually located near their stored cache of honey. They are literally huddling to keep warm. Its called thermoregulation, and the bees are expert at it.
By eating honey then shivering their flight muscles without moving their wings they can raise their internal body temperature significantly.
Revving their mini engines keeps not only individual bees warm but their neighbors as well. The temperature will not dip below 68 degrees F within the cluster. When bees in the outermost layers start feeling chilly they push their way deep into the centre, the warmest part of the cluster. Wouldn’t you?”

 beehive in snow

A snowy UK beehive from the Derbyshire Daisybank Apiaries, in the UK here.
I know I have some beekeepers amongst my readers, I wonder how you are doing this winter? I am off to the post office now… all we have here is heavy rain…


Bee No16: the Honey Bee: Apis mellifera

honey bee

Watercolour on Arches HP 300, image size 3.5 inches.

Joe’s Bees

Yesterday we had the pleasure of a brief visit with Joe who is a local beekeeper and who runs Dansk Farms here in Orlando.

For the last few weeks I have been doing some background research into honey bees and wanted a bee to draw. I returned with 9 honey bees and one beautiful irridescent orchid bee which Joe had found for me, all carefully packed for the short trip in their own neat little crate. It’s actually a queen bee transporter, roomy enough for a diminutive royal and normally well equipped with candy.

My little bees were not, I hasten to add, alive.


I had met Joe a couple of weeks ago at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market, where he sells not only the 100% pure honey, but bees wax, and lovely honey based bath and body products.
It was completely fascinating to see the workings of one of the hives which at 9.00 am was busy. Joe’s particular bees are gentle and goodnatured, a cross between Buckfasts and Carniolans and so a mixture of dark and lighter coloured bees.

Their joint characteristics make them good all round bees, docile, disease resistant, good producers and good housekeepers. (The story of Brother Adam and the Buckfast bee needs another dedicated post). There is so much to know and admire about bees and I am just at the beginning.

joes hives      frame 1

I had not realised that the honey bee was not a native species in the USA. The bees that Joe keeps, as with most of honey bees in the USA, are descended from the European Honey bee, Apis Mellifera.

Bees were probably introduced into Florida by the Spanish but the first documented arrival of bees from Europe is from a letter dated December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia. It was a motley cargo.

Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you…” (Goodwin 1956; Kingsbury 1906:532).

The Discovery (60 tons, Thomas Jones, captain, and twenty persons) left England November 1621 and arrived in Virginia March 1622. from “Honey Bees Across America” By Brenda Kellar

And the name ..

The genus Apis is Latin for “bee”, and mellifera comes from Latin melli- “honey” and ferre “to bear” — hence the scientific name means “honey-bearing bee”. The name was coined in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus who, realizing that the bees do not bear honey, but nectar, tried later to correct it to Apis mellifica (“honey-making bee”) in a subsequent publication. However, according to the rules of synonymy in zoological nomenclature, the older name has precedence. Wikipedia

I have never looked in such detail at a honey bee before. These little bees are a variety of colours and delightfully hairy, even the eyes are hairy. I am sad they are dead but the practicalities of trying to draw live bees in such detail would try the patience of even Joe’s docile bees.

I am hoping to make a good detailed painting but before I do I need to understand a bit more about their anatomy. For now, some studies. My models and sketchpad

.bee sketchessms     sketch blog