Honeybee Castes

  • Bees are social insects which live in organised communities.
  • They live in colonies usually of between 10,000-60,000 insects.
  • A colony is divided into three different functional castes – queen, workers and drones.
  • The drones are male bees while the queen and the workers are female bees.
  • The largest population of the colony is the worker, normally numbering in the hundreds of thousands in an established colony.
  • Many tasks are performed by workers which are necessary for the colonies survival. These duties occur relative to the bee’s age.
  • Workers constantly remove the waste from the hive and keep it extremely sterile
  • Visually the queen is very similar to the worker.
  • Somewhere around her third day of life, she leaves the colony to mate with as many as 10 or 12 drones.
  • The mating takes place “in flight” and the drones, who leave their sex organs inside of the queen, die shortly afterwards.
  • The newly mated queen returns home and begins laying eggs at a rate of 1500 to 2500 eggs a day for a period of up to 5 years
  • The typical colony has only a few hundred Drones. They are not productive to the colonies survival and are only kept for mating purposes.
  • Drones  are stingless, fat and hairy and nearly twice the size of the workers.

A keen beekeeper needs to learn and recognise these different castes for proper colony management.

Honeybees divide work among themselves.  Young worker bees nurse the colony; do the cleaning, sweep out any foreign material and dead bees.  Older workers go out to forage for food while the drone bees have a sole responsibility of mating the queen. The queen lays eggs and controls the entire colony.

Bee Races found in Kenya

Apis mellifera yemenitica

  • This is the smallest race in Africa.
  • It is commonly found in the northern parts of Kenya and in Sudan.
  • It has the most slender abdomen and the largest yellow abdominal colour band of all African races.
  • It has very short hairs. It withstands and survives drought conditions by excessive migration.

Apis mellifera scutellata

  • The bee is highly aggressive and has great tendency to reproduce and migrate.
  • It is disease resistant.  It is a good honey producer and propoliser.
  • It is found in the plains and its high reproductive rate is attributed to massive flowering, which occurs in the plains just before the rains.
  • It has a short tongue and relatively short wings; the abdomen is slender and yellow with one to two bands. It has very light coloured scutelum.

Apis mellifera littorea

  • The bee inhabits the low lands of the Kenyan Coast.
  • It does not migrate as much as scutellata, but almost as aggressive.
  • It has a tendency to rear brood through out the year due to availability of forage along the coast.
  • It is a small yellow-stripped bee.
  • It has a longer tongue than yemenitica though both belong to lower size scale.
  • It is slender and its hairs are a little longer.

Apis mellifera monticolor

  • This bee is called the mountain bee. Found in the cool forests of Mt Kenya, Kilimanjaro, Aberdares, and Elgon.
  • It inhabits places where the sun is frequently obscured by clouds and mist and ground frosts at night.
  • It is the largest bee in Africa and has tendency to reduce brood rearing at the first sign of forage decline and may not migrate.
  • It is less productive and less vicious.  It is dark and very gentle with a broad abdomen.  It has longer hairs than all other African bees.

Stingless Bees

  • These are non-Apis species of honeybees, known collectively as stingless bees.
  • They have also been kept from ancient times in Australia and Central America

Distribution of Bee Races in Kenya