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Frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

01. What is the A.B.E.L.H.A. Association?

Created in April 2014, The Brazilian Bee Studies Association is a nonprofit civil association with no political or ideological connotation.

02. What is A.B.E.L.H.A. Association’s mission?

A.B.E.L.H.A. Association’s mission is collecting, producing and disseminating science-based information, and the collaboration of a network of partners, aimed at the conservation of bees and other pollinators in Brazil, promoting their role in biodiversity and the harmonious and sustainable coexistence with different agricultural crops.

03. What are A.B.E.L.H.A. Association’s goals?
  • Leading the creation of a network for the conservation of bees and other pollinators, and keeping broad dialogue with all stakeholders, including representatives of the apiculture industry agribusiness, academia, and the society;
  • Collecting and generating science-based information in order to bring them together in a platform of knowledge on bees and other pollinators, and become a source of consultation and agent of awareness for the society;
  • Supporting research and studies on the subject;
  • Working closely with beekeeping and agribusiness regulators and supervisory bodies;
  • Deepening beekeeping knowledge and furthering honey production in Brazil.
04. Who can join the A.B.E.L.H.A. Association?

Anyone who has an interest in any aspect related to bees can join.

05. How do I join the A.B.E.L.H.A. Association?

Those interested in joining the A.B.E.L.H.A. Association should fill out a form and wait for our contact to provide the necessary information.

07. Which subspecies of Apis are found in Brazil?

Brazil has predominance of a hybrid species between A. m. scutellata, of African origin, and European breeds such as A. m. mellifera, A. m. ligustica (widely known as “Italian”) and A. m. carnica. The resulting poly-hybrid, the Africanized bee, has retained many of the characteristics of African subspecies, such as high productivity, high swarming capacity, greater resistance to diseases and pathogens and higher aggressiveness.

08. How have these bees developed?

African bees A. m. scutellata were introduced in Brazil in 1956 for a genetic improvement experience. Due to management failures, swarms abandoned the hives and went live free in nature. After that, crossbreeding of African drones and European queens gave rise to a long and impressive occupation of the American continent. In 1990, Africanized bees arrived in the southern US border, having traveled nearly 8,000 kilometers in 34 years.

09. Are Africanized bees more aggressive?

Yes, but in variable intensity. Some swarms are more aggressive, some less.

10. What are bee castes?

Castes consist of behavioral and morphological differentiation, in most social species, among the females that make up a colony. Hence, there are two castes: Queens, responsible for egg laying, and workers, which perform various tasks, for the growth and maintenance of the colony: construction of brood cells, feeding the brood, food collection, and nest protection.

11. What distinguishes Queens from workers?

Queens are much larger than the workers. A Queen is produced by worker honey bees, whenever necessary, from a young larvae of up to 3 days old. The larva will become a Queen due to a differentiated supply in terms of quantity and quality. In the case of the vast majority of stingless bees, the brood cells where Queens are created receive more food than the workers’ cells.

12. What is a princess?

It is a virgin Queen, which has not been fertilized.

13. How does the fertilization of the queen take place?

A few days after birth, the princess honeybee makes its nuptial flight, when it copulates with several drones. After that, it returns to the hive and may fly a few times more, although this is not usual. Queens of stingless bees, in turn, make only one nuptial flight and mate with only one male.

The semen introduced in the Queens is stored for the rest of their reproductive life in an organ called spermatheca. At the time of laying, the egg that goes down the oviduct is fertilized by a sperm from the spermatheca. The egg fertilized by a sperm will give rise to a female (worker or queen) and those unfertilized result in males.

14. Are drones born from unfertilized eggs?

Yes, the process is called parthenogenesis and also happens to wasps and ants. The individual that is born has no father and is haploid, that is, it has half of its mother’s chromosomes.

15. What is the role of drones?

They serve only for reproduction; as they do not defend the colony – they have no sting, do not collect food or other resources for the colony.

16. How to identify a drone?

In the case of honeybees, drones are larger than the workers and can be mistaken for the Queen by inexperienced beekeepers. However, the body of a drone is wider and abdomen is flatter. Their compound eyes are larger and are concentrated at the top of the head.

17. What is the role of the Queen?

The Queen gives rise to all individuals in the hive by laying fertilized eggs (workers and new queens) and unfertilized ones (drones). In addition, their presence and the pheromones they exude determine the behavior of other bees.

18. How many eggs does the queen lay a day?

At the peak, one queen honey bee may lay two thousand eggs a day.

19. What happens when the queen dies?

The queen may accidentally die during routine handling of the beekeeper. When its performance is considered unsatisfactory, the very bees can kill it.  In both situations, the bees produce a new queen from young worker larvae, in the case of honeybees.

20. What if there is no young larva?

If there is no available larva, or if the queens produced do not survive for any reason, the swarm will no longer be able to produce a new queen. In this case, the workers will begin to lay eggs, and as these are not fertilized, they will only generate drones, which will result in the death of the hive.

21. What is the role of the workers?

They are responsible for working in and out of the hives.  When they are young, they keep the inner tasks of cleaning and maintenance.  After they get older, they begin to devote to collecting nectar, pollen, water and resin.

22. How long does a bee live?

During the harvest, the Africanized worker lives 38 days, on average. In the off season, life expectancy increases, and they can live five months or more in cold weather.

23. How do bees communicate?

Mainly through chemical interactions. These interactions are processed by the production of pheromones, substances secreted by various glands that are perceived by the olfactory receptors present on the antennae.  Pheromones are the primary means of stimulation and coordination of almost all bee activities.  The pheromones produced by the queen, for example, inhibit the construction of royal cells (special cells for the development of future queens) by workers, inhibit the growth of the workers’ ovaries, attract the workers in general and particularly nursing mothers, which feed the queen with Royal jelly.  The pheromones produced by virgin queens attract drones in nuptial flights.

24. What is the waggle dance?

In addition to the pheromones, bees use tactile and sound interactions to communicate. The waggle dance is usually used to indicate a food source. In this dance, the bee waggles through a stretch of the comb and returns to the beginning of this stretch in a semicircle path. After that, it waggles again the same stretch and returns in a new semicircle path to the beginning, this time using the opposite side. By analyzing the layout of the path, the time spent in the dance, the route and the number of executions, the bees will know the quality, distance and direction where the food source is.

25. What do bees eat?

Basically, nectar and honey, as source of carbohydrates, and pollen, as source of proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals, as well as water.

26. Why do bees abandon the hive?

When bees are submitted to a high level of stress or great deprivation, they can abandon the hive to try their luck elsewhere. A common cause for that is excessive heat. Periods of food shortage or extended drought and attacks by pests, such as ants, can also cause bees to abandon the hive.

27. Sometimes the bees kill their queen. Why does that happen?

Several factors can cause the replacement of the queen.  When it no longer produces pheromones in sufficient quantity, the bees may decide to replace it.  Also when their performance is low (poor posture) or its stock of sperm ends (and she can only produce drones).  In some cases, the bees seem to blame the queen for a greater disturbance in the hive, and kill it by “balling”:  they form a ‘ball’ around it to choke it.  Invariably, the purpose seems to always get a better queen than the current one.

28. What distance does a bee travel to collect nectar?

Three kilometers is a distance often mentioned, but bees can fly more than that if needed.  Economically, the closer the flowers are, the better, because bees consume less honey during the collection activity.

29. Can an attack of bees be fatal?

There are hypersensitive people who can die as a result of a single sting, but this is rare. Science estimates that the average lethal dose is around 19 stings per kilo for adults.

Most often the attacks become fatal when, for some reason, the victim cannot escape.  So it is important to exercise caution with children, the handicapped and animals trapped near aggressive swarms.

30. It is true that a honeybee dies after stinging a victim?

Yes, the sting is a structure that looks like a harpoon and gets drawn into the victim. When trying to pull it back, the bee leaves not only the stinger, but also the venom sac and part of its digestive tract. After the attack, the bee dies in hours.

31. Do only workers sting, or can the queen also attack? How about the drones?

Yes, the attacks are always performed by worker bees. In normal conditions, a queen will only sting another queen when disputing the control of the hive. Drones do not attack as they have no stingers.

32. Why do bees attack?

Bees sting when they feel their integrity, or that of their hive, is at risk. A bee will only sting away from the hive when it is molested or when it comes out of a hive that has been attacked.

33. What can disturb bees?

Engine vibrations, strong odors, sudden movements and dark colors can disturb bees. The direct incidence of human carbon dioxide can also be a factor.  Whenever possible, avoid blowing directly on bees.

34. How to react in case of a collective attack?

Try getting into water or running in zigzag through vegetation to lose them or make them quit.  Keep away whenever you spot a swarm and try not to make noise.  If the swarm is close to an inhabited area, get help with the Fire Department or with some experienced beekeeper.

35. What to do if I am stung?

If possible, try to remove the stinger as it is usually left with the venom sac and its removal will prevent that more venom is injected. It is also advisable to clean the injury to remove the deposited alarm pheromones that can cause new stings. Anyway, seeking medical help is always recommended.

36. What is bee venom?

Apitoxin is the active ingredient in bee venom. It is basically formed by a large mix of enzymes, proteins and other small molecules.

37. How does the venom act?

It is injected by bees, with the help of a stinger, in their predators. Some of its substances cause pain, while others cause an allergic reaction of varying intensity, which depends on the size and sensitivity of the victim. Along with the injection of venom, there is the release of the alarm pheromone, which warns other bees about the presence of intruders.

38. Does the venom have therapeutic properties?

There are alternative research and therapies that use apitoxin in the treatment of some types of arthritis, rheumatism and desensitization of patients allergic to bee stings.

39. What is apiculture?

It is the keeping of Apis bees for the production of honey and derivatives, or for pollination services.

40. Is apiculture a dangerous activity?

Apiculture, or beekeeping, offers fewer risks than other professions, when carried out under known safety criteria. The problem arises when someone decides to handle bees without enough knowledge about the activity. Due to the risks, any beekeeper seeker must find a good theoretical and practical course.

41. What is meliponiculture?

It is the rational (sustainable) breeding of native stingless bees.

42. What is the Brazilian potential for meliponiculture?

It is huge, since the country has more than 300 species of native bees, the world’s largest biodiversity. In addition, the breeding of stingless bees was already held in various locations long before the arrival of the Apis bees in the nineteenth century.

43. Is the honey produced by stingless bees a product recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture?

It lacks standardization. The Ministry recognizes the classification “native bee honey”, but has not established identification standards to recognize the types of bees and the characteristics of each type of honey. These are necessary because there are many differences between the several types of honey produced by the various stingless bee species.

44. What are the main types of honey from native bees?

The jataí bee produces the most popular stingless bee honey, which is characterized by a fruity flavor and acidity. Produced in various regions in Brazil, it is considered typical of the Southeast.  Of similar origin, honey produced by the mandaçaia bee stands out for its low acidity and the floral and less sweet flavor.

The types of honey best known in the North Region are the ones produced by the uruçu-cinzenta and uruçu-boa-de-renda bees. The first one is fruity and relatively sweet, while the second one has a very intense floral aroma.

The guaraipo honey, floral and fruity with hints of bitterness, and the bugia, herbaceous and with spicy notes, are typical to the Southern states.

In the Northeast, the highlight is the Jandaira honey, fruity with clove notes. The uruçu honey is also appreciated. In the Midwest, we can find the canudo bee, which produces an extremely acid type of honey with intense citrus notes.

45. Where can I buy honey produced by native bees?

Nowadays one can find honey of native bees in natural food stores in major Brazilian cities.  Through the Internet, you can also find producers who send honey directly to the consumer in any region of the country.

46. What is pollen?

It is the male reproductive cell (gamete) of flowering plants.  It is produced by the anthers and should reach the flower ovaries (from the same or from another plant of the same species), so that fertilization occurs for the subsequent formation of fruits and seeds.  This process is called pollination and it occurs in most cases with the help of external agents such as wind, rain and animals that feed on pollen and nectar, like bees.

47. How do bees help on pollination?

When bees land on a flower to collect nectar or pollen, pollen grains get trapped in their hair. Due the bees’ movement among the flowers, the grains can be brought to the stigma of the same or of another flower. This action is involuntary and pollination is an accidental result.

48. How is pollen stored by bees?

The pollen pellets are stacked in the alveoli above honeybees’ brood area. To the pollen, some glandular secretions and thin honey coverage are added. In the nests of the stingless bees, the pollen pellets are stored in special pots, built with cerumen, where it will undergo a fermentation process.

49. What is apiarian flora?

It is a set of interesting plants for bees. Typically, these plants are classified as nectariferous or polliniferous, but good resin producers can also be included. Other plants that should be included in the apiarian flora are those that do not fit properly into any of the above types, but are usual hosts of insects that produce pseudonectar (honeydew), which is collected by bees.

50. What is the beekeeping calendar?

The calendar determines the blossom cycles of a region per species. In general, many plants bloom at the same time, creating periods of food abundance that can result in harvest for the beekeeper. These periods are called harvests. By contrast, the periods in which the quantity of food available for bees decreases are called off-season.

51. How important is the beekeeping calendar?

The main management actions, such as artificial food, and queen and staff replacement, for instance, are decided from the beekeeping calendar.

52. What is honey?

According to Normative Instruction No. 11 of October 20, 2000, honey is the food product produced by bees from the nectar of flowers or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects that remain on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform, combine with their own specific substances, store and leave to mature in honeycombs.

53. What is nectar?

Nectar is a solution of sugars, particularly sucrose, glucose and fructose, in water, in proportions ranging from 3 to 87%.  It also contains several other complex substances, which determine its aroma, flavor and nutritional characteristics.

54. Is it possible to identify if the honey is pure?

Yes, but only physical-chemical testing can attest to the purity of honey.  No popular test can ensure the product purity.  Buying the product from reliable suppliers is advisable.

Honey containing bees, or exposed to the sun on the roads or in re-used jars or glasses is not reliable for quality.

55. Is there a certification seal of the government?

The federal, state or municipal inspection seal indicates that the production company is duly registered and is monitored and can be contacted in case of questions, information and complaints.

56. What are the most important pieces of information on labels?

First of all, the federal, state or municipal inspection seal should be checked; the name of the producing company, i.e., the Honey and Bee Wax Warehouse, its address and CNPJ. Honey properly stored does not spoil, but the Ministry for Agriculture establishes a two-year shelf-life.

57. How should honey be stored at home?

Ideally, it should be stored in a tightly closed bottle and kept in a cool, dark place.

58. Why does honey crystallize?

Crystallization is a natural process that occurs because honey is a supersaturated solution of sugar, which contains more sugars than what may remain in the solution.  This makes the solution an unstable mixture, and it may occasionally return to stability through crystallization.  This occurs with the loss of water from the glucose which is transformed into glucose monohydrate and takes the form of crystal.

However, not all honey crystallizes.  As the sugar responsible for crystallization is glucose, the relationship between the quantity of water and honey is what determines whether the honey will crystallize or not.

59. How to decrystallize honey? Does this process affect its quality?

Honey can be consumed crystallized without any problems.  If you decide to decrystallize it, just heat it in bain-marie, without leaving the water to boil, because high temperatures affect the taste and nutritional properties of honey.  Never use a microwave oven and watch out for the honey temperature not to exceed 40° C.

6. What bees are bred in Brazil?

The most common bee species, in Brazil and in the world is the Apis mellifera. Stingless bees are also bred in Brazil. They are smaller and less productive, but the honey they produce, liquid and with a slightly acid flavor, is very much appreciated in gastronomy. In addition to social bees, there is a growing interest in creating other bees such as carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) and solitary bees (such as the Centris genus).

60. Why do some types of honey crystallize quickly and others take a long time?

In places where the weather is cold or mild, honey crystallizes more rapidly, while in hot climate areas, the process is much slower.

Other factors are humidity and the bloom. Orange tree honey takes sometimes years to crystallize, whereas eucalyptus honey crystallizes still in the honeycomb in wintertime.

61. What are the therapeutic properties of honey?

There is a lot of controversy regarding this issue.  It can aid in the treatment of ulcers, wounds and burns due to its antimicrobial activity.  It also has positive effects on nutrition, favoring calcium assimilation, food digestion and magnesium retention, as well as appetite increase.  It is slightly laxative, helps in the growth process, increases the level of hemoglobin in the blood, and increases muscle force.

62. Does honey have any contraindications?

Yes. Diabetic patients with high rates of sugar are not advised to have honey without strict medical supervision. Due to studies conducted in the United States, honey is not recommended to children under one year because there is a possibility it may cause infant botulism.

63. Does honey have cosmetic properties?

From ancient Egypt, honey is used for cosmetic purposes. Honey has an immediate hydration, toning and skin softness effect. Honey produces beneficial effects for the hair and scalp. Other bee products, such as propolis extract, also have interesting cosmetic applications.

64. What is organic honey?

It is honey produced according to specific standards that qualify it as a product free from undesirable chemical or biological contamination.

To produce honey that can be considered “organic”, beekeepers must go through a certification process.  This is done by some companies that send inspectors to technically analyze the apiary conditions and suggest adjustments for the conversion of the apiary from conventional into organic.  Once the requirements have been met and after a grace period, the company certifies the apiary.

This certification gives the beekeeper the right to use a special seal on their product, identifying it as organic to consumers.  Among the required criteria is the ban of conventional crop management within a 3-km radius of the apiary.  For the maintenance of the certificate, inspections are often repeated.

65. What are the differences between one type of honey and another?

Honey composition is influenced by the characteristics of soil, climate and nectar source.  These factors can change the color, acidity, aroma, moisture, flavor, viscosity and even the time it takes to crystallize.  With so many variables, honey is comparable to wine by the differences from one harvest to the other.

66. What bees produce the honey types we find in shops?

The type of honey mostly found in the market is from the Africanized Apis mellifera species. These bees are not native to Brazil. They are the result of the crossing of European and African breeds of bees, which were introduced in 1956 in order to increase honey production through selected crossbreeding.

Less frequently, we find other types of honey with different characteristics, such as that of native stingless bees, which belong to the Meliponini tribe. The best known and appreciated type of honey is the one produced by the jataí bee.

67. What is the difference between the honey type produced by the Apis mellifera bee and the one produced by the native jataí bee?

Honey produced by stingless bees tends to have more water in its composition, with a humidity rate around 27%, while the one produced by the Apis bee remains between 17% and 20%.

In addition, jataí honey is very tasty and less rich. Some studies indicate that it has a superior antibacterial action when compared to ordinary honey.

Currently, the honey produced by stingless bees is highly valued for culinary purposes and integrates various recipes in prestigious restaurants.

68. What is propolis?

It is a resinous substance collected by bees in a wide variety of plants, especially in tree shoots. Inside the hive, this substance is manipulated by bees and mixed with a little wax so as to reach the right consistency to seal any cracks and prevent the cold or natural enemies to get in.

69. What are the properties of propolis?

Among its therapeutic and biological properties, it fosters antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, antioxidant and healing activities.

70. What is wax?

Wax is a substance produced by the wax glands of worker bees. To produce it, worker honey bees convert the sugar consumed in the form of honey in a low efficiency process – approximately 8 kg of honey have to be consumed to produce 1 kg of wax. It is used in the construction of the honeycombs and, when mixed with propolis, it becomes an ideal substance for sealing parts of the hive.

71. What is the use of wax for human beings?

Wax has been extensively used in the production of cosmetics and medicines, as well as in specific applications in carpentry and fabric painting.

72. What is royal jelly?

It is a substance produced by young worker honey bees to be fed to the queen bee, containing mandibular and hypopharyngeal secretions of the bees. Compared with the food of the brood, it has a much higher content of valuable substances such as pantothenic acid and biopterin.

73. What is royal jelly used for?

It is a complex food item containing carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Some studies show evidence that royal jelly can be effective as a stimulant or for the treatment of neurological, endocrine, digestive and hematopoietic disorders. It also provides preventive action against premature aging and is effective in cases of anemia. It also has cosmetic properties exploited by the industry, mainly for the production of topical creams.

74. Are bees disappearing from the planet? Are they endangered?

Because of the harsh winters in the Northern Hemisphere, there have always been seasonal variations in the number of bees, with significant reduction of individuals during the coldest season of the year.

Besides this climatic factor, in the course of the twentieth century, many situations were observed in which there were sudden reductions in the number of bee nests.

In general, these events were analyzed in a timely fashion, without being characterized as an irreversible trend.

However, in the last ten years, we have seen a number of instances in countries in Europe and North America that resulted in drastic decreases in the number of hives, especially among those used in a crop pollination migratory system.

This phenomenon has been referred to by the scientific community as CCD – Colony Collapse Disorder.

75. What is CCD?

CCD is a phenomenon that has intrigued the scientific community. It is characterized by the abandonment of the colonies for no apparent reason.

The hive is left behind, even with immature bees and enough food for its residents. In certain situations, only the queen and a few bees that had just been born were found.

No bodies of dead bees are found in the hive or near it and there is no trace of disease or signs of predators. And the empty hive is not looted later on by parasitic insects, as usually happens in cases of abandonment of hives.

76. What are the causes for CCD?

Several groups of scientists have discussed this issue, but no conclusive studies have been presented. The most accepted hypothesis indicates a number of factors.

Like most occurrences were recorded with bees traveling great distances to fulfill a pollination agenda, it is believed that the stress caused by long commutes just weakens the immune system of the bees. This hypothesis was reinforced by the suspicion that mites, parasites that often attack the hives, would be transmitting a virus.

Low genetic diversity is another damaging factor as it makes the whole species susceptible to the same infestations. Ultimately, as these bees live almost exclusively in monocultures, their food becomes limited, with little variety of flowers, which ends up contributing to intensifying their fragility.

The fact that the abandoned hives are not looted, despite the available food, caused crop protection products to enter the list of suspects, as this may be an indication of chemical contamination. However, to date, there are no conclusive studies that clearly indicate a relationship between CCD and defensives.

77. Do pesticides kill bees?

In general, agrochemicals are products designed to eliminate pests or infestations that may be caused by insects. However, there are rules and application protocols that significantly reduce the risk to bees. Unfortunately, malpractice or neglect end up causing accidents that could be avoided.

It should also be noted the need for communication between farmers and beekeepers so that no one be surprised with undue applications or held out of time.

78. Is there CCD in Brazil?

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa), there is no scientific evidence that the phenomenon has happened in Brazil.

Analysis of some suspected cases of CCD indicates there have been accidents caused by malpractice or neglect in the management of bees and in the application of crop protection products.

It is worth to highlight that CCD has affected populations of European Apis bees, and in Brazil, the most common species is the Africanized, which has developed from the crossbreeding of European and African bees. This poly-hybrid presents greater resistance.

In Brazil, there are no cases of such a developed practice of bees created primarily for pollination, which results in constant and long commuting, quoted as one of the possible stress factors that can contribute to cases of CCD.

79. How can I help conserve bees?

You can grow plants with flowers in vases and flowerbeds. Prioritize local species that are already adapted and are easier to conserve. As native bees have many morphological differences, try to grow several flower species to attract a larger diversity of bees. Avoid using crop protection products in your garden, as most of these products are not selective and can kill insects or other animals that are beneficial to the garden. If necessary, prioritize water-based sprays, checking on the toxicity for bees, and follow the user’s instructions correctly.

80. Is it too difficult to keep a colony of stingless bees at home?

No, you just need to understand the basics, which can be found on the Internet, in this manual (http://www.ispn.org.br/arquivos/mel008_31.pdf) prepared by Jerônimo Villas-Bôas. As these bees do not have functional stingers, they are docile and will cause no problems with neighbors or other domestic animals.