There are approximately two hundred and fifty species of bee, although only thirty species form "social orders". One of these is the honey bee. The bee is a member of the vast order known as Hymenoptera, the most intelligent and organised of the insect world.
Honey bees are social insects with a strict caste order with queen, drone and worker, all having a specific function within the community. The bees travel from hive to flowers during good flying weather gathering pollen and nectar, using it as a food source for themselves and for other members of the colony. It is this trafficking from flower to flower that is so beneficial as it pollinates many flowers and trees.
There is only one queen bee per hive during most of the year. In appearance she is slightly longer in the body than the worker but has noticeably smaller wings and she possesses a sting. The queen's purpose is solely laying eggs in the cells made by her workers and never leaves the hive in search of pollen and nectar. She is fed food, called bee-milk or chyle by nurse bees.
Within the honey bee's strict caste order the queen is at the highest level and is shown a great deal of respect by the worker bees. They follow her wherever she goes allowing her clear space to walk in the congested hive.
Drones are fertile males. They have much the same appearance as worker bees but are slightly longer, and do not have the ability to sting. They, like the queen, do not collect pollen and nectar and take no part in the production of honey or construction of cells. In fact after the 'swarming' period is over, they die or are put to death and no more are allowed to develop until the following spring.
Workers are slender and small occurring in great numbers in the bee colony. They are the labourers of the bee world, undertaking many duties in the hive, including collecting pollen and nectar, constructing cells, tending the queen, guarding the hive and nursing the many eggs and grubs (pupae). They are not normally aggressive but possess the ability to sting.
Swarming Bees swarm together in late spring and early summer usually around the months of May and June in order to produce new colonies. Bees swarm when there is competition in the hive from a new queen produced in the cells by the workers feeding ordinary worker pupae on a secretion called hypopharyngeal, commonly known as Royal Jelly.
This prolonged feeding allows the common worker pupae to emerge as a Virgin Queen, who is a direct threat to the existing breeding queen, disrupting the strict social order. When this occurs a swarm of bees leaves its present colony in search of a new location. When they find a suitable site they form a tight mass of bees with the queen guarded in the centre. It is this massive cohesion of bees that many people are alarmed by, seeing them clinging to bushes, trees, fences etc.
It is 'Best Practice' not to kill Honey Bees. More information, including local and approved registered beekeepers who can collect the bees, can be found on The British Beekeepers Association website.