Study of Honey Bees

Human beekeeping and understanding of ecology and biology has been very limited for almost a thousand years. Early observers believed that the queen bee was a male and they had no idea of how bees reproduced.

During the 18th century, European natural philosophers started scientific studies of bee colonies. Among the pioneer scientists were Swammerdam, Charles Bonnet, Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur, and the blind Swiss scientist Francois Huber. Reaumur and Swammerdam were among the first to utilise microscopes and to perform dissection to examine the internal structure of bees. Reaumur was also the first to develop a concrete observation to monitor the hive’s activities. He observed that the queen bee laid eggs in open cells, though he had no idea on how a queen bee was fertilised.

Huber was the first to show through observation and experiment that a queen bee is fertilised by drones outside and far from the hive. Huber followed Reaumur’s design and constructed a glass walled observation hive and sectional beehives, which may possibly be opened to examine individual wax combs. Through this, the observation of the hive’s activities was improved. Huber worked with his secretary, Francois Burnens, to conduct daily observations and experiments, and to record accurate notes for a period of more than 20 years. Huber confirmed that mating occurs outside the hive and that queens are fertilised by many male drones. They dissected bees under a microscope and described the ovaries and sperm store, or spermatheca of queens, and penis of male drones.

Huber is considered as ‘the father of modern bee science.’ All of his findings were documented in his ‘Nouvelles Observations sur Les Abeilles.’