The Honey Bee 

 

I would like to introduce you to my dear friend the honey bee! Many of us have a love-hate relationship with this insect: We fear its sting, but we love its honey! In reality, there is nothing to fear and everything to love! She is a very focused and hard worker and has no desire to hurt anyone. The sting is only used in self-defense or defense of the hive. In fact, she has no desire for conflict (which would likely cost her her life). She would much prefer to be about the business of gathering nectar and pollen.

 

Of 10,000 types of bees in the world, only four produce honey! The little honey bee, the eastern honey bee, the giant honey bee, and the western honey bee are the four varieties from which we get all our honey!

 

Some Fun Facts!

 

Hive: The hive is the hub of the honey bees' world. In the wild or in domestication, the hive can consist of anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees. They are divided into three distinct groups: queens, drones, and workers.

 

Queens: The hive will have only one queen. She can lay anywhere from 1500 to 2000 eggs per day and will live from 2 to 8 years. She is larger than the rest of the bees and has a stinger without barbs that can be used repeatedly.

 

If there is more than one queen in the hive, the two queens may fight to the death, or one of the queens may leave (or "swarm" from) the nest with other workers to establish a new colony!

 

Drones: Drones are males, and they have no stingers. Their sole function is to mate with the queen, and they only make up a small part of the hive population. They have a life expectancy of about 8 weeks; and at the end of the season, they are driven from the hive to conserve food for the winter.

 

Workers: Workers make up the majority of the hive's bees. They are all females that cannot have babies. The young workers tend the hive and are called house bees. They build the comb and take care of babies, the queen, and the drones. They are responsible for temperature regulation and for defense of the hive. The older workers are called field bees, and their primary responsiblities are the gathering of nectar, pollen, and water. Workers born in the spring and early summer live for about six weeks, while workers born later in the summer may live until the following spring. Workers have barbed stingers which can only be used once--when it is used, it is pulled from the bee, and the bee will die as a result.

 

The Comb: The comb is the center of the hive and is constructed of bees' wax. The wax is produced from glands on the abdomens of the workers. The comb is formed into multiple six sided cells. The cells of the comb have two purposes: First, they are used as incubators for young bees (this area is called the brood comb), kind of like little cradles. Secondly, they are used for storing honey and pollen--the yummiest pantry in the world!

 

Below, you can see a picture of the comb. Look at the symmetry and beautiful golden honey!

 Pollination: Pollination is one of the most important services my little friends provide. Pollen sticks to the field bees as they gather nectar moving from flower to flower. Some of the pollen taken from one flower rubs off on the next flower the bee lands on, fertilizing that bloom and helping with improved fruit production. In the United States alone, 1/4 of the pollination required for fruit production is accomplished by bees! They say this is worth about 10 billion dollars to our country!

 

While the workers are out gathering nectar, they will stop and clean the pollen from their bodies and store it in pollen baskets on the back of their legs! When they go back to the hive, this pollen is stored in the comb and is used for food for the hive in addition to the honey.

 

If you scroll down, you can see a great picture of a bee and her bulging pollen sacks at the back of her rear legs.

 Honey: Now on to what I'm sure you've been waiting for! How do the bees make honey!? How do our marvelous little friends do it?

 

Well, they start with the nectar that they gather from flowers. The nectar is 80% water and complex sugars. The nectar comes from all sorts of flowers--indian paint brush, dandelions, fruit tree blossoms, clover and more!

 

They insert their long, straw-like tongue into the flower, suck the nectar out, and store it in a special stomach called a "honey stomach". (Bees actually have two stomachs, one just for storing nectar.) Filling the honey stomach is a bunch of work! This can require visits to a lot of flowers--as few as 100 and as many as 1500! When their honey stomach is full, it can weigh almost as much as the bee!

 

At the hive, house bees suck the nectar from the field bees' stomachs and chew the nectar for about a half of an hour. During this time, enzymes in the bees' spit break the complex sugars down into simple sugars, making the honey more digestible for the bees and more resistant to disease and bacteria while in storage. The honey is then deposited in the honey comb where water evaporates from it, causing it to thicken. This process is made to go faster as the bees fan the honey with their wings. Once the honey becomes thick enough, the comb cell is sealed with wax and the honey is stored until the bees need to eat it. In one year a single colony can eat between 120 and 200 pounds of honey!

 

Here (below) is a great picture of a bee using its tongue to suck nectar from a flower.

 After reading about my friend, I hope that you have come to be as amazed by her and love her as much as I do! Our world would just not be the same without her!

 

If you're interested in seeing the world through the eyes of a bee, you can access the following link:

 

http://andygiger.com/science/beye/beyegallery.html

 

Thanks for visiting! See you next week at Who Loves Bugs!