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Honey bees, are what I believe to be a very important insect to the plant and animal kingdoms, definitely including humans. Around 1/3 of the food Americans eat is pollinated by honey bees. Keep reading to dive into almost everything related to honey bees and amaze your friends with a compendium of knowledge at your fingertips (aka the internet).
Are you interested in learning about the different parts of a honey bee? Or maybe you want to know what type of flowers will be most beneficial to your little buzzing friend? It’s all laid out down below.
What is a Honey Bee?
Apis mellifera is a flying insect that lives on pollen and nectar. Being native to Eurasia but thanks to humans, they have found their way to every continent in the world except Antarctica.
Honey Bees are a vital part of the United States agricultural program. More than 100 crops are pollinated by bees which is vital for their growth. Some plants that benefit from bee pollination are apple trees, blueberry, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber to name a few.
Honey bees are a close relative to wasps and ants. They have a long straw-like tongue called a proboscis, two wings, two antennae, and 3 major body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen). There are 3 types of honey bees in a colony, and they all differ in looks and purpose.
Busy as a Bee, but Which One?
While looking at the 3 types of bees we will discuss: the difference in appearance and behavior, how the caste system works in the colony, and some issues that can arise because of some rebellious reproduction.
There is one Queen Bee per colony. She is the only fertile member of the colony and will lay around 1,500 eggs a day. The Queen Bee is selected at the larvae stage by a drone and fed a special diet of “royal jelly”. Royal Jelly is a substance that is produced in the head of nurse bees (worker bees who take care of larvae). Queen Bees can live up to 7 years which is almost 60 times longer than a worker bee.
Drone Bee – Male – Hundreds per colony
Worker Bee – Female – Thousands per colony
Queen Bee – Female – One per colony
The Queen emits the “Queen mandibular pheromone” (QMP). It provides a sense of belonging to the Queen for the entire colony. Due to its effects on social behavior, maintenance of the hive, swarming & mating behavior, and the inhibition of ovary development in worker bees it is considered one of the most important pheromones in the hive.
The QMP acts as a sex pheromone and attracts drone bees to an unmated queen. Newly hatched Queens produce very little QMP while just 6 days after this she will be producing enough to attract mating drone bees. A Queen that is laying eggs will produce twice as much as that.
The lack of QMP in a colony can be an invitation to robber bees. Robber bees will arrive and take what they want while leaving a path of destruction in their wake.
Soon after birth the Queen will go out and enjoy a cavalier love life for two days or so. In this time period she will mate with 15 or more drones before retiring to the hive to lay eggs. The Queen will not leave the hive again unless the colony swarms.
Spotting the Queen Bee can be difficult while looking in a colony of bees however, she can be identified by the long abdomen and small wings. It will be one the larger if not one of the largest bees in the entire colony.
Health Benefits of Royal Jelly
- Contains a variety of nutrients
- May Provide Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Effects
- May Reduce Heart Disease Risk by Impacting Cholesterol Levels
- May Aid Wound Healing and Skin Repair
- Specific Proteins May Lower Blood Pressure
- Regulates Blood Sugar by Reducing Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
- Antioxidant Properties May Support Healthy Brain Function
- May Increase Tear Secretion And Treat Chronic Dry Eyes
- May Provide Anti-Aging Effects Through Various Means
- May Support a Healthy Immune System
- Reduces Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
- May Treat Certain Symptoms of Menopause
Royal jelly contains water, carbs, protein, fat, B vitamins, and trace minerals. Its unique proteins and fatty acids may be the reason for their potential health benefits. More studies are required before confirming the health effects royal jelly may have.
More than likely you have seen a worker bee as they do most of the work for the hive. From birth till death they have a “job”. Over the course of their short life of 45 days, the worker bee will be assigned a variety of tasks from feeding the larvae to collecting pollen for the colony. All worker bees are female and would normally reproduce, but thanks to the Queen Mandibular Pheromone (QMP) that ability is inhibited. The QMP is essential to hive function as it elicits behavioral changes in remaining workers, preventing the rearing of new queens, and preventing ovary development.
Trouble in the hive
While the worker bee does a majority of the work and heavy lifting in the colony she can also cause a pretty big problem.
In one simple de script word REBELLION. Rebel worker bees have the capability to produce their own offspring. This essentially adds another queen to the mix, as the offspring laid by the rebel will be loyal to her and her offspring. Normally the Queen can control these rebels through the use of the QMP and hive behavior, by inhibiting the reproduction and having the rebel eggs removed.
According to a study conducted in 2017 Rebel worker bees can occur in Queen right and Queen less colonies. If rebel workers are left uncontrolled the efficiency of the hive is sure to suffer significantly.
The life of a worker bee
The first two weeks after birth the worker bee will be considered a house bee. This includes performing all sorts of tasks around the hive. After this period she will take an orientation flight and become a forager. The worker bee will forage for the rest of her days.
The worker bee is where the phrase “As busy as a bee” had to come from. These hard-working insects do just about everything for the hive. Even when it’s time to move, they help the colony out by scouting out potential hive locations. When a honey bee colony is moving to a new location the event is called swarming.
Prepare to SWARM!!
The colony will prepare to swarm a few days prior, the Queen is too large to fly so the workers will put her on a diet before swarming. Egg production is little to non-existent. Once the colony swarms, they will gather close to the original hive while the scouts fly out and locate a suitable location for a new hive. The quality of the location can be indicated by how excited the bees dance upon returning. Later on, we will explore some different bee dances and what they mean.
Worker Bee Tasks
- Secrete beeswax for use in the hive
- Forage for all nectar and pollen brought to the hive
- Process said pollen and nectar
- Produce royal jelly to create another Queen if necessary
- Caretaker of Larvae and Queen
- Removes dead bees and debris from the hive
- Defends the hive
- Maintains the temperature of the hive through heating, cooling, or ventilation
Beeswax is mainly used in the hive to build honeycombs in which they store larvae, honey, and pollen. It’s also used in a large number of industries, including making candles to preserving food, or as an additive to make-up.
Did you know?
In order for worker bees to produce 1 pound of beeswax they would need to consume 6-10 lbs. of honey.
Beeswax is produced from empty honeycomb which is melted and then strained to remove any impurities. After which it is poured into molds to solidify.
Beeswax candles pull toxins and do not produce soot when burned. They also burn longer than regular candles.
Beeswax is a great natural alternative to a lot of common everyday use items. Lip balm, lotion bars, or crayons are a great place to give beeswax a go.
How do they make the good stuff?
No matter where you learned it, either from a small bear with a big belly or just from tasting it the flavor of honey is mouthwatering, sweet, and delicious. Honey has been used by human civilizations for thousands of years. High qaulity honey has been know to contain high amounts of antioxidants, cure a child’s sore throat, and even promote burn & wound healing.
Honey is made from nectar collected by a bee and stored in their honey belly. Which is then transported to the hive where the foraging bees regurgitate the nectar and pass it along to other worker bees. Though additional regurgitation and flapping their wings the moisture content of the nectar is lowered from around 70% to 25%. At this point the liquid will become vicious and actual honey.
Processed nectar aka honey is stored in honeycombs for later use. The bees will stockpile the honey for a wide variety of things, mainly of which is to last through the winter. Bees are required to burn tremendous amounts of calories keeping the hive and Queen warm. They do this by beating their wings rapidly to create heat, much in the same way you would shiver to keep warm.
An enzyme located in honey called glucose oxidase breaks glucose down into hydrogen peroxide, after which it is fed to the larvae and aids as a germ deterrent.
People have been harvesting and using honey for over 6000 years.
Honey that was over 3000 years old was discovered in an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb and was still edible.
The flavor of the honey can be changed by the type of flowers the bees used to produce it. Honey created using Orange Blossom nectar will have a slight orange taste.
Objects immersed in honey have been preserved for centuries. The essential factor being that it is an air tight container.
Buy from and support a local beekeeper
The health benefits you get by buying from a local beekeeper are great as well. The honey and other products from the hive can help acclimate your body to the allergens that are present in your area. (Currently lacking scientific backing, however, widely spread belief and practice.)
Southwest Iowa Beekeepers
3 Bee Farms
Bountiful Blossoms Bee Company
Those of you not located in SW Iowa check check for beekeepers in your area to see what products they have to offer.
If you are a local beekeeper in Southwest Iowa and would like your information located here contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A drone bees function is to mate with Queens from other colonies. Drones are easily identifiable with large eyes and big round bodies.
Africanized Honey Bees
Africanized Honey Bees are a hybridized version of African Bees and European Honey Bees. African Bees were initially brought to South America in the 1950s to attempt to breed a species of bee that would be able to withstand warmer climates. Due to an accidental swarm of the African Bees, the breeding attempt was not completed.
AHBs are less docile than their European counterparts, they will mercilessly defend their nest with 100s of bees and take a lot fewer stimuli to agitate. This could be due to honey stealing that would occur in Africa or it could be due to climatic and seasonal struggles.
The rapid expansion of the Africanized Honey Bee in South America Earned it the tittle of most invasive species. In one day it could travel from 200-300 miles.
Currently in the US AHBs are as far north as Oklahoma. It is believed they struggle to move further north because of the temperature.
I had to have at least one bee pun. Sorry not sorry.
Honey bees have a few dances to take note of the waggle, the tremble, and grooming. Each of which is a different communication to other bees around. They can even be as specific as to how far it is to the foraging grounds.
While the waggle dance is normally used for foraging locations of 40km or greater from the hive it is a term used to describe the round dance as well. Due to the fact, the round dance can contain a waggle in the middle just as the waggle dance would.
The waggle dance is performed by the worker bee by moving in a small figure-eight pattern. A waggle run is performed first followed by a turn to the right to go back to the starting point and repeat only turning to the left this time. This is continued in this pattern until the message is relayed.
Defending the Hive
Why you would get stung.
- Messing with a hive.
- Squishing a bee near the hive.
- Acting too threatening around the hive.
Why you probably wont get stung.
- A bee is foraging away from the hive
- You see a swarm of bees, remember they don’t have much to defend.
- If a bee happens to land on your colorful shirt.
If you are stung by a honey bee, move away from the hive and attempt to get the stinger out. Wash the area with soap and water. Applying a cold compress may help reduce swelling.
Planting a Bee Garden
A great way to help bees is to plant a bee garden, it can be a few flowers in a window sill, a planned out landscape garden, or an entire field planted with nectar and pollen-producing flowers.
One of the main things to think of when planting this garden is that the bees will need a source of food all year long, be sure to sow a variety of seeds that bloom from spring to fall. There are plenty of pre-filled seed packs available however, it can be fun to put together your own set.
Get ready to plant your bee garden today!
This bee friendly seed pack offered at True Leaf Market offers 19 varieties of flowers. Including, asters, primrose, echinacea, cosmos, coneflower, California Poppy, and Baby Blue Eyes.
- Plant native flowers
- Select single flower tops
- Plan for blooms season-round
- Skip the highly hybridized plants
- Build homes for solitary bees
- Only use natural pesticides and fertilizers
- Create a “bee bath”
To End it for now,
Honey Bees are amazing insects. They produce some of the sweetest and most delicious substance on the planet, they assist with a large part of the United States pollination.
The amount of knowledge I have gained through typing this “blog post” is unreal and I am looking forward to doing it again to expand on my knowledge of things. This article was intended to be an everything about honey bees however, the amount of knowledge that is out there in regards to bees is tremendous and it would take a lifetime of dedication to learn and relay it all. If you have any questions, issues, or corrections about the article please feel free to reach out. If you have a beekeeping question please reach out to a local beekeeper and make a new friend in your region with the same interests as you!
Be a part of the larger whole, the force that brings forth all that is sweet and delightful.“The Spirit Animal Oracle” by Colette Baron-Reid