The Amazing Honey Bee

Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left.” Why? Because, by pollinating, the honey bee helps to supply us with about one third of all we eat. During 2006, for mysterious reasons, billions of honey bees began to vanish into thin air. I hope that Einstein’s calculation is incorrect. If not, we have only a few years left.

In order for us to possibly understand what may be happening, we should first study the bee and its highly structured group called a colony. We will find that the honey bee is intelligent, mysterious, and magical.

In modern times, bees are given a wooden home called a hive. As many as 50,000 bees will occupy it as a colony. Within the home, they build several structures from wax, the honeycombs. Today the beekeeper provides sheets of wax. In primitive time, nature had to be the source. Each honeycomb has several thousand cells; some are for babies, but most are for the storage of honey.

The central attraction is the “Queen Bee”. She is actually produced. One regular bee is chosen; she is then groomed and nourished with a mixture of pollen and nectar called “royal jelly”. She grows to be twice the size of the other bees and develops reproductive organs. The Queen may live up to five years while others live only a few weeks. Within the hive there are approximately 400 male bees (drones) who mate with the Queen who lays approximately 2000 eggs per day.

The bee world is largely a female world. There are guard bees stationed outside the hive; the numerous forager bees; worker bees to build honeycombs and to make honey. Then there is the Queen, nurse bees to help with babies; and bees of the Queen’s court.

The primary function of the colony is to produce honey for their food. The forager bee starts this process with collections of nectar from flowers. The forager zips from flower to flower, up to four miles from home. She can touch 10,000 flowers per day; she stores the nectar in a special stomach (crop). When full, they make a beeline back to the hive. In her lifetime of a few weeks, her collections make only one teaspoon of honey each.

It is necessary for bees to have ample honey at all times. The beekeeper layers the hive, harvesting the top layer, leaving the second. Bees do not hibernate but “winter-over” in the winter time, so they must have a good supply in the hive.

Is the honey bee intelligent? Prior to winter, if the ladies feel that their supply of food may run short, they kick out some of the drones to die. These guys are rather useless in the winter time.

“The Dance of the Bee” is a well-known subject in the literary world. A returning bee has a special way of telling others of important discoveries like a new location of flowers. In the circle dance she circles in one direction, turns around and circles in the other direction, thus telling the others to look for new flowers within 300 feet of the hive. In the waggle dance tells that the flowers are more than 300 feet out. The direction in which she dances while wagging her tail tells where the flowers are in relation to the sun. The number of wags per 15 seconds tells how far away the flowers are.

David T. Daniels
Southbury, CT ©2012

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