Honey Bees, and Why They’re Essential
Bees are a common insect. Many people are allergic, and many more are simply afraid of bees. However, bees play a vital role in our ecosystem. Unfortunately, there are in danger because of loss of habitat and pesticide use.
At Sweetbriar Rose, we have been beekeeping for years. We currently have six individual honey bee hives. Bees are incredibly fascinating creatures, and we sincerely believe everyone should take steps to save them.
However, if you don’t know much about bees in general, or honey bees specifically, you won’t understand the urgency in trying to save them. Here is some excellent information on these useful creatures, and why honey bees need to be protected.
All About Honey Bees
Honey bees are well-known, but only make up a small percentage of bee species. They are the only group of bees in the Apis genus. They produce and store honey, which is liquefied sugar. They also build nests or hives with wax that is secreted from worker bees.
Honey bees are 15 mm long. Typically, their bodies are oval-shaped and banded with varying shades of gold, brown, and black. The banded colors are intended to help the bee survive by warning off predators.
Honey bees bodies are segmented with a stinger, legs, antenna, three segments of thorax, and six segments of abdomen. On the head, there are eyes, antennae, and a mandible, or jaw. The thorax areas are for the wings, legs, and control of movement. Finally, the abdomen includes the reproductive organs and stinger.
If a bee is in the wild, the hive will typically be built in a hole of a tree or on rock crevices. In captivity, a beekeeper will provide boxes with removable frames for the bees to build on. Worker bees excrete wax from a special gland. A worker bee will excrete the wax, chew on it to soften it, then mold the wax into cells.
A hive is built to store food, which is honey, and for protection during cold months. Honey bees do not hibernate like most other bee species. Honey bees will huddle in their hive for warmth and eat stored food. If you have ever wondered why do bees make honey, it is their food.
In the Colony
Honey bees are social, and colonies can grow quite large. Each colony has three different types of bees. There is a single queen, male drones, and infertile female workers. While there is only one queen that can lay eggs, there can be thousands of workers and drones.
The queen honey bee will mate with the male drones. The queen will lay the eggs in the cells of wax in the nest. A single queen can lay as many as 2,000 eggs a day. After the eggs hatch, adult workers take care of the larvae by feeding them pollen and honey for three weeks. The matured bee will chew out of the sealed wax cell.
A male bee, or drone, only exists to mate with the queen honey bees. A drone will die soon after the mating process. Drones are the minority in the colony.
Female worker bees are infertile but are still responsible for many essential jobs in the hive. Younger worker bees tend to the larvae. As they mature, worker bees will begin to store food collected by foraging worker bees. The strongest adult worker bees forage for food and bring it back to the hive.
In the World
Honey bees are found the world over. Because they are so widespread, it is hard to attribute typical behavior to them all. Many people wonder, do honey bees sting? The answer is typically no. Most species of honey bees are considered docile. Africanized honey bees are aggressive and are known to chase humans. However, any honey bee, when thoroughly provoked, can attack and sting a human.
It is most common to see honey bees in the late spring and summer when a new queen will leave a colony with thousands of workers to build a new hive. Also, because honey bees rely on pollen and nectar, late spring is the best time to collect their food.
Honey bees have been around for millions of years. For their entire existence, bees have pollinated flowers, so flowers depend on bees for survival. Bees help plants reproduce by transferring pollen, which is the sperm cells of plants, from plant to plant. Pollination is required for the survival of the plant.
Humans reap the benefit of this pollination. Honey bees pollinate many, if not most, of the plants we eat daily. Outside of transferring pollen from one plant to another, bees collect nectar from each plant. Upon returning to their hive, bees make honey from this nectar.
Honey Bee Dance
If you have ever paid attention to honey bees, they often appear to be dancing. These movements serve a purpose; it is how worker bees communicate with each other. The honey bee dance is essential to the survival of each colony.
After a honey bee finds a new food source, she will tell the other worker bees where to find it through specific movements in this dance. A honey bee will either do a round dance or a waggle dance.
The round dance is a circular dance and tells the other worker bees the new food source is within 50 meters of the hive. The waggle dance looks more like a figure eight and reveals the location of the source is farther away. The duration of the dance gives the exact distance.
The dance also informs other workers bees of the direction of the food source by referencing the sun’s position. A worker bee will rotate her body to tell the others which direction they should go from the hive in relation to the sun.
These intricate and fascinating dances are vital to the survival of a colony. There is much we still don’t know about honey bees, though. If you see bees, you should never attempt to interact with them. If there is a nest near your home, call a professional to help. Never kill bees.
At Sweetbriar Rose
At Sweetbriar Rose, we are trying to do our part in ensuring the survival of honey bees, and our way of life for that matter. Without honey bees, we would not have much of the food we love.
Because there are bees on site, you might see a honey bee flying around. Don’t panic. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone, as well. These are friendly bees. They are busy making the honey you get to enjoy.
Stop by Sweetbriar Rose so you can enjoy something made with our local honey, or just sit on the back porch and keep a lookout for some honey bees yourself. We hope to see you soon.