B for Bees
Once again I am blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2015 April A to Z Challenge! Come blog through the alphabet with me!
Honeybees are important creatures and I’ve become fascinated by them. So much so, that I have decided to blog about them as a theme for the A to Z challenge on Five Maples Farm. And I’ve also decided to talk about them here – it’s a great way to honor the letter B(ee)!
So let me tell you some of the interesting things I have learned about bees.
Fascinating Facts about Honeybees
Like the honeybee spreads pollen, people spread bees
The honeybee as we know it today, developed around 120 million years ago. The birth of flowering plants gave rise to honeybees and their bodies built for collecting nectar and pollen. Speciation from short-tongued wasps resulted in insects with increased fuzziness and pollen baskets for trapping pollen, longer tongues for collecting nectar and insects that built colonies to store supplies.
The honeybee continued to thrive in the regions that were to become Europe and Asia as evidenced by drawings depicting early African, Indian and Spanish people hunting honey. During the Roman Empire, countries organized beekeeping centers that were then continued by Christian monasteries.
There were no wild honeybee populations in North America until human colonists began transporting them to the new country in the 17th century. Likewise, English migrants brought bees to New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.
Thanks to global travel, honeybees are now found throughout the world.
The hive is an organism
A honeybee hive can be considered its own organism. The bees all act cooperatively together to ensure the survival of the hive.
A honeybee population is a caste system
There are two female populations in the hive:
Queen Bee: There is only one queen to a hive. When she is born, she will take a mating flight in which she will mate with several different male bees (drones) and store the sperm for later use. She will then start her own colony. Her only job is to lay eggs. She can lay either fertilized or unfertilized eggs to grow her servants.
Worker bees: Each hive has tens of thousands of female bees that developed from fertilized eggs but never mated. They take care of all hive maintenance, feed the queen, take care of the larvae and brood, keep the hive and queen at the proper temperature, gather pollen and nectar, and make and store honey.
Drones: Each hive has a couple hundred male bees called drones. Drones develop from unfertilized eggs and therefore carry only the queen’s genes. The drones are needed to mate with queen bees, but not their own queen. Drones leave the hive and gather in groups waiting for queen bees to take their mating flight. Kind of like the insect version of a frat house.
They are what they eat
They development of a queen or worker bee depends on the food it is given. All bees are initially fed something called royal jelly, which is secreted by the bees. When workers wish to rear additional queen bees, they continue feeding the larvae royal jelly which stimulates the development of the queen morphology, including ovaries. The rest of the bees are switched to “bee bread” a mixture of pollen, nectar and bee secretions that is rich in protein and carbohydrates.
The climb up the worker bee ladder depends on age
Unlike the depiction in the Bee Movie, bees are not assigned one task for their lifetimes. Bees make an orderly progression through all hive jobs. The younger bees start in the inner workings of the hive cleaning comb cells and attending the queen while the oldest bees forage for nectar and pollen.
Bees communicate in multiple ways
Bees talk to each other all the time. They use pheromones, secreted chemical factors, for many different types of communication including:
- A queen will spread her pheromone throughout the hive to signal her presence and maintain hive stability
- Bees secret pheromones when they sting. This leads other bees to the predator while increasing the aggression of the bees
- Pheromones are used to bring a swarm of bees to a new hive
- Drones use pheromones to collect together outside the hive while they look for virgin queens
In addition to secreting pheromones, foraging bees do the “waggle dance,” a dance performed in the shape of a figure 8 to tell other bees how to find food sources. The direction of the figure 8 indicates the direction of the food while the duration of the dance tells the other bees how far away it is.
There are so many interesting things about bees, I could write all night. And I almost have! But I guess I should stop now and leave some things for another post.