Man’s Love Affair with the Honey Bee
Even before recorded history, man was gathering honey from honey bees living in hollow trees. But honey wasn’t the only reason for keeping honey bees because man soon learned that the honey was an interesting and exciting social insect. The mystery and fascination of the hive, how the honey bees live, work and reproduce has intrigued man ever since.
The Honey Bee Colony
The story behind what appears to be the casual movement of honey bees from flower to flower is the discovery of an industrious and tireless society. Honey bees are social insects. They band together and divide labor. The honey bee society is made up of three types of individuals with sharply defined duties and functions. The population of the colony numbers from about 7,000 in the mid winter to over 70,000 in late summer and consists of one Queen, several hundred Drones and thousands of workers.
How Honey Bees Work
Most all flowers produce a sweet liquid to attract insects, primarily honey bees, so that pollination can take place and assure the survival of that plant species. Honey bees make honey from nectar found inside the flower blossom. Filed worker honey bees collect the nectar and carry it back to the hive in pouches within their body. The field worker honey bee gives the nectar to young worker honeys back in the hive, who then place the nectar in the beeswax comb made up of six sided cells. The excess water is then evaporated from the nectar. After a period of time the nectar is transformed into pure honey.
Some workers collect nectar, some collect pollen and some do both. In terms of economic value the workers that collect pollen are the most important to you and I. Honey is just the sweet, secondary reward that we collect from honey bees. If honey bees ceased to exist today, about one third of all foods we eat would disappear. Why? Because of pollination. The worker that collects pollen from the flowers packs it into pellets on her hind legs. As she travels from flower to flower, the pollen brushed off onto a special pollen receiving structure called the stigma in the center of the flower. This process is called pollination and it allows all flowering crops to reproduce. The outcome is fruit, vegetables, nuts and a wide variety of seeds that are used for human and animal foods. For this reason many people keep bees on farms and near gardens.
The female worker honey bee is the laborer of the colony. Workers gather all the nectar and pollen, feed young larvae, warm and protect eggs, larvae and pupae, supply water, secrete beeswax, build comb and do many other tasks.
The worker starts as a fertilized egg, which hatches into a larva. The larva grows, matures and soon changes into the next form called the pupa. The pupa then matures and soon changes into an adult worker honey bee. The entire metamorphosis takes only 21 days.
During the summer honey flow, June through August, worker honey bees travel about 55,000 miles to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey. Each individual worker will only produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey and about 1/80 of a teaspoon of beeswax. However, an entire colony can produce 200 lbs of honey annually.
Honey bee colony life revolves around the queen honey bee. Without the eggs that she lays the entire colony would die. She begins life as an ordinary female worker larvae, but by feeding on an extremely rich mixture of food, provided by young worker honey bees called Royal Jelly, she becomes a queen. A new queen can be produced at any time, if the young workers choose, by feeding any female larvae less than 48 hours old royal jelly.
The queen’s function is to lay eggs. Day after day the queen lays thousands of eggs which develop into more honey bees. She is continually surrounded, protected and fed by young worker honey bees.
The Drone is the male honey bee. He is larger than the worker and smaller than the queen. Except for mating, the drone is an expendable member of the colony. Drones do not collect nectar or pollen nor do they make beeswax. In fact, they are driven from the colony as winter approaches where they perish from cold and starvation.