Did you know that honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination? Without them, the world would witness a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables. Stone age cave paintings indicate that honey collection and bee keeping were an important part of pre-recorded history. European in origin, honeybees were brought to North America via the early settlers. Unlike their yellow jacket counterparts, honeybees are non-aggressive, and will only sting if their hive is threatened or if they are provoked.
Their society is incredibly organized, with different bees having specific roles that do not change during their lifetimes. Some of these include: foragers, nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers and royal attendants. While the queen bee may live for several years, her underlings live for six weeks during the summer and for 4-9 months during the colder season.
Honeybees fall into three main castes, worker bees, drone bees and the queen. As expected, there is only one queen per hive and she is the only female bee in the hive with fully developed ovaries. Fertile for life, the queen is always busy as she lays up to 2,000 eggs per day. Fertilized eggs become female (worker bees) and unfertilized eggs become male (drone bees). When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will create a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of “royal jelly,” a powerful milky substance made of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee’s head.
All worker bees are female, but they are unable to reproduce. They comprise almost the entire population of a hive, which can contain 20,000-30,000 bees in the winter, and 60,000-80,000 in the summer. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that after use, results in her death. The male drone bees make up a very small percentage of the total colony. They have no stingers but their sex organs are barbed. They are kept during the summer months as potential mates for the queen. The lucky chosen one dies after mating. They are expelled from the hive in autumn, as they serve no purpose during the colder months.
Although inactive during the winter, the honeybee hive is a perennial phenomenon. Honeybees cluster for warmth and self regulate the internal warmth in the center of the cluster at 93 degrees Fahrenheit. This is maintained regardless of outside temperatures.
Pollen collected from the male germ cells of plants and flowers is food for honeybees, and it is one of the richest and purest natural foods in the world. Honey is also used for food all year round. Depending on the source of the nectar, honey comes in many different colors and flavors.
Scientists are discovering new uses for nectar, pollen, beeswax, honey and royal jelly every day.
There is much to learn from these ancient, noble and industrious insects.
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