One of the most amazing insects in nature is the honeybee. It is the only insect in the world that will provide food for humans to eat. Many of our past ancient civilizations used it as food. If it were not for honeybees, the human race would stare. Honeybees pollinate about 90 percent of our food supplies. They do this by collecting nectar and pollinating the flowers that grow on our crops. In the United States we eat around two million pounds of honey a year. This is possible because honeybees make more honey than they will use to survive. Honeybees fly millions and millions of miles each year to collect nectar and pollinate flowers, giving us this sweet golden liquid.
There are many different families of bees. Scientists can tell the differences in families by their wing veins and by the structure of their mouth parts. Honeybees use their mouths for eating, they have tongues that are long and suitable for gathering nectar from a varieties of flowers. Bees have body hairs called plumose, which look like tiny feathers. The worker bees which are female have brushes on their legs which they use to remove pollen that sticks to these hairs. They store the pollen under their body or on their back legs when flying from flower to flower. This is how they take pollen to the hive.
The hive is the place where the honeybees live. In modern times it is usually made of wood with a bottom board, several boxes with frames that can be taken out to collect honey and honeycomb. The last part of the hive box is the top cover. The frames have imprints in the shape of hexagons, this is where the honeycomb will be made by the bees. Honeycomb is made up of cells that contain bee eggs, young bees, and honey. There is also a natural by- product that cames from bee hives, which is beeswax used today for candle making. The hive is made up of three different bees, the queen, worker and drone bees.
Honeybees have a social order in which they live by. The worker and drones bees work together to serve the queen bee. She is very important to the survival of the hive. Queen bees are produced from fertilized eggs. The queen larvae are brought up in cells shaped like a peanut. They are fed more gland secretions called royal jelly from their caretakers. Workers bees look and act much the same as other female bees. They do not have the structures to mate. The queen bee is the only one who will lay eggs in the hive. She is the mother and grandmother to all the drone and worker bees in the hive. The queen bee produces a scent called queen substance, the worker bees will lick it from her body and pass it along as they exchange food with one another. This is done to keep the other female workers from laying eggs. If female workers were to lay eggs, the queen would chase the workers away and eat the eggs to insure no other eggs are laid. If there is not a queen to stop the development of their ovaries, workers will lay eggs that develop into drones. If the queen bees secretion is not suitable enough, the colony will produce queen cells to take over. A new queen is usually the first queen that comes out of the cells. She will then sting and kill all the other queens before they have a chance to develop. In a few days the queen will leave the hive and fly to where drones have collected to mate. They find her by a pheromone or scent she sends out, this attracts them to her. She will mate with six to twelve drones. The sperm from these drones are stored in a sac under her body. The queen will use this sperm when she lays her eggs. The queen can lay as many as 1500 eggs a day. Her egg laying life cycle can be two to nine years. When a queen bee dies or is expelled from the hive, one of the larger workers may take her place, usually in four hours or less.
Drones are not needed in a hive, with the exception of producing sperm for fertilizing eggs that the queen bee lays at certain times of the year. Honeybees mate while flying through the air. When mating is over the drone falls to the ground and will die. Drones are developed from unfertilized eggs that the queen lays in large drone cells. Drones do not have stingers or the body parts they would need to collect pollen. Drones cannot defend themselves and are fed by worker bees in the hive. In the winter months, the drones are thrown out of the hive by the colony to die. New drones are produced in the spring for mating. Female larvae can also be thrown out of the hive to control the population of a hive.
The largest number of bees in a hive, are the worker bees. People usually only see these bees. The hive can have up to 80,000 workers if the hive is healthy. The worker bees care for the eggs, build and keep the hive going. Worker bees are the ones who make the honeycomb for the hive. This is where they will keep the eggs, young bees, and where food is stored. Worker bees are the bees who collect nectar from flowers and bring it back to the hive. They change the nectar into honey, work to clean the comb, and feed all the other bees. If the hive gets to hot in the summer, worker bees will fan the hive with their wings to cool it down. They are also the fighters in the colony. The worker bee has a straight barbed stinger, and when the bee stings, the stinger stays in place. When the worker bee pulls away it tears the stinger from it’s body and soon after will die. The average worker bee lives about six weeks.
Honeybees do not hibernate in the winter or cold months as most people think. They are active and survive by eating on food they have stored. Honeybees can stay warm in the winter, they do this by gathering together into closely packed groups.
Honeybees are excellent navigators. They communicate directions and distance from the hive to a nectar source by doing a dance. They do this dance by going around in circles and wagging their tails. This tells the other bees the angle from the sun and how far away the nectar is. Honeybees use the sun like a compass. They dance the angle of sunlight to the hive and the bees leave the hive for the honey source.. They can even do this when it is cloudy outside.
Honeybees can see ultraviolet designs in flowers. They have an uncanny ability to know when flowers are about to bloom and produce their nectar. If you would like to learn more about the honeybee this web site is a good place to start. Honeybees seem to have a built in time clock, they buzz from one flower to the other looking for nectar and always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Below is a great video to watch on the life cycle of honeybees.