Honey bees are a critical part of our ecosystem | What do they do?
Plants depend on pollen to reproduce. Bees are fantastic pollinators, and help many of the world’s flowers and plants survive. Honey bees produce honey that we harvest for our own enjoyment as well. Unfortunately, pollution has destroyed a majority of the earth’s bee population.
Honey bees are social creatures, and live in hives with twenty thousand to sixty thousand of other bees in them. These members in the hive are divided into three different classes or types. As you may already know, each hive has a queen bee. There are also worker bees, and drones, which are larger males with no stinger.
The queen bee is responsible for the population of the others in that she is able to produce thousands of eggs per day during summer months. She is the largest, and only bee that lays eggs in the entire colony. A queen goes on what is called a “mating flight” where she leaves the hive and mates with anywhere from 5 to 45 different drones. She only needs to take 1 mating flight in her lifetime. The drone bees are responsible for mating with her in order for her to produce eggs while she controls the hive. She does this by releasing special pheromones that affect the other bees’ behavior. If she dies, the workers select a new larvae to become queen, and feed it special “royal jelly” to allow her to be fertile. Pretty cool if you ask me!
Worker bees have one job: work. The spend the roughly 6 weeks of their lives producing honey and taking care of the queen while she lays the all important eggs for the hive. Worker bees groom, feed and take care of the queen while she is hard at work laying eggs. During this short lifespan, worker bees fly the equivalent distance to flying around the world one and a half times. Each time they leave the hive to search for pollen, they can travel up to 3 miles away. When they return to the hive after finding nectar, worker bees will do the “waggle dance” to inform the others where it is. Worker bees communicate in this way- through dancing. They also work so hard, they do not sleep! Instead, bees will remain motionless for a night in order to conserve energy.
Making honey takes a lot of work. In one trip, worker bees visit somewhere between 50 and 100 flowers before returning to the hive. Cumulatively, for a hive to make a pound of honey, the bees will have to fly about 55,000 miles. During the time it takes to make one pound of honey, bees must visit somewhere around two million flowers and collect their nectar. Bees will only make about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in their entire lifetime. When they are born, bees do not know how to make honey yet. They get taught this skill by the other bees in the hive.
Drones are the larger male bees in the hive. They only have one job, and that is to mate with the queen. A few hundred drones live in each colony. They only live for about 6 months and actually do not have a stinger. When the winter months come, the drones get kicked out from the hive to die. This occurs because the hive goes into survival mode during the winter months when the queen is not laying eggs as much.
Honey has many unique properties and facts about it too:
- Honey does not expire, and has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs before. The explorers said it still tasted delicious, even after 2,000 years!
- Honey has health benefits associated with it. For centuries, honey has been used to treat all sorts of ailments, from sore throats, to burns and cuts.
- Cleopatra used honey in her daily skin regimen because it attracts and maintains moisture.
- The average beehive produces somewhere around 100 lbs of honey every year. They produce 2-3 more times the quantity needed to live off, which is great for beekeepers to harvest.
- Honey is incredibly healthy and includes many enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. It’s the only food that contains “pinocembrin”, which is related to improved brain functioning.
Humans have understood the importance of bees and honey for nearly all of recorded history. It is said that beekeeping is the second oldest profession known to man, and Apollo himself is said to have kept bees. In the United States alone, bees produce over 300 different types of honey per year. The darker the honey, the more antioxidants are present. This varies because of the different types of flowers and nectar that the bees collect in order to produce the honey. The honey bee is a crucial part of our ecosystem and it is important to protect them, as they pollinate all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and plants we love.