Learning About Honey Bees
Learning About Honey Bees
While you may know honey bees as the cute buzzing insects responsible for the bottles of honey at your local grocery store, honey bees do a lot more than just make honey. One of the most important jobs that a honey bee does is pollinate. Pollination is the movement of pollen from one plant to another, allowing for fertilization to take place. When a bee lands on a flower, small yellow pollen sticks to the little hairs that cover the bee's body. When the bee lands on another plant, the pollen is distributed to the stigma (part of the plant), allowing the plant to be fertilized and produce fruit, vegetables, or seeds. According to the Pollination Partnership, between 75-95% of all flowering plants require help being pollinated. Pollinators, like the honey bee, are important for the environment because they help pollinate plants that provide us with food, spices, medicine, and oil while spreading plants that wildlife rely on.
Honey Bee Facts
Honey bees help provide nearly 1/3 of the food we consume. Everything from fruit and nuts to the chocolate we love, honey bees help make them possible. While honey bees are not the only pollinator, they are one of the most widespread and efficient. The average honey bee can land on over 2,000 flowers every day! Of course, that is not the only interesting thing about them. Honey bees have five eyes, and six legs, and can fly around 20 miles per hour. They also live in hives where each bee has a specific job. The females are called worker bees and carry out nearly all of the jobs that keep a hive running. There is one queen whose sole job is laying eggs. In fact, a queen can lay as many as 2,000 eggs in a single day, allowing the average bee hive to have around 50,000 bees in them.
How Honey Bees Live Together
Honey bees live together in a group called a colony. A colony of bees lives inside of a hive, where every bee has its own job to ensure the colony is healthy, well-fed, and protected. Within each colony, there is a queen, worker bees, and drones.
As the worker bees take care of the hive, the queen's job is to continuously lay eggs. Why does she need to lay so many eggs? Well, while a queen honey bee lives for 1-2 years on average, worker bees only live around 15-38 days during the warmer months and 150-200 days during the winter. Since the hive depends on these worker bees to function, new bees must be born to take the place of those who are lost. Worker bees are all female and do everything from building comb, nursing bee larvae, and cleaning the hive to protecting the colony, foraging, and creating and storing food. In fact, new studies have found that a worker bee's job changes as they get older.
During the first two weeks of a worker bee's life, they tend to the hive and nursery. As they age and get stronger, they begin to take flights outside of the hive to forage for food and water and to guard the hive against predators or intruders. Although most of the work around the hive is done by females, there are male bees too.
Drone, or male, honey bees can have a much shorter lifespan and have only one job to do. Drone honey bees mate with the queen during a special flight in which she collects everything she needs to fertilize eggs throughout her lifetime. After mating, drone bees die. Although this seems brutal, drone bees eat nearly three times as much as worker bees and take up valuable resources. Because drone bees only have one job, they do not have a stinger to protect the hive and they do not bring in food or care for the young. Unless the hive loses its queen, many drones are driven out of the hive once the queen has finished her mating flight. The stronger and healthier a colony is, the higher the number of bees it can support. With food sources, weather, and environment being different for each colony, the number of bees in a colony and their individual jobs differ as well. No matter what the hive needs, the queen, worker bees, and drones work towards a common goal of a healthy, well-fed, and safe home.
How Bees Make Honey
Honey is made by foraging bees old enough to explore outside of the hive and processor bees. When a worker bee is around three weeks old, they begin to take flights outside their home in search of nectar, a sugary liquid they drink from plants and flowers. When honey bees find a flower, they land on it and use their long tongues to drink the nectar. This nectar is stored in the bee's second stomach, also called a honey stomach, which is used for storing nectar rather than digesting it. After the foraging worker bee fills its stomach, it heads back to the hive where another bee waits for returning foragers. The forager bee regurgitates the nectar and the awaiting bee then swallows and stores it in its second stomach. The processor bee then takes the nectar to the honeycomb where it will regurgitate the nectar into a hexagonal wax cell. As this process is continued, of swallowing and regurgitating nectar, the nectar ripens and thickens as the processor bees add enzymes to the nectar each time they regurgitate it. Nectar is made up of sucrose sugar and water. Enzymes break the sugar down into simpler sugars like glucose (blood sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). To speed up the drying process, bees fan their wings to help air flow throughout the honeycomb. As the honey bees flap their wings, moving air causes the water in the nectar to evaporate, drying out the regurgitated mix. Once the mix is broken down and dried out, it becomes the thick honey we know and love.
Ways to Eat Honey
A careful beekeeper can safely remove honey from a hive without hurting the bees or taking too much. While honey has several medicinal uses, such as treating sore throats, coughs, or burns, it is an incredibly popular way to sweeten up your favorite foods naturally. From cereals and toast to fruit and yogurt, drizzling honey over your favorite breakfast foods is a great way to add a bit of sweetness to your day. Honey can also be substituted for granulated sugar in recipes. For foods that aren't sweet, like biscuits, chicken, or barbecue, honey can add an amazing texture and sweetness to your dinner. Whether you are looking to spice up a go-to favorite or add some gooey sweetness to your dessert, opening up a jar of honey can be a great way to add sweetness to your food. Of course, although honey has many possible health benefits, because of the enzymes, minerals, and antioxidants found within it, it is still sugar and should be used in moderation. As long as it is every now and again, honey makes a tasty treat the family is sure to love.