October & Honey Bees

October- European Honey Bees, Apis mellifera (also called western honey bee)

Fun facts: 

  1. To make a pound of honey, a bee colony needs to visit 2 million flowers.
  2. Honey bees live in their hives throughout the winter, vibrating to stay warm.
  3. Female honey bees, called workers, come from eggs fertilized by the queen.  Males, called drones, come from unfertilized eggs. 
  4. Honeybees are not native to North America; they came over in 1622 with European colonists.  

The word Apis means bee and is related to the Greek word for ‘swarm’.  Mellifera means ‘honey-bearing’ in Latin. 

In the field of conservation, honey bees are a controversial species because they are not native to North America and they compete with native bees for food.  Honey bees require a tremendous amount of pollen and nectar resources in order to make honey.  According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, “A standard 40 hive apiary extracts the pollen equivalent of 4 million wild bees from the surrounding landscape in 3 months…. Recent research documents that under controlled conditions honey bees displace native bees from flowers, alter the suite of flowers that native bees visit, and have a negative impact on native bee reproduction.”  https://xerces.org/publications/guidelines/overview-of-potential-impacts-of-honey-bees-to-native-bees-plant.  However, honey bees are pollinators, and they play an important role in agriculture, pollinating many crops. Honey bees are very interesting insects, too, so we would like to highlight what makes them worth studying.

Honey bees are social insects.  They live in large colonies up to tens of thousands of bees.  These colonies are considered “superorganisms”. That means that the various individuals act in community with each other for the good of all.  The queen is the mother of all; she lays all the eggs – up to 3,000 per day during peak production! https://extension.psu.edu/an-introduction-to-queen-honey-bee-development. Fertilized eggs become female bees who take the role of nurse, trash collector, and then forager, or worker bees.  Unfertilized eggs become male bees called drones.  Their only role is to mate.  

Worker bees will communicate to other workers where to find food and water or where to locate a new hive by movements that show which direction and how far away the food can be found.  This is called a “waggle dance.”  New research indicates that young bees learn the waggle dance, and how to interpret it, when they are young.  This is complex social learning that is essential for their survival.  https://today.ucsd.edu/story/complex-learned-social-behavior-discovered-in-bees-waggle-dance

  In order for the queen to lay fertilized eggs she needs to always maintain a temperature of at least 98.6 degrees even through the winter. Honey is what the bees eat during the winter to give them the energy to vibrate their bodies for warmth.  Bees turn nectar into honey by adding enzymes and fanning the nectar, which has been put into wax cells, to dehydrate it.  Nectar turns to honey when its water content is 18.6%.  To learn more about how bees make honey, check out https://news.ncsu.edu/2013/06/how-do-bees-make-honey/

Next month, our focus is bumble bees, which are native to North America.  Did you know that different species of bumble bees have different length tongues?  Find out more fun facts next month!

Thank you for reading our blog post. Click here to put your name in a drawing for a jar of local honey.  https://forms.gle/4b9jQkvZkj9T3t2n6 

For further reading and listening:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/whats-the-waggle-dance-and-why-do-honeybees/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cylim87fFgU

https://news.ncsu.edu/2013/06/how-do-bees-make-honey/

https://www.pbs.org/video/honey-bees-make-honey-and-bread-i6hjuw/

https://xerces.org/blog/california-moves-toward-regulating-neonicotinoids-in-absence-of-federal-action

For more information on how honey bees affect native bees and ecosystems:

https://xerces.org/sites/default/files/2018-06/16-067_02_Overview%20of%20the%20Potential%20Impacts%20of%20Honey%20Bees_web.pdf