All about honeybees!
And why they are the COOLEST animal ever.
I don’t know how my obsession with honeybees started. Call it what you will: fate, destiny… a horse.
But since it started, it hasn’t stopped. And probably never will. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is how anyone could even think to create every extraordinary aspect of the honeybee but God can. And did.
And because God made them, of course we get to learn about them and enjoy them. So here is a bunch of things I’ve learned about… the honeybee.
Let’s start with the queen bee, who can live for 3 years or more. She exists for the sole purpose of laying eggs to keep the hive populated. Unlike todays systems of royalty, there is no hierarchy or “next in line for the throne”. When the general population of the hive decides they want a new queen, they simply care for a specific egg accordingly.
Each egg that the queen lays is put into it’s own hexagonal comb cell; ones that are specifically reserved as nursery combs. Some cells are slightly bigger than others, depending on what role that bee will play. The worker bees come from fertilized eggs and are cared for by feeding the pupa royal jelly and then switching to the diet of pollen, nectar and honey that it will eat for the rest of it’s life. Then theres drones, the only males of the hive. The queen’s unfertilized eggs are laid in a slightly bigger cell, and are fed the same diet as the workers, only they become drones. The few eggs that become queens, are laid in the largest cells and are fed a diet solely consisting of royal jelly; a sort of bee spit. Yum.
Why would the hive decide it needs a new queen? Usually its when the workers can sense the queen weakening from old age. What happens to the old queen when the new one is ready? Treason! The workers kill her. Bees have a very humane and efficient way of disposing of their old queen. It is called the “cuddle death”. Tens of worker bees will swarm around the queen, generating enough body heat and friction to suffocate and kill her. The undertakers will dispose of the carcass, and the new queen will begin her reign of power. Talk about mass mutiny.
Theres another kind of sudden uprising that occurs called a “swarm”. The queen initiates the swarm by simply leaving the hive and any who choose will follow her, which is generally all of her loyal subjects. Usually the queen and her subjects swarm if they sense the hive is in danger from the weather or some other threat. The swarm builds temporary hives in bushes and trees until they settle on a place the queen deems worthy.
Things in nature being how God made it, the drones are necessary for breeding with the queen once. After which, they die! The queen only needs to be bred once at the beginning of her life and then proceeds to lay eggs until her time comes. The drones are also in charge of protecting the hive from trespassers and predators. They fend off hornets and yellow jackets, stop intruding ants and anything else that could threaten the safety of the hive and its occupants. Their bravery is immense because drones have no stingers to protect themselves! Thank you drones, we salute you.
If your mind is not already blown, get ready for the most well known member of the hive: the worker bee.
From the time she hatches, the worker never stops working. She will cycle through every job in the hive until she gets to be promoted to a forager and then forages until the end of her life. Why do I keep saying she? Because every worker bee is a female!
During her life the worker will sample being a nurse. As a nurse, she will care for eggs, larva and pupa, feeding them her special spit(royal jelly) and bringing the “babies” honey and pollen when they switch off of royal jelly. Then a magical hormone shift occurs and this nurse now has all the instincts needed to be a ladies maid!
She will then take up her role of tending to the queen. Feeding her, grooming her, fanning her and making sure she is comfortable. Hormone shift again and she’s now a housekeeper/undertaker.
As a housekeeper, the worker will clean the hive and help to maintain utmost efficiency. She will clean dust, remove debris, and as an undertaker, dispose of bees that died in the hive. This is a very important job, because uncleanliness = disease = bad news for the hive.
Now she is a construction worker, building perfectly sized hexagonal combs for storing honey. The honey combs are made of beeswax, and like royal jelly, comes from inside the bee. One bee must eat eight “servings” of honey to make one serving of beeswax, to give you an idea of the amount of work it takes. Hexagons are scientifically proven to be the most efficient shape for storing anything, and whats amazing is little more than a hormone shift causes the worker to know exactly how and how big to make a honey comb.
These jobs don’t always go in order, and sometimes if one team is lacking in members, they will send out a signal to any bee who can switch jobs and help, requiring them to know the job before they’ve even done it. This extraordinary system ensures that every job is completed perfectly and in a timely manner.
Finally the middle age worker has graduated to a forager, a dangerous, exciting and tiresome job.
She will first take a flight in all surrounding directions of the hive, recording a mental map in her mind. She instinctively knows exactly which way is North, South, East, West, up and down which will prove very important when she needs to find her way back to the hive. She then proceeds to search out all the best places for nectar and pollen.
Foraging bees spend every day from sunrise to sundown stocking the hives food supply. They fly from flower to flower collecting nectar by sucking it through their proboscis(think of an elephant’s trunk sucking up water) into their nectar chamber and the pollen sticks to their fuzz and legs. When the forager is loaded full, she expertly navigates her way home and deposits the nectar and pollen into a honey comb, where she mixes it with her spit and then allows another worker bee to come and cap off the cell with beeswax to store the honey until it is needed.
That forager will then give a performance to fellow foragers called the “waggle dance”. This dance method is how the forager communicates the exact coordinates for a flower source, how good the source is in regards to nectar and pollen, and how far away it is. To dictate direction, the forager is able to point herself in the exact direction of the supply from inside the hive. She will walk a few steps straight in that direction and wiggle her tail, the more vigorous she shakes, the better the flower source. After the “waggle strut” she loops back around and does it again and again until everyone has gotten the message. Then they all set out and find exactly where the first forager directed. This dance is done in the dark, mind you, so all the bees “watching” are sensing her movements with their antennae. WOW.
A flower emits an electromagnetic frequency, and so does a bee. The bee can sense the frequency and will land on a flower with a high frequency that is well stocked with nectar. After the bee has landed and collected the nectar, the flower’s frequency changes signaling all passing bees that it is out of stock. When the flower has replenished it’s nectar supply, the frequency heightens once more until the next bee comes along to collect. My mind… is blown.
And get this, the average worker bee’s lifespan is 30 days from hatching. THIRTY DAYS!! Sometimes less due to any number of factors, like storms, cars, people, etc. And when that worker’s lifespan is up, there is always hundreds more ready to take her place.
I hope this post gave you a renewed understanding, appreciation and perhaps cultivated an obsession for the lovely little honeybee. Of course, all I touched on were the basics of the inner workings of the hive and the bee’s jobs. You could read for hours about the anatomy of bees, their expert cooling system and landing pad, different breeds, the chemical structure of honey, etc. But I’ll let you research that yourself.
Do you like bees? Do you like honey? Would you ever consider beekeeping? How many names popped into your head when I told you that all workers are females?(Don’t pretend you don’t name things too.)
Thanks for stopping by!
“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence