Most people know that bees help pollinate flowers. However, few are aware of what exactly makes bees so spectacular. For one, bees have sight and vision that far exceed the limited abilities of humans. Various species of bee also help produce as much as 90% of the agriculture we eat. For thousands of years, humans have worked with bees, primarily the popular honey bee, to reap the benefits of their resources. Many of these substances have medicinal powers, even bee venom! Read on to discover how bees are for more advanced than you probably ever imagined.
Honey Bees Are Relatively New To America
The black and yellow bees are not the only species of bee that exists. In fact, they are one of thousands. Formally known as the European (or Western) honey bee, they were brought to North America in 1622, but didn’t reach the West coast until 1853 and didn’t spread to Alaska until 1927.
In the 19th century, bee keeping became more feasible to the masses due to inventions that would aid the process. This enabled the production of honey on a grander scale than ever before, popularizing the honey bee species.
Bees Don’t Automatically Know How To Make Honey
Bees are experts at making honey so you would think that they are born knowing how to do it. In fact, bees don’t know how to make honey when they hit the fields. Older bees have to teach the younger bees how it’s done.
Despite the learning curve, a single hive can produce between 60 and 100 pounds of honey each year. This range depends on the size of the hive, which typically falls between 10,000 and 60,000 bees.
That Buzz Noise Comes From Their Rapid Wings
Honey bees beat their wings 200-300 times every second! That’s around the same speed as the hummingbird when it’s in a dive, though bees are much smaller and can therefore manuever quickly with more ease. The speed of their wings is what causes the buzzing sound we’re familiar with.
The bee’s rapid wings require a lot of energy, especially considering that a hive must travel 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. In a bee’s short lifetime, they will travel a distance equivalent to circling the world 1 and a half times.
Making Honey Takes A Lot Of Bees
On average, a single bee only produces about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life. Considering the fact that a bee with visit up to 100 flowers in a single trip, that doesn’t seem like a lot to come back with.
Even more jarring is that bees are the only insects who produce a substance that humans eat. It’s especially shocking because honey eaters in the US consume about 2.25 pounds of honey each year, according to Sweet Mountain Farm.
Bees Can See Ultraviolet Light
You may have noticed that bees are more attracted to you when you wear bright colors. This has to do with flowers being vivid in order to guide bees to them. However, even more complex is the fact that bees can see patterns on flowers that are indiscernable to humans.
The bee has ultraviolet vision, which enables them to see nectar guides only visible through ultra-violet light. They also have color vision that is five-times the speed of ours, meaning if a flower is a slightly different shade than it’s surrounding flowers, a bee will pick up on it long before we do.
Bees Don’t Want To Sting You
While there are certain things that will aggravate a bee, they only sting as a manner of defense. This happens when they feel that they are in danger. If you’re near a bee, the best thing that you can do is remain calm and avoid rapid movement.
One of the worst things that you can do while near a bee, and that people often do, is swat at them. Threatened bees are hyper aware of movement and will only feel more perturbed by your presence if you go running around with you arms flailing about.
Bee Venom Can Be Used As Medicine
According to Winchester Hospital, bee venom has been used in medicine since ancient times. While the venom has been proposed to treat MS, arthritis, chronic injuries, scar tissue, gout, shingles, burns, and more, there is insufficient evidence to back these claims.
What researchers have found is that the primary ingredient in bee venom, Melittin, can have anti-inflammatory properties when used in small doses, according to an article published in the scientific journal Molecules by MDPI. Bee venom injections can be administered by health care professionals and are seen as a natural alternative to other treatments.
Colonies Don’t Always Stay Together
Swarming is a process that usually occurs in spring and involves a large colony splitting up permanently. It involves breaking up a massive colony into two or more smaller colony. The queen bee will leave, taking the majority of the original colony with her.
From there, a new queen bee will rise to prominence in the former colony. The process can repeat itself in succession. Bees swarm in order to achieve more space and to reproduce at a faster rate, since two separate colonies with their own queen bees will create more of their kind at a faster rate.
The Queen Lays A Ton Of Eggs
In just one day, a Queen bee can lay around 2,000 eggs. The more eggs she lays the more workers she has to find food and provide for the colony. These eggs are only about half the size of a grain of rice.
Laying eggs only takes a queen bee a few seconds to do. She lays them next to one another in a specific pattern. When the eggs hatch, three days after being laid, they become larvae which have no legs, eyes, or wings, but can eat honey and other plant liquids.
Honey Bees Have Two Stomachs
Honey bees have a separate stomach used just for storing nectar. This stomach is used to carry the nectar back to the hive. This compartment, referred to by scientists as the crop, can expand to the point that its abdomen swells. Many beekeepers refer to the crop as the honey stomach.
Enzymes in the honey stomach begin to break down the sugars in nectar, preventing crystalization. Once they’ve returned to the hive, the nectar is passed from bee to bee until the water content has dwindled. The last bee will then regurgitate the transformed nectar into a honeycomb cell.
Bees Require A Ton Of Pollen
Bees become covered in pollen as they visit flowers, which they need to survive as it is the only protein that the insects eat. Therefore, pollen is needed in order to produce honey not because they turn it into honey (that’s nectar), but because it feeds and rears workers bees who can make more honey.
Worker bees only live for an average of six weeks. That means that those thousands of eggs the queen lays each day need to be fed so that they can replace the older workers at a rapid rate. For this reason, it takes 10 pounds of pollen to produce one pound of honey.
Bees Can Smell Fear
Honey bees have a sense of smell that is 50 times stronger than that of a dog. That’s due to their 170 odorant receptors. However, these receptors aren’t located in nostrils like dogs and humans; they are located in their antennae.
This ability is needed so that they can detect the slightest smell while whizzing by, determining if pollen is nearby. They are also able to smell the pheromones produced by humans and other animals when they are afraid. This ability helps bees avoid danger.
Honey Bees Take A Break In The Winter
Like hibernating animals, a hive becomes inactive in the winter. Some worker bees then transfer their duty to vibrating within the hive, keeping the temperature up to its ideal 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The months spent in the hive place even more pressure on bees to obtain the necessary pollen and nectar they need to survive.
One thing that can trigger aggression in bees is a shortage of flowers, in which case bees will sometimes try to steal nectar from other hives. These bees can then get into a fight, secreting pheromones that encourage other bees in the colony to join in.
This Is How Bees Communicate
Bees communicate through dancing and through smell. The honey bee dance is known as the waggle dance. It involves moving in such a way that other bees become aware of the direction and distance to flowers, water, or other members of the colony.
Their sense of smell has everything to do with pheromones. Through odor, a queen bee can communicate whether or not it is time to mate. Worker bees use the odor of flowers to indicate to other bees what they should look for when following the directions of the waggle dance. Lastly, fear pheromones warn others of a threat.
Honey Bees Produce More Than Just Honey
Honey bees produce honey, beeswax, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly. Beeswax is often used in cosmetics and moisturizers. Propolis in a compound that bees gather from trees and use to weatherproof their hives. Humans use it to fight inflammation and certain sores, such as canker sores and burns.
Royal jelly is a substance that honey bees secrete from a gland in their head. It primarily contains water and is made up of proteins, sugar, fats, vitamins, salts, and amino acids. The substance is fed to larvae and is the only thing that a queen bee will eat.
Beekeeping Has Been Around For A Long Time
Cave paintings indicate that bees have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. BBC News reports that the oldest of this kind of evidence dates back 9,000 years. A few thousand years after that, Beeswax was being used by various farmers in Europe and North Africa.
Researchers estimate that the honeybee has been around for 300,000 years and originated in Asia, spreading to Europe and Africa where they were first used for resources. Honey was one of the few sweeteners at the time while beeswax may have been used as a glue and a waterproofing substance.
Not All Cells In The Honeycomb Are Used For Honey
Honeycomb cells are used for the storage of honey, nectar, water, and pollen. In other words, anything that a honey bee gathers is then placed in the comb. This also includes larvae. The honey comb acts as a kind of crib for larvae since they cannot see or fly yet.
Larvae indicate to passing bees in the hive that they are hungry by sticking their tongue out, something human babies also do. When the bee is no longer a larvae, they become a pupae. This is the final stage before they become adults and lasts anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.
Stinging Only Kills Certain Bees
There are three kinds of honey bees: drones, workers, and queens. The worker bees are all female. That’s because the drone bees, who are exclusively male, are busy mating with the queen. While drones would die if they stung you, they more typically die as a result of mating.
Worker bees die from stinging because they have a barbed stinger, meaning that it will inevitably rip from the bee and take a part of the bee’s abdomen with it. Queen bees have a smooth stinger and can survive after stinging, but usually attack other queens, not humans.
Beekeepers Stay Protected With This Tool
Beekeepers use a device called a smoker when it comes time to harvest the honey produced in a hive. Bees will sting a trespasser who enters their hive, producing a pheromone that alerts the entire colony to attack. The smoker warns the bees that danger is near.
Their response it to fill up with honey in order to prepare to create a new hive. Once they are full of their honey, they won’t be as prone to sting for fear that the honey will go to waste when they die. This process gives beekeepers a few minutes of risk-free hive access.
There Are 20,000 Species Of Bee
Though most of us are only familiar with the black and yellow honey bee, they are just one of 20,000 species of bee. Other species vary in size, color, and dance. Several of these other species do not have barbed stingers and therefore can sting endlessly.
In fact, these bee species are so smart that researchers at Plos found that different species can learn to communicate with one another. Despite their intelligence and defenses, many native bees are becoming endangered while the honey bee rises to prominence. However, the honey bee cannot carry the weight of the world’s pollination on its own.