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Type the word honeybees into your Google search, press enter and you find literally thousands of content. The honeybee is a small insect that has amazed many. It has even elicited a lot of debate and concern, given their declining numbers. Researchers have never rested when it comes to unraveling the world of honeybees. In this article, we’ll discuss some amazing, fun, and important facts about honeybees.
Facts About Honeybees
1. Honey and Pollen are not the only Food Eaten by Honeybees
Truth be told, everyone knows that honeybees rely on honey and pollen for their survival, especially the feral strain of bees. Honeybees domesticated by humans will also eat indiscriminately what has been provided for them, more so, during periods of food scarcity. Interestingly, researchers have found out that honeybees can also consume insect secretions and tiny amounts of certain fruits such as grapes and plums.
The honeybee larva relies on pollen that has been mixed with nectar, whereas the queen bee thrives on royal jelly. Other types of bees such as the drone and worker bees consume honey most of their life. It is however worth mentioning that the kind of food given to honeybee larvae depends on what they are destined to be later in life. For instance, future queen bees are fed solely royal jelly, a special food that is rich in protein made by young worker bees using their hypopharyngeal glands. A future worker bee on the other hand is fed on bee bread, a substance that is rich in pollen. The insect secretions eaten by worker bees include honeydew, usually secreted by aphids. Ants are known to also herd aphids precisely for this special secretion.
2. Honeybees have a Short but Productive Life
As the adage goes, life might be short, but if well lived then once is simply enough. Honeybees live up to this; they have a short, industrious, and sweet life.
The worker bee is particularly the most hardworking when compared to the other types of bees in a colony. Its work life begins earlier than the rest and duties will change as she ages. A worker bee will live for 5 to 6 weeks during peak seasons, whereas those that overwinter have longer lives, between 4 to 6 months. Their life is all about work; hive defense, scouting, collectors, water gathering, nursing of queen and broods, hive cleaning, and many other roles.
Drone bees are vital for the survival of any honeybee colony. They are mainly responsible for mating with the queen and this guarantees the possibility of a future generation of bees. They will live for just a few weeks with exceptions reaching 4 months. However, those that remain will be kicked out during winter, as they tend to overburden the colony. Those that mate with the queen will die thereafter. The queen bee has the longest life and is the lifeline of the honeybee colony. She will spend 3 to 5 years of her life laying eggs for the colony. Once her egg-laying ability and pheromone secretion decline, the worker bees begin to prepare a future queen.
3. Antarctica is the Only Continent without Honeybees
Records show there are more than 20,000 species of bees. These species are spread across the different continents of the world, except Antarctica. The different bee species have adapted to their respective regions of origin and that means you might not find a certain species of bees in other regions. These have also developed varied habits and behaviors. They also exhibit differences in colony sizes.
Antarctica is an exceptional continent due to its weather conditions. Most bee species will never survive on this continent given the temperatures that fall to negative 76 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, most living organisms will not survive under such conditions. Honeybees are best suited for tropical regions and that can explain the fact that most of the bee species are found in warmer regions of the world.
In the USA, most of the bees are found in the southern states which tend to be warmer all year round when compared to other parts of the US. Furthermore, when monitored, honeybees tend to be inactive in the early mornings and late afternoons. They are also quite dormant during cold weather. Bees require a little light to be active. They also dislike direct sunlight and too much heat. Their sensitive nature to weather conditions dictates where and how to position the beehive. It is also important when it comes to hive inspection and honey harvesting. Bees are best handled when they are at their weakest state.
4. Honeybees Originated in Africa
Honeybees came from Africa. It is there that they originated before migrating to Europe. The first records of honeybees in America, state that Pilgrims brought bees from Europe in the 17th century, purposely for honey production. The number of honeybee colonies is higher in number in Africa than any other part of the world, since their strain of bees forms smaller colonies, spreading out quicker and building more colonies.
About 4,000 species of bees are native to the US, coming in varied sizes, colors, and shapes. Most of the native bees in the US have adapted to their environs with most of them developing specialized roles. Most of these bees will only visit specific plants. These native bees are responsible for pollinating about 80 percent of the flowering plants globally. Some of the crops that rely on native bees for pollination include cherries, cranberries, squash, blueberries, tomatoes, and cherries.
Honeybees on the other hand play a crucial role in honey production and pollination of almonds and lemons. However, they are not as efficient as native bees when it comes to pollination. Some of the most common native bee species in the US include blue orchard bees, carpenter bees, and solitary perdita minima, referred to as the world’s smallest bee.
5. Honeybees can Communicate
Communication is an important part of honeybee life. Bees use odor cues, food exchanges, and movement to transmit important information. They are known for their signature “waggle dance” that helps worker bees when directing other workers to food sources.
The scout bees are bestowed with the task of searching for new nectar and pollen sources. Once these are located, they will fly back to the hive and dance on the honeycomb. They are able to relay the information on where and how far the new food sources are situated from the beehive.
Odor cues or pheromones are an important part of honeybee colony communication. The queen bee will produce a unique scent that sends the message that she is healthy and productive. The scents are also produced by a worker bee when the hive is invaded. A worker bee will sting and in the process release a pheromone that sends a signal to other workers to attack. That can explain why it is always safe to run for dear life after getting stung by a bee. An extended stay within the area will attract more defending worker bees making things much worse.
Sharing of food from mouth to mouth also helps the worker bees in communicating about the quality of the food. The bees can simply tell of the quality of the food within a location through sharing of the foraged food.
6. Honeybees will Die after Stinging
This seems to beat logic when you think about it. Why would a honeybee die after stinging an intruder? Well, it is important to understand that the survival of a honeybee colony is more important than the life of a single worker bee. That, therefore, means the worker can sacrifice their life to guarantee the survival of the colony. This will happen when the workers sense an attack.
The bees will respond aggressively to any kind of intrusion. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that is normally not possible to pull back into its system after stinging. The stinger comes out with all its accompanying digestive and abdominal contents causing an abdominal rupture. All this is fatal to the honeybee and will instantly lead to death of the bee. Stingers are extremely painful since they scissor through the skin when stung. The surface of a stinger has alternating blades that make it impossible for it to be pulled back after injection into the skin. The honeybee signal will also be released after stinging, attracting more attackers to the scene.
The worker bee is the only insect that will die after inflicting a stinger on its victim. She can be referred to as a disposable soldier of the colony and given their number, the life of the colony is more important than that of an individual worker bee.
7. Honeybees may not be the Only Insects that Make Honey
Of all insects on the planet and the 20,000 species of bees in existence, only the honeybee is well-known for making honey. The honeybee lives and thrives in a colony, unlike other kinds of bees and insects. It can also be found in most parts of the world.
The worker bee is responsible for making honey. She will collect nectar and pollen from flowering plants and then transform them into honey before it is stored in a honeycomb. These honeycombs are made of wax, a product made by the worker bees using special glands in their bodies. The honey is made solely for the honeybee colony and stored as a reserve for tough months such as winter. The honey reserves are usually three times what the bees require and that makes it possible for humans to harvest a part of it without jeopardizing the lives of the bees.
Interestingly, other types of bees such as bumblebees make honey, though on a smaller scale. They basically make honey for their queen and will not keep reserves of honey as the honeybees do. Stingless bees also make honey and there are 500 of their species in existence. They are common in Australia and are capable of producing enough honey for humans to harvest.
Some other insects such as wasps and honeypot ants make honey. Aphids also produce honeydew, sweet sugary syrup that comes as waste after they eat plant sap. Of all these, however, the honeybee emerges as the most prolific when it comes to honey production.
8. Honeybees Make more than just Honey
Honeybees, without a doubt, are primarily known for making honey. There are however many other products that honeybees make that may not be popular with most people.
Beeswax is made by worker bees courtesy of a series of glands situated on their abdomens. The young worker bee will secrete the substance that will be used for many purposes in the colony. It is the main product holding together the walls and caps of honeycombs. Beeswax is also harvested by humans and used for making products such as polishes, candles, creams, conditioners, and lip balms.
Pollen is another product that is collected and stored by the worker bee. It is a rich protein source used for raising brood. Humans collect pollen from hives and use it as a health supplement.
Honeybees also make propolis, a sticky substance also referred to as bee glue. It is made from tree saps, resins, and balsams. This is used for sealing gaps in the hive, narrowing the hive entrance, and also embalming dead invaders that cannot be disposed of such as rats and bats. Humans use propolis as a health supplement and also in cosmetics.
Other useful products made by the honeybee include royal jelly and bee venom.
9. Honeybees can live in Most Places
Honeybees might have originated from tropical climates and heavily forested areas but they can survive and thrive in most areas. This has made it possible for humans to domesticate honeybees. Honeybees will live well in gardens, meadows, woodlands, orchards, tree crevices, underground burrows, and many other areas. They are particularly selective when considering a location, with bias on areas with an abundant supply of flowering plants.
Honeybees will also prefer hidden areas to keep them safe from predators since they are a major target for most of them. They will therefore prefer hedges and tree cavities when in the wild.
The domestication of the honeybee has made it possible for them to traverse most parts of the world. They can now be found in different habitats across the globe. It is however worth mentioning that the honeybees will adapt to their specific environment with time. For instance, the honeybees in Europe tend to store more honey as a reserve unlike those in tropical regions. This is precisely due to the fact that they keep the honey for the long cold months. They also have to insulate their hive interior.
Conversely, honeybees in warm regions such as Africa will not keep huge honey reserves. They will also require less insulated hives given the warm conditions. They however work much harder in terms of maintaining the constant hive temperature of 90 to 95 degrees F.
10. Honeybees are Important Pollinators
The honeybee is not well appreciated when it comes to pollination. It however provides valuable pollination services to most agricultural crops globally. It is also regarded and ranked as the most frequent single pollinator species among other bees. The honeybee not only plays an important role as a domesticated bee but also does an amazing job in the wild environment.
It might be a generalist when it comes to foraging but stands out when it comes to competence as a pollinator. The honeybee is much more effective in pollination in the wild environment since it does not restrict itself to a specific kind of flower as the case might be with native bees. The honeybee is also a proficient pollinator of most plantation crops such as lima beans, sunflower, alfalfa, apples, blackberries, almonds, citrus fruits, cherries, avocados, squash, pepper, watermelons, raspberries, cucumbers, strawberries, okra, and many others.
Honeybees provide sufficient pollination to these crops and without them, yields and crop quality substantially decline. Almonds in particular rely on honeybee pollination, with almond fields in California producing 70 percent of the global supply of almonds. It is hugely dependent on honeybees and has created a huge market for pollination services.
11. Chemicals Signals are Important to Honey Bees
Chemical signals are an important part of the honeybee’s life. It helps them communicate but also aids in regulating many aspects of the colony’s daily life. The queen pheromone is produced by the queen bee and given to the nurse bees that will distribute it to the rest of the colony. That way the rest of the colony is informed that the reigning queen is alive and healthy. This pheromone affects colony behavior, and without it, the bees will know that the reigning queen is dead or dying. They will immediately begin to make a replacement.
The queen bee also uses this pheromone to attract the drone bees during mating flights. The alarm pheromone is another chemical signal produced by the worker bees. They are of two kinds: one produced by the mandibular gland and the other by a gland near the stinger. The one produced by the mandibular gland helps deter robber bees and any other potential attacker. The chemical is also a strong anesthetic that helps incapacitate victims after successful stinging.
The other alarm pheromone will be produced when an attack is imminent. It helps inform the other worker bees of a threat. The other bees will then respond aggressively to the intruder.
Nasonov pheromone or orientation pheromone is another important chemical signal that helps during foraging. It helps direct returning foragers to the hive. It also helps swarming colonies as the scouting bees release it to help guide the moving bees to the new location.
12. Bees are Professional Robbers
Stealing is a part of honeybee life. The tiny creatures may aggressively defend their colony yet a stronger colony can prey on a weaker one. Honeybees will rob honey from another hive for a number of reasons. First off, a hive that has been left open by the beekeeper after inspection will attract robber bees. The exposed honey is simply irresistible to the robbing bees.
Secondly, lean times will mean tougher decisions have to be made, and in most cases that might mean invading a susceptible colony. It is however possible for invaders to fail when executing their robbery. For instance, the scouting robber may be captured by a guard bee of the robbed hive and then beaten to death. Contrastingly, if she manages to get in and acquaint herself with the scent of the hive, it will successfully come later on and leave without notice.
The robber bee will steal honey, open capped cells, gorge as much as it can, and take it back to its colony. Most susceptible honeybee colonies include those that have been heavily infested by pests, parasites, or diseases.
An invasion can however be easily identified by the beekeeper by simply monitoring hive behavior. Rapid movement in and out of a hive might mean robbery is underway. Honeybees that crawl all over the beehive also signal an invasion since the foreigners are not familiar with exit points. Honeybees that have lost hair and appear black and shiny will indicate robbery. You will also notice some heavily loaded bees crawling through hive walls before flying off from the robbed hive. That will only mean they have successfully gorged on the honey and are taking the spoils.
In conclusion, honeybees are truly amazing creatures that play a vital role in our ecosystem. From their incredible communication and organizational skills to their ability to produce delicious honey and provide valuable pollination services, honeybees are essential to the health and well-being of both humans and the environment. It’s important that we continue to learn about and appreciate these fascinating insects, and take steps to protect and support their populations. So the next time you see a busy bee buzzing around, take a moment to appreciate all the amazing, fun, and important facts about honeybees that make them such a vital part of our world.