Bees belong to the third largest insect order which include wasps and ants. Together, these creatures pollinate crops, turn over the soil more effectively than earthworms, and in the case of the bee, furnish food in the form of honey. Even more importantly, some members of this order prey on other insects including pests like mosquitoes. This is important in keeping the earth’s insect population in check.
Honeybees are a subset of bees which fall into the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita. Of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees, there are eleven species with the genus Apis, all of which produce and store honey to some degree. Four species have historically been cultured for or robbed of honey by humans: Apis mellifera (western honeybee), Apis florea (Dwarf honeybee/little bee), Apis cerana and Apis dorsata. They have been domesticated at least since the time of the building of the Egyptian pyramids.
Honeybees collect nectar and store it as honey in their hives. Nectar and honey provide the energy for the bees flight muscles and for heating the hive during the winter. Honey bees also collect pollen which supplies protein for the brood to grow. Centuries of selective breeding by humans has created honeybees that produce far more honey than the colony needs. Beekeepers, also known as apiarists, harvest the honey.
Honey is a sweet and viscous fluid produced by bees from the nectar of flowers. Bees visit these flowers in order to collect the nectar but in the process, also pollinate plants. The definition of honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition for any other substance. This includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners. Honey is significantly sweeter than table sugar and has attractive chemical properties for baking. Honey has a distinctive flavour which lead some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners.
Liquid honey does not spoil. Because of its high sugar concentration it kills bacteria by plasmolysis. Natural airborne yeasts cannot become active in it because the moisture content is too low. Natural, raw honey varies from 14% to 18% moisture content. As long as the moister content remains under 18%, virtually no organism can successfully multiply to significant amounts in honey.
The main uses of honey are in cooking, baking, spreading on bread or toast, and as an addition to various beverages such as tea. Because honey is hygroscopic (drawing moisture from the air), a small quantity of honey added to a pastry recipe will retard staling. Raw honey also contains enzymes that help in its digestion, several vitamins, and antioxidants.
Beeswax is secreted by honey bees of a certain age in the form of thin scales. The scales are produced by glands of 12 to 17 days old worker bees on the ventral (stomach) surface of the abdomen. Worker bees have eight wax-producing glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body). Wax is produced from abdominal segments. The size of these wax glands depends on the age of the worker.
Honey bees use the beeswax to build honey comb cells in which the young are raised and honey and pollen are stored. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax the ambient temperature in the hive has to be 33 to 36°C (91 to 97°F). Approximately eight pounds of honey is consumed by bees to produce one pound of beeswax (0.5kg). Estimates are that bees fly 150,000 miles to yield this one pound of beeswax (530,000 km/kg). When beekeepers go to extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell. Their colour varies from yellowish-white to brownish depending on the purity and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. Wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honey comb. Due to the impurities, the wax has to be rendered before further use.
Royal Jelly is a secretion from workers’ glands. It is high in protein and is rich in vitamins B, C, and D. The substance resembles milk in its colouring and is strongly acidic. This gives it a prudent odor and bitter taste. The name insinuates what that consumers of this food; Royal Jelly is fed to the queen bee throughout her larval and adult life. While the queen bee’s diet consists of solely Royal Jelly, drones also consume it although sparingly. Royal Jelly is also fed to the larvae in their early days of development (first two or three days).
Royal Jelly is used in many things such as dietary supplements, additives in lotions, cosmetics, and creams. As it is rich in vitamins, Royal Jelly is known to improve human health.
Bees eat pollen (yellow protein powder) which is made by flowers. Immature bees consume lots of pollen because they need the protein to grow. Since there are lots of flowers in the spring (and lots of pollen), most bees hatch in the spring. Long ago the Greeks and Romans called natural bee pollen the life-giving dust or the secret ambrosia which was said to give a person eternal youth. Pollen was also entombed with pharaohs, used by the American Indians and by tribes in China for centuries. In modern times, scientists, gerontologists, and nutritionists have rediscovered these bee-prepared foods and confirmed that they benefit people by aiding in the healing process and rejuvenation of vital organs. Some nutritionists state that you could live adequately on bee pollen alone. Science shows that bee pollen, a wondrous yet mysterious nectar, has natural rejuvenating powers, aids beauty, boosts energy, extends life span, fights allergies (possibly even cancer) and relieves digestive disorders. Bee pollen is bursting with easily assimilated protein and lecithin, which nourishes the brain and nervous system.
- Bees from the same hive visit about 225,000 flowers per day. One single bee usually visits between 50 and 1000 flowers a day, but can visit up to several thousand.
- Queens will lay almost 2,000 eggs a day at a rate of 5 or 6 a minute. Between 175,000 – 200,000 eggs are laid per year. The average hive temperature is 93.5° F.
- Beeswax production in most hives is about 1.5% to 2% of the total honey yield.
- About 8 pounds of honey is eaten by bees to produce 1 pound of beeswax.
- Honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans.
- A single hive contains approximately 40-45,000 bees!
- During honey production periods, a bee’s life span is about 6 weeks.
- Honeybees visit about 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey.
- A bee travels an average of 1,600 round trips in order to produce one ounce of honey; up to 6 miles per trip. To produce 2 pounds of honey, bees travel a distance equal to 4 times around the earth.
- Honey bees are one of the very few invertebrates that engage in a sleep-like behavior, similar in many respects to mammalian sleep.
- Honey bees are one of very few invertebrates that produce a sort of “milk” for their young, Royal Jelly, which is the only food the larvae will eat in early development.
- Like other social insects, Bees have an advanced immune system.
- Bees have specially modified hairs on their body that develop a static electricity charge to attract pollen grains to their bodies.
- Bees navigate by using a combination of memory, visual landmarks, colours, the position of the sun, smell, polarized light, and magnetic anomalies.
The honey bee was a prominent political symbol in the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte representing the Bonapartist bureaucratic and political system.