Bees are a vast and diverse species of flying insects. In fact, there are literally thousands of different types of bees on planet earth. Belonging to the Apis genus and the Apini tribe, the honey bee (Apis melifera) is also known as the ‘Western honey bee’ and the ‘European honey bee’. Native to Africa and Eurasia, honey bees have been spread across the planet by human beings and are now found in numerous places across the globe.
A healthy honey bee colony typically consists of tens of thousands of individual bees. There are 3 primary types of honey bees within a colony: the queen bee, the worker bees, and the drones.
Female honey bees are destined to become either ‘worker bees’ or ‘queen bees’. A queen bee is the title given to an adult female mated bee that lives in the honey bee colony with the rest of the hive along with the worker bees and drones. Queen bees are developed from larvae that are specifically selected by worker bees and nourished by a special diet of royal jelly.
The average lifespan of a queen bee is three to four years and once she is mature she will produce up to 1,000 eggs a day for the remainder of her life. Within three to four days of being laid by the queen bee, honey bee larvae hatch from egg nurseries within the hive. The larvae are fed by ‘nurse bees’ and go through several stages of metamorphosis as they transform into full-fledged honey bees.
Worker bees are non-reproducing females that are fed a substance called ‘bee bread’ which serves to keep them sterile. Living for a few weeks in the summer to several months during the winter, worker bees serve a variety of roles within the colony including foraging for food. Adorably, honey bees communicate with specific dance moves to let other bees in their hive know where they have found nectar.
In addition to collecting nectar, worker bees act as ’nurse bees’ and are responsible for the care of the larvae and young bees. Honey bee colonies prefer a hive that is neat and tidy, dry, and protected. Honey bees maintain a temperature of 90-95 degrees within their hives. It is the worker bees that keep the hive clean and they are the ones that build out and expand the size of the hive. Honey bees are most visible in late spring and throughout the summer when new queens and 1,000’s of worker bees leave the hive to build new nests.
Drones are male bees whose primary life calling is to find and mate with a Queen Bee. Both the queen and drones are larger than worker bees and therefore require larger cells to develop within as larvae. Drones live for one season (approximately 90 days) and unlike the worker bee, drones do not sting.
Measuring approximately 15 mm long honey bees are oval-shaped with alternating gold, brown, or black bands of color. Their bodies have 3 different segments:
The web of life is interconnected, interdependent, and sublime. Honey bees and wild bees are an absolutely necessary, integral, and irreplaceable asset to the world. As an essential aspect of the global ecological system bees pollinate nearly 75% of the world’s produce. This includes: alfalfa, almonds, apples, berries, buckwheat, celery, cherries, chives, coffee, cucumber, flax, garlic, grapes, lettuce, okra, stone fruit (peaches, pears, and plums), sunflowers, sweet potatoes, and watermelons amongst others.
Plants rely on pollinators including bees, bats, birds (such as hummingbirds), insects, water, and wind to assist them in the reproduction process. Plants have adapted over time to be attractive to the pollinators. Bees, for example, are drawn to flowers because of their scent and vibrant colors.
Honey bees collaborate in a reciprocal relationship with the flowering plants that they visit. In her quest for the nectar found inside each flower, the honey bee brushes against the stamen (the flower’s male reproductive organ). During which time some of the flower’s pollen sticks to the tiny hair-like structures on the body of the honey bee. Then, when she visits another flower, some of the pollen is brushed off the bee and onto the stigma (the flower’s female reproductive organ).
The process of transferring pollen from one flower to another is called pollination. Once pollination occurs the plant is fertilized and seed-bearing fruit can then develop.
Honey bees collect pollen and nectar which are excellent food sources for the hive. The bees store honey in honeycombs within the hive that serve as a nutrient-dense source of food to be consumed during the cooler times of the year when there are naturally fewer flowers from which to gather nectar.
Nectar (the sweet liquid found in flowers) is harvested from the flowers using the bees specially designed extra long tubular shaped tongue. Honey bees return to the hive with their ‘honey belly’ full of nectar. While they fly home, enzymes get added to the nectar and begin the honey-making process.
Once home in the hive, the worker bees pass (regurgitate) the nectar from bee to bee within the hive. Each time the nectar is passed to another bee more enzymes are added to the mixture. Eventually, the nectar mixture is deposited into honeycombs where the bees fan their wings over the mixture in an effort to help it dry. The honeycomb is then sealed with wax. This exquisite nectar mixture is called honey.
The honey bee life cycle depends greatly on their status within their society.
Since 1947 the honey bee population has declined 60%. Between 2015 and 2016 an estimated 44% of beekeeper colonies died. In 2017 the honey bee was added to the endangered species list in the continental United States.
Honey bees are suffering from a symptom known as ‘colony collapse disorder’ (CCD) CDC is an abnormal phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees within a colony disappear leaving behind their queen, food, a few nurse bees, and a few drones in the hive. Since its emergence CCD remains an immediate threat to the honey bees and to crops worldwide. At their core, honey bees keep agriculture crops and therefore humans alive. Without bees, most of the world’s crops would fail and humans would not have very much to eat.
1) The invasive varroa mite (a pest of the honey bee).
2) Chemical pesticides that are all too often applied in agriculture. In particular bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids (or neonics) that poison and kill honey bees. Pesticide exposure can be deadly to honey bees as well as other insects and animals. When a honey bee pollinates a plant that has been sprayed with poisonous pesticides the poison can easily contaminate the other bees in their hive.
3) New and emerging diseases including Nosema (a gut parasite) and Israeli Acute Paralysis virus.
4) One of the most prolific threats to honey bee populations is due to changes to their natural habitat, most notably the loss of natural habitat.
5) Inadequate forage and/or poor nutrition.
6) Environmental stress:
There have been more than 83 experiments yielding the same results as the one conducted in Lausanne, Switzerland which shows that cell phone signals ‘confuse bees and may also lead to their death’.
Action steps that we can take to help protect and save the honey bees.
1) Plant bee-friendly gardens. Bee-friendly gardens can be established in window boxes, planters, and flower pots as well as garden borders. By planting a bee-friendly garden you are doing good for the honey bees, for your garden, and for the planet.
– It is helpful to replace some of your grass lawn with a variety of brightly colored flowering plants. These flowering plants will provide both habitat and nourishment for honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
– Plant flowers and other plants that are native to your area. Ideally, your garden is planted with flowers that bloom at different times of the year.
– Plant bee-friendly plants including: bee balm flowers, daisies, dandelions, clover, lavender, marigolds, milkweeds, mint, nasturtium, sage, zinnias, and other wildflowers.
2) Synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, are harmful to all involved.
It is of the utmost importance to avoid using pesticides in your yard and garden. Instead, choose to use organic, eco-conscious natural solutions that are pollinator-friendly and yet still mitigate unwanted pests. This method will protect the health of your garden, the pollinators, and our beloved planet.
3) Purchase and enjoy sustainably harvested local raw honey from trusted beekeepers.
4) When purchasing plants from nurseries it is important to make certain that they are neither hybridized nor grown with herbicides and pesticides. This bee-friendly decision will protect the planet and nourish the pollinators.
5) Study with the masters and become a beekeeper. Social creatures, a single hive can house as many as 20,000 to 100,000 bees. Keeping bees on your land is good for the bees, good for your garden, and good for Mother Earth.
6) It is prudent to ensure that beehives are not in close proximity to your home, barn, work-sheds, and so on. If for any reason you find that you need to remove, move, or re-home a hive that is in your home or on your property make certain that you contact a professional beekeeper. Calling in an expert will help to protect you and your loved ones from being stung and will help to protect the hive.