Lately, our free time has been “abuzz” with honey bee talk. We need to order our bees very soon to reserve them for spring. We’ve been reading books and researching on the internet to help us decide which supplier to purchase bees from and which hive design to use.
We’ve been learning some amazing things about honey bees. Have you noticed that people who keep bees tend to get a bit obsessive? The reason? Honey bees are fascinating! Read through some of the facts we’ve discovered about them and see for yourself.
- Do you think honey bees always die after they sting something? Actually, they can sting insects over and over again to protect their hive. A honey bee stinger only gets stuck inside mammalian skin, causing it to tear from the bee’s body, killing the bee. Honey bees are usually calm and gentle, only stinging to defend their hive or themselves.
- A honey bee hive is a very clean environment. The worker bees value cleanliness and rid the hive of any dead bees, carrying them far away so disease cannot spread. If a small rodent enters the hive and gets stung to death, the bees encase it in propolis, a brown, sticky substance collected from trees with antibacterial qualities. This mummifies the corpse which eliminates any threat of it spreading disease in the hive.
- A healthy hive consists of about 60,000 honey bees. The vast majority of these are the “worker bees.” All worker bees are female, sisters to one another, and daughters of the queen. This is why many beekeepers adoringly refer to their bees as “the girls.”
- There is only one queen and she is the only female with fully developed ovaries in the hive. As she was developing, she was fed only royal jelly, which causes her abdomen to elongate. Had her diet been changed to honey and pollen as a young larva, she would have developed into a regular worker bee.
- A new queen mates in the air with drones (male honey bees). She mates with multiple drones over the course of a few days, then retreats into a hive to begin laying eggs. She will not mate again in her lifetime. The drones’ sperm is stored inside the queen’s abdomen and is kept alive for as long as she is producing eggs, which could be several years!
- The queen can lay 1,500 eggs a day. She can lay an egg every 30 seconds. This is her only job in the hive. The worker bees build cells for the queen to lay eggs in. They build small cells for a worker bee egg and larger cells for a drone egg. The queen knows which egg to lay based on the size of the cell! This way, the drone population of the hive is managed appropriately, as only a couple hundred drones are needed for the hive.
- Drone eggs are unfertilized eggs from the queen. Drones have no father! They have half the chromosomes of a female bee.
- A drone’s main purpose in the hive is to breed with a new queen from a different colony. They have no stinger to defend the hive, nor a pollen basket for foraging. They must be fed and cared for by the worker bees. That may sound unfair, but as the hive prepares for winter, the worker bees throw all drones out of the hive, where they surely meet their end. The girls know the extra mouths to feed during winter could mean the death of the whole colony.
- Perhaps a drone is to be pitied altogether. His reproductive anatomy is designed similarly to a stinger, with barbs. Once it enters the queen, it gets stuck and rips from his body. Having fulfilled his purpose in life, he falls to the ground, dead.
- To make one pound of honey, honey bees must visit about 2 million flowers and fly about 55,000 miles.
- Worker bees feed each developing larva about 1,300 times a day!
- As soon as a worker bee emerges from her cell, she feasts on honey and then gets right to work, cleaning out her cell. As she ages, she rotates through a schedule of imperative tasks and duties inside the hive. At about 3 weeks of age, approximately half her life, she finally enters into the role she’s most known for, gathering pollen and nectar as a field bee. She will continue this role until the day she dies. No retirement for honey bees.
There are so many other amazing things about honey bees. My list could go on and will certainly grow as we continue to learn more about these amazing, complex, tiny creatures. I’m not typically a bug person, even butterflies can creep me out (How do people go inside those gardens and let butterflies crawl all over them?!), but I have to say, there may be a chance I could turn into a crazy beekeeper, obsessing over “the girls” and the miraculous world inside a honey bee hive.