Friday, August 14, 2015

Ten UnBee-lievable Honey Bee Facts

Bees are (or at least should be) on everyone's mind right now, because National Honey Bee Awareness Day is tomorrow! It's the day (every third Saturday of August) we commemorate to nature's little pollinators and honey producers. You might not believe it, but there is a lot more to honey bees than their stinger, yellow bodies and black stripes. If you want to impress your friends with some interesting bee facts, look no further! But first, it's time for...

Days till:
It is: 1 day till National Honey Bee Awareness Day
It is: 24 days till Labor Day
It is: 40 days till Fall
It is: 103 days till the theatrical release of The Good Dinosaur

In the Spotlight:
Sorry, I don't have anything to report on this week...but I do have a short video clip to show, since National Honey Bee Awareness Day is coming up:

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Honey bees are very fascinating insects.
Well, National Honey Bee Awareness Day is right around the corner, so naturally, everyone is unbeelievably excited about honey bees! And why not get excited about these busy little insects? After all, if it weren't for them, where would our honey come from? Beelieve it or not though, there are quite likely some things that you don't know about these little pollinators. So today, instead of beeing beehind on your knowledge of these bee-autiful insects, take a look at my list of ten amazing facts that you may or may not know about our bee-sy bee friends. (Sorry, couldn't help but through a few bee puns in there!)

The Honey Family (Snap, Snap)*
The honey bee, like other insects, has a body made up of three parts (head, thorax and abdomen) and three pairs of legs.
When the word “bee” is said, undoubtedly the honeybee is what comes to most people's minds. However, this extremely undermines the extent of the bee family. In fact, there are over 25,000 members of the family Apidae, or bee family, around the world! Out of those, 4,000 can be found in the United States. These numbers are likely to expand in the future though, because as with many insects, new species of bees are being discovered all the time.

Some species of bees include carpenter bees, orchid bees, cuckoo bees and the bumblebee, which is capable of carrying nearly half its own body weight in pollen back to its hive!

Bumblebees are incredibly strong for their size, as they are capable of carrying half its own body weight of pollen.
* In case you didn't get the reference, this was a nod to the Adam's Family theme song.

Social Workers
Honeybees live in huge colonies that can consist of over 80,000 individuals!
Honeybees are social insects, living in cooperative colonies that can consist of over 80,000 bees! But did you know that there are three types of bees in a hive: workers, drones and the queen?

As their title suggests, the workers carry out all the work in the hive. Worker bees are always female, and their job description includes building and (if need be) repairing their hive, defending the hive, raising the young, collecting food, cleaning the hive, making the honey and many other jobs necessary to keep the hive functional. No wonder they're so busy! In fact, worker bees are so busy, that during the time of year these insects are making and storing honey, they only tend to live five to seven weeks. Thankfully, the queen ensures that these frequent deaths don't deplete the population of the colony.

Honeybees communicate via the "waggle dance", as seen above. The angle and distance of a honeybee's movements tells the other bees where sources of food or a good place for a new hive might be.
Did you know that bees are really talkative too? Instead of using verbal communication like most animals we're familiar with, bees communicate using a series of movements called the “waggle dance”. If a worker bee has located a potential place to make a new hive or a good source of food, she will return to the hive and begin to move in a figure eight while shaking her abdomen. The length and direction of each dance motion tells the other beers the distance and direction of the flowers.

The worker bee in the center of the picture is performing the waggle dance.
But instead of just talking about the waggle dance, why not watch this video on the topic?

I've Got a Stinger and I Know How to Use It! (Or) Honey, I Stung the Kids
"Honey, I stung the kids," this bee might say when she returns to the hive. Worker bees can only sting once, because they die soon after.
Honeybees are little insects that would make a tasty snack for many predators if they didn't possess a stinger at the base of their abdomen. The stinger is attached to a venom gland in the insect's abdomen; it's this venom that gives a beesting its punch. Once a bee stings something (be it animal or human), a fishhook-shaped barb at the end of the stinger prevents it from being pulled out easily. Therefore, the stinger remains in the victim even after the bee flies away, continuing to pump additional venom into the wound. Thankfully, unless a person is allergic to bees, a beesting is not dangerous.

The honeybee might beg to differ, however, as stinging a victim is dangerous for the bee. When a bee stings something, the entire stinger and venom  gland are torn from the bees abdomen. This causes it to die soon after. This isn't the case with all bees though; bumblebees lack a barb on the end of their stingers, allowing them to continue stinging something several times if need be. (The same is true of queen honey bees, but since they rarely leave the hive, the chances of getting stung by one are extremely slim.)

Honeybees and the Flowers
Honeybees are one of our most important pollinators.
Bees share a special relationship with flowering plants. When a worker bee goes out to collect what it needs to make food for the rest of the hive, she finds a flower and crawls into it to access the nectar inside. In the process, pollen attaches to the bee. Every time this bee lands on another flower, she drops and picks up pollen, meaning pollen is carried from flower to flower. It is this pollen that the bee drops off that allows the flower to produce fruit with seeds in it, meaning it can reproduce after its own kind. Isn't this process ingenious? In this fashion, bees and flowers share a symbiotic relationship – the flower is allowed to reproduce and the bee gets nectar she needs to make the food she, drinks, actually. The flower can't live without the bee and vise versa.

Nature's Honey Manufacturers
Would you believe me if I told you that honey is technically honeybee vomit?
A worker honeybee extracts nectar using her long, tube-like tongue called a proboscis, storing it in a portion of her gut designated for temporary nectar storage, or “honey stomach”, as it's sometimes called. Once full and weighing twice her usual body weight,  she flies back to the hive and honey manufacturing begins. Once arriving at the hive, another worker bee will stick her own proboscis down the nectar-filled bee's throat and she sucks out the nectar. This nectar is then processed in her mouth and honey stomach for about half an hour to give the nectar time to be broken down by special enzymes that make the nectar easier for the bees to digest once it's made into honey. After the 30 minutes or so is up, the honeybee regurgitates the nectar into a honeycomb. So essentially, honey is honeybee vomit...still sound yummy?

The Queen Bee
Though she's unlikely to win any spelling bees, the queen bee is one of the most important bees in the hive. Here, she is marked with a red dot by her researchers so they can easily locate her amid possibly 80,000 other bees.
Earlier, I mentioned that there are three types of bees. One of which is the Queen Bee. The queen bee is the largest individual in the colony and it's her job to ensure that there's always a steady addition of new bees born. She also releases chemicals into the hive that stimulate the behaviors of other bees in the hive. Needless to say, the queen is extremely important, and without her, the hive goes haywire fast! So when a queen bee dies, the workers must quickly make a new queen form. How do they create a new queen? The answer lies in a special food called “royal jelly”.

These two queen bees are given royal jelly to help them grow into the roles as queens.
Royal jelly is a special diet that worker females feed to a select group of female baby worker bees. The royal jelly triggers the development of several “queen bee exclusive” features in their body, including reproductive organs. Then when the first queen bee reaches maturity, she will kill off the other developing queens to ensure she has no competition. Now, she top bee in the hive. As their life isn't nearly as busy as that of a worker bee, a queen bee can live between three to five years in the wild.

Did I mention royal jelly is sold for human consumption too?

What About the Boys?
Honeybee drones, or males, do not sting. Their only purpose in life is to mate with the queen bee.
Most often talked about concerning bees are the workers and queen bees, but not all bees are female. There are several hundred drone, or male, bees in a hive. They don't have stingers and have nothing to do with the upkeep of the hive, or collecting food. Their only job in life is to mate with the queen. However, during the leaner winter months, the drones are banished from the hive in order to ensure there's enough food for the colony to last the entire winter.

What Come Winter?
In winter, honeybees, like these giant honeybees pictured above, gather together to conserve warmth.
Honeybees (the workers anyway) work throughout the spring and summer months to ensure there's enough food to last the entire winter, where flowers no longer produce nectar. In order to retain a high body temperature during the colder parts of the year, the colony bunches together into a tight ball. It is also during this time of year that bee larvae are fed and developed for their life of constant work, so that when the spring dawns, the next generation of bees is ready to fulfill their purpose in life.

Once a Bee, Always a Bee
We know exactly what the bees dinosaurs lived with looked like because they are perfectly preserved in fossilized amber. Believe it or not, these bees are almost identical to modern bees.
When the word “fossil” comes to mind, bees are not usually brought up. However, we've found numerous fossils of bees in the fossil record; the lowest rock layer we've found bees in so far has been the lower Cretaceous rock layers, and using unreliable and unverifiable dating methods, age these rocks to be approximately 100 million years old. Unlike dinosaurs, we're able to even learn what these ancient bees would have looked like because we don't only find them as fossils, but also preserved in fossilized tree sap, called amber! Amber is almost like a time capsule, able to preserve the insect so that it remains exactly how it looked in life!

We can learn a lot from bees found preserved in amber. For one thing, we can easily recognize these insects as bees. They've changed very little in the past (alleged) 100 million years. But while evolutionist scientists would argue that these fossil bees are like snapshots of their evolution, this can hardly be the case considering the bees are almost identical to modern bees. The fact that the bees are almost identical better fits a scientific model that evolution hadn't occurred at all in bees. We see no evidence in the fossil record to suggest that bees evolved from any other kind of insect. Instead, just like the Bible says in Genesis chapter one, the fossil record reveals that bees have been reproducing after their own kind. They were created during the creation week around 6,000 years ago and since then have diversified into tens of thousands of different species. But never once have bees developed into anything other than a bee.

Beela Vanilla
This little guy, er...girl, actually, is a Melipona bee, the kind of bee responsible for the pollination of vanilla plants.
So we know we get honey (and of course, beeswax) from bees, but there's something else that we get from bees that most of us couldn't imagine living without: vanilla! That's right! Vanilla is also produced by bees! The bees responsible for making vanilla are called Melipona bees. These bees are native to South America and, unlike their honey-making relatives, don't have a stinger. Melipona bees have a symbiotic relationship with the vanilla orchid. This species is one of the few capable of pollinating these orchids, making them just as important to the orchid as the orchid is to the bee. It is thanks to these little pollinators that we have vanilla today.

I hope you learned an unbeelievable amount of bee facts from this article. Tomorrow, as we celebrate National Honey Bee Awareness Day, be sure to spare a thought for these little creatures. Because if God had never made them, we'd never have beeswax, (vanilla in the case of the Melipona bees) or honey.

Happy National Honey Bee Awareness Day everyone!


Disclaimer: Many (or in some cases all) of the photographs and images above are not mine. If you own one or more of them and would like them to be removed, politely let me know via my email address.

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