As you may know, I have a special fondness for bees - my grandfather was a beekeeper and I have amazingly vivid memories of visiting my grandparents as a little girl and seeing all the beehives in their beautiful gardens - we always had fresh honey...and beeswax candles...I even remember sucking on fresh honeycomb; honeybees definitely bring back fond memories of my childhood. Terri managed to put together a package with a honeybee theme - she included two cookie cutters (which I did not have in my vast collection), a set of measuring spoons, two Mary Lake-Thompson flour sack towels, and a beautiful A. E. Williams pewter beehive pincushion (shown with some of my favorite Puntini Puntini pins)! I was giddy like a little schoolgirl as I opened each of these treasures - what an absolute treat!
So I thought, since I shared some fun facts about ladybugs with you a few months ago, that I would share some fun facts about honeybees with you today:
- Honeybees are not native to the United States - they are European in origin; brought to North America by the early settlers.
- The practice of honey collection and beekeeping dates back to the stone-age, as evidenced by cave paintings.
- The honeybee hive is perennial - the honeybee survives the winter months by clustering inside the hive for warmth. By self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the winter cluster (regardless of the outside temperature).
- Honeybees are not aggressive by nature, and will not sting unless protecting their hive from an intruder or are unduly provoked.
- A hive consists of 20,000 - 30,000 bees in the winter, and over 60,000 - 80,000 bees in the summer.
- Honeybees represent a highly organized society, with various bees having very specific roles during their lifetime: e.g., nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants, undertakers, foragers, etc.
- There is only one queen per hive - the queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries. A queen bee can live for 3-5 years....and during that time she will mate only once with several male (drone) bees...she will remain fertile for life. She lays up to 2000 eggs per day - fertilized eggs become female (worker bees) and unfertilized eggs become male (drone bees). When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will "make" a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of "royal jelly" (made up of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee's head).
- All worker bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live for 4-9 months during the winter season, but only 6 weeks during the busy summer months (they literally work themselves to death). Nearly all of the bees in a hive are worker bees. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once.
- Male bees (drone bees) are kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin queen. Because the drone has a barbed sex organ, mating is followed by death of the drone. There are only 300-3000 drones in a hive. The drone does not have a stinger. Because they are of no use in the winter, drones are expelled from the hive in the autumn.
- Bees collect 66 lbs of pollen per year, per hive. Pollen is the male germ cells produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo formation. The Honeybee uses pollen (one of the richest and purest natural foods) as food.
- Agriculture depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination. Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination. Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of vegetables and fruits.
- Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants. Honey is an easily digestible, pure food - it is hydroscopic with antibacterial qualities. Eating local honey is known to fend off allergies.
So there you have it - today's honeybee lesson - quite interesting, aren't they??!