Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Honeybees Grow and Why the Queen is Different

The queen bee is the mother of the hive. All the other bees in the hive are her children, and the hive needs a lot of children because each bee can only produce 1/12 a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime! Luckily, since the queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day, there are a lot of bees in the hive working together to make honey. But what needs to happen before the egg laid by the queen is ready to help in the hive?

Tiny white eggs waiting to hatch in their cells

When the queen is ready to lay an egg, she looks for a clean, empty cell. A cell is a small wax structure honeybees use to store eggs, honey, and pollen. Once the queen finds a cell that is unoccupied, she dips her behind into the cell and lays a tiny, white egg. The egg is only about one to one and a half millimeters long. That’s smaller than a grain of rice! After the queen lays the egg, her job in creating that specific bee is over. Other bees, called worker bees, do the rest of the work to raise the young bee.

Larvae are curled up at the bottom of the cells

About three days after being laid, the egg hatches, but the bee is not yet ready to work. It is still very small and white. At this time, the growing bee is called a larva. Immediately after hatching, the larva begins receiving meals from special worker bees called nurse bees. The larva has a huge appetite and consumes small meals almost constantly over the course of about five days. After the fifth day of feeding, the larva has grown to its full size. However, the bee is still white and not fully developed. For example, it does not yet have wings. It must remain in its cell and continue to develop.

A full grown worker bee
After the larvae has finished eating, worker bees seal it in its cell with a wax cap. It takes the workers about six hours to create the cap, and they must visit the bee over 100 times to finish the project. You can think of the bee capped in its cell as similar to a caterpillar being in a cocoon. Inside the capped cell, the larvae transforms into a pupa and then into an adult bee. If the bee is a queen, she will emerge from her cell about 16 days after the egg was first laid. If the bee is a worker, she will stay in her cell slightly longer and emerge about 21 days after the egg was laid. If the bee is a drone, a boy bee, he will emerge approximately 24 days after being laid.

A full grown drone bee
When the bees emerge, they are golden brown in color with small hairs on their bodies. As they are insects, their bodies are separated into three parts: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. In addition, they each have six legs and two sets of wings. The different types of bees take different amounts of time to finish developing and emerge because of different body sizes and diets. For instance, the drone is larger than the worker, and therefore takes longer to finish growing. The queen bee takes less time to emerge because she is fed a different diet than the worker and drone bees.

A full grown queen bee
So what is a queen bee exactly? The queen bee is a female bee just like the workers. However, the way she is raised is slightly different from her sisters. During the first few days of life, a larva who is to become a worker bee is fed the exact same diet as one who is to become the queen bee. The food the young bees receive is a special substance made by nurse bees called royal jelly. Later, the food given to the developing worker bees is diluted with honey and pollen, but the food given to the developing queen is unchanged. The queen is fed so much of the important food that is builds up in her extra-large cell. The huge quantities of the special food given to the queen is what makes her able to lay eggs.

It takes a lot of honeybees to make even enough honey to spread across your slice of toast. Fortunately, countless new bees are born every day to help with the task. As they develop in their cells, they become ready for their adult life, and as soon as they emerge, they begin working. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Busy Life of a Worker Bee

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a bee inside a hive? Well, for the female worker bees, it is pretty busy! Just like there are many different jobs that people do in our world today, there are different jobs worker bees do in their hive. From the day they are born until the moment they die, they really are “busy little bees” working to build and better their beehive. Each worker has five main jobs she completes in her lifetime of 3-5 weeks, and she instinctively knows when it’s time to switch to each job.  

A newly hatched worker bee

1. Housekeeping 
Her work begins right after she hatches out of her cell. She turns around and begins cleaning out her cell, preparing it for the queen to lay a new egg. As a housekeeping bee, she will continue to clean the hive, taking out anything that does not belong inside the beehive.  

A nurse bee feeding baby bee larvae

2. Nurse
Her job as a nurse bee begins when she develops special glands in her head that help her make food for the queen and baby bees. These glands are called hypopharyngeal glands and produce a milky-white substance called royal jelly. As a nurse bee, she helps feed and care for the young larvae or baby bees and gets to serve in the queen’s court where she cares for and feeds the queen bee.

3. Wax

Her next job as a worker bee requires her to make beeswax to build new cells and repair old cells. How does she make the wax? When she eats honey, her body produces wax from eight wax glands located on her abdomen. The wax flakes off, and she forms it into the perfect hexagon shapes you see in honeycomb. She will also store nectar and pollen that other worker bees bring into the hive by packing it into the wax cells.


Worker bees guarding the entrance of their hive 
4. Guard

As a guard bee, a worker bee will stay at the entrance of the hive, defending it from any invaders such as wasps or predators like skunks. Honey bees easily recognize bees from their own hive by scent and will chase away any bee not from their hive. Guard bees release an alarm pheromone to warn their hive when there is an intruder. Pheromones are scents (much like perfume) that the bees release from their bodies to communicate with each other. The guards also help cool the hive down when it gets hot by fanning their wings to move air throughout the hive.


5. Forager

A worker's last job as a foraging bee is when she finally gets to leave the hive and fly out to gather food and supplies. She will work from sunup to sundown visiting flowers to gather nectar and pollen. Did you know that honey bees actually collect more than just nectar and pollen? They also collect water to help cool the hive if it’s hot and tree sap to make propolis, which is sticky bee glue. 

A worker bee collects nectar and pollen from flowers

In between jobs, worker bees may also serve the hive by helping with various tasks, such as removing dead bees from the hive, making propolis and applying it in the hive, and fanning nectar to evaporate water from it. 

Worker honey bees are very committed to their different jobs, working until their wings are so torn they can no longer fly. The jobs performed by each bee may be small, but by working together and contributing their part, honey bees can have a strong and healthy hive.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Representatives Crowned in Anaheim

The new American Honey Queen and Princess were selected at the 2015 American Beekeeping Federation Convention in Anaheim, California.

2015 American Honey Queen
Gabrielle Hemesath from Iowa

2015 American Honey Princess
Hayden Wolf from Texas

They will posting interesting articles around bees and honey throughout their year. Keep an eye out for the sweetest representatives in America!

2015 American Honey Queen Gabrielle Hemesath &
2015 American Honey Princess Hayden Wolf

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bee Sense

Have you ever wondered what the world would look like if you were an insect? In your everyday life, you use your five senses (taste, touch, hearing, smell and sight) to learn about the world around you. An insect’s body works differently from yours and that changes the way they learn about the world around them.

Front view of a proboscis 

Taste: A bee’s sense of taste depends on receptors in her antennae. She can tell the difference between bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. If she likes the taste, she will extend her proboscis and begin to feed.

Touch: A bee’s sense of touch is similar to a human. They often use their antennae to measure cells and also touch each other during bee dances.

Hearing: Although most insects do not have ears to hear, they are able to “hear” sound around them because of the vibrations in the air. A bee is covered in very sensitive hairs which alert her to vibrations in the air. Worker bees can “hear” a scout bee buzzing as she tells them where food can be found.

A honey bee releasing pheromones to guide other bees home

Smell: Honeybees use chemical smells called pheromones to communicate with each other and identify bees that belong in their hive. A honeybee does not have a nose; instead, she uses special receptors in her antenna to decipher what pheromones are around her.   

Sight: Unlike humans, honeybees 
Comparison of human and bee visible light
have compound eyes with thousands of individual light receptors. This means that instead of seeing the world as one picture, bees see many individual dots of color placed together. It is similar to the way a television screen projects a picture. A honeybee’s compound eyes also see a different color range than humans, making it difficult to see red but allowing them to see ultraviolet light. A honeybee also has three additional simple eyes located on the top of her head. A bee cannot use these simple eyes, called ocelli, to see color. They can only see the difference between dark and light with these eyes which helps bees navigate.

Bees are amazing insects with very intricate bodies. They perceive the world differently than we do and use their senses to keep their hive happy and healthy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Science Behind the Shelf Life

Honey has been used throughout history for eating, cooking, medicine, and more. Honey is a healthy, versatile food, and many people have prized this sweet treat. Ancient Egyptians were one group of people who enjoyed using honey in everyday life. While excavating Ancient Egyptian tombs recently, archaeologists have found honey in pots left by those from older times. The honey was thousands of years old, yet, the food remained unspoiled and preserved. What is it that makes honey such a special food?

Honey is the only food that never spoils. Many factors contribute to this including its lack of water, its acidity, and the presence of hydrogen peroxide in honey. Without any of these factors, honey could not remain preserved for eternity. All three of those factors work in perfect and complete harmony to make the sweet golden liquid have a never ending shelf life. 

The first factor, its lack of water, comes from honey’s chemical makeup. Honey is a natural sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, which means that sugars contain very little water in their natural state but could readily suck up lots of moisture if left unsealed. Because honey is a sugar, it has a hygroscopic nature. How does this help honey stay preserved? Bacteria need a moist environment to grow and honey doesn’t have a moist enough environment for bacteria to grow. Bacteria that enter foods and make them spoil can’t grow in honey. There has to be something in the honey jars to make them spoil and with such a inhospitable environment for bacteria, organisms can’t live long enough to spoil our precious sweet treat!

Not only is honey hygroscopic, but it’s also acidic. Naturally, honey has a pH range of roughly 3 - 4.5. This is why you always hear that when cooking with honey, it’s always good to add baking soda to your recipe. It's because of honey’s acidic pH! This pH is so acidic that most bacteria or organisms cannot survive. Honey is just not a good home to bacteria or organisms, but it’s great in our pantry. 

There are other hygroscopic foods out there with relatively low pHs. Why does honey remain unspoiled and not other foods such as molasses? This brings us to our last important factor, the presence of hydrogen peroxide. Here’s where our lovely little girls come in, the honeybees! Nectar, which is collected from the bees to make honey, is naturally high in water content. The bees remove much of that water, once inside the hive, by flapping their wings to literally dehydrate it. On top of the dehydrating, the bees also add something special to the product. Honeybees add an enzyme that adds to honey’s resilience. This enzyme is called glucose oxidase. When the bees deposit the nectar from their mouths into the beeswax combs to make honey, the enzyme mixes with the nectar. Once mixed with the nectar, the enzyme breaks down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Then, hydrogen peroxide also goes to work against possible spoiling agents in the honey.  For this reason, honey has been used for medical remedies and has been a cherished, long-lasting food. The hydrogen peroxide, combined with honey’s thickness, allows for the rejection of any kind of bacteria growth, and it creates the perfect barrier against the infection of wounds. 

Although honey is a super food, there is one extra factor you want to keep in mind--the seal of your honey. If you leave honey out with no seal in a humid environment, the moisture can’t be controlled and honey will spoil. This is why even inside the beehive, honeybees cap over their honey-filled cells with beeswax to preserve it! If no water is added to the honey and you keep the lid tightly on the jar, you’ve got a shelf life that will last way beyond a lifetime!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bee Beards

What would you think if you saw a beard made out of live bees? Maybe you have seen a beekeeper do a bee beard at a festival, fair, or other event or you might have seen photos or videos of one. Have you ever wondered how a bee beard works?

Ready to wear some bees!
Bee beards are an amazing sight and a wonderful demonstration of how gentle our honeybees truly are. Bee beards also show us just how important the queen’s pheromones are to the hive, since it is her smell which causes the bees to cluster on the beekeepers face to form the bee beard.
First, a box of bees is prepared as an artificial swarm with the queen contained in a small screened cage. The person who will be wearing the beard is prepared by ensuring any jewelry or hair that would get in the way is contained and that he/she is not wearing any scents which would bother the bees.

Next, the queen cage is tied underneath the chin so that the bees will be able to smell her pheromones through the screen. A box full of worker bees is then shaken out onto a tray or barber cape worn by the person wearing the beard.  

Because the worker bees can smell the queen in the cage, they all climb up and cluster around her and form the beard of bees.
The bees beginning to cluster
Forming a fuller beard 

To remove the bee beard, the queen cage is taken off and then the rest of the bees are removed when the person wearing the beard jumps up and shakes the bees back into their box.

Wearing a bee beard feels electric! It feels funny because of all of the legs clinging to your face and the bees produce a lot of heat. It’s very neat to see how quickly the bees react to the queen pheromone and how gentle they remain throughout the whole process. Wearing a bee beard is an amazing experience and a lot of fun! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beeswax and the Arts

Beeswax is used in many things like cosmetics and candles, and it is also used in the arts! Beeswax is used to make beautiful encaustic paintings, detailed sculptures and sweet-smelling candles.  

Beeswax is a natural wax that is produced by honeybees. Worker honeybees have four pairs of wax glands (eight total glands) on their abdomens that produce the wax. The wax flakes off their abdomen, and the honeybees form it into cells. Honeybees use wax to build their homes or hives making honeycomb with the hexagonal shaped cells out of the wax. They store everything in these cells like larvae or baby bees,
nectar, pollen, and honey. Beekeepers melt old wax or old comb into wax blocks.

Encaustic painting is better known as a hot wax painting. The paintings are very beautiful and really show the versatility of beeswax. Normally, encaustic painters melt beeswax to use in creating and molding their beautiful paintings. Equipment like metal tools and special brushes are used to sculpt the wax. Once it's cooled, encaustic painters begin creating their art. Encaustic paintings aren’t just sculpted, they can be painted as well. The natural wax makes bright, vivid colors when mixed with other color waxes. Did you know that some of the first encaustic paintings were seen around 100-300AD in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt? 

Not only is beeswax used in encaustic paintings, it can be used to create some amazing sculptures! Beeswax is really easy to use when hand molding a sculpture or pouring the wax into molds to create models and figures. Since the Middle Ages and ancient Rome, sculptors have used beeswax because it cuts easily, melts at a low temperature (so you don’t need a special oven or kiln to melt it), and it can be colored. Once molded into a gorgeous sculpture, beeswax will hold up well against age. In ancient Rome, they used beeswax to make death masks to be buried with the elite or royal. Who knew beeswax had so much history?

The wick and wax that you'll need
to make your candle!
Starting to roll your candle. 

A really fun and easy DIY project with beeswax is to roll your own candle! You can buy pre-melted beeswax sheets and wicks at any large beekeeping supplier (Dadant, Glorybee, etc). They sell a rainbow of colors that can brighten up your room or even make a neat, thoughtful gift for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Once you have the sheet of wax, cut the wax with a pizza cutter or scissors into four long sheets in order to make four candles (you can cut the wax smaller or larger if needed). Next, take the wick and measure it against the width of the wax edge and cut the wick, with scissors, so a little extra wick can stick out of the wax. The extra wick sticking out will how you light your candle! After this, press the wick into the far edge of the wax and roll a little bit of the wax over the top so the wick is completely covered except the part of the wick that will burn. Now comes the easy part! Continue rolling up the candle while keeping the edges straight. Maintain pressure to make sure your candle stays tight. The tighter you roll your candle, the longer it will burn. Even candle-making can be an art! The number one thing to remember is that anyone can try using beeswax in their arts and crafts. The main goal of artwork is to “bee” creative. 
The finished rolled candle. You can make them many shapes and sizes.