Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hive Life

Have you ever wondered what a honeybee does with her day? Below is a short story following the bees in a hive from morning to night. As you read the story, imagine what all the happy, little honeybees look like as they fly from flower to flower before returning home to their siblings. 

Hive Life
The bee yard is cloaked in stillness and silence. It is a slumbering baby peaceful and safe. The earth’s breath exhales, and a whisper of a breeze blows through fragile pine needles scenting the air. The trees keep a watchful gaze over the small, white towers resting beneath them. They seem frozen in place as if anything more than the slightest movement could break the spell. Even a drop of syrup, formed beneath the knob of a pine tree, stays in place. The trees cast sleepy shadows on the uneven ground covered in grass, pine cones, and aged pine needles, all wrapped in a liquid dew blanket. Above, the sky is as 
blue as a child’s bright eyes and lightens with the promise of a beautiful day.

Under a canopy of pine trees, the bee yard begins to stir. As the worker bees emerge from their cozy homes, the cold chill of the morning air greets them. One bee, eager to begin the day, approaches the edge of her small porch. The morning sun glints off her fragile, transparent wings, as the shadows shift with the rising sun. The bee’s bronze and deep brown, stripped body is covered in tiny hairs, which she combs with her front legs as she stands preparing to take off. Her small head, with her innocent chocolate brown eyes, shifts slightly as she takes in the sight of her familiar home.  She takes one step forward, and then pauses as if drawing in a deep breath. Finally prepared, she lifts her wings, and rises into the damp air. All around her, scouts from neighboring colonies join her in flight.

As the sun lifts higher, and the air begins to warm, scouts return home from their morning mission. They fly near the entrances of their hives, and then circle as they check to verify they have approached the correct tower. Moving closer, one scout comes within an inch of the hive and hovers as though she is a helicopter the moment before it lands. Soon, she lets herself drop the last inch, and she lands on the porch of her home.

In the hives surrounding her home, other scouts are mirroring her actions. Excited to gather information, worker bees surround the scouts as they explain the position of flowers through a dance. Soon, hundreds of bees line the porch ready to begin their day. As the bees take off, the buzz in the air grows louder. The world begins to vibrate with the beating wings of tiny workers. They are filled with purpose as they speed off in search of the brilliant blooms.

Upon spotting a bright flower, a worker hovers for a moment before dropping onto the soft pad of pollen. As she does, her tiny, fuzzy body becomes coated in the powdered pollen. Using her front legs, she combs her hair carefully. Then, she dispenses her findings into her pollen baskets. While on the same flower, she lets her straw-like tongue make contact with the flower’s nectar and carefully fills her belly with the sweet substance. Satisfied, she lifts off again and takes a short flight to a nearby flower. Soon, the small bee is too full to carry any more. Weighed down, she begins her flight home using the sun’s position as a guide.

Back at the hive, the nectar filled bee begins transferring her gatherings to a waiting worker bee. The young bee is excited to taste the sugary, sweet liquid. Beginning her instinctive job, she transforms the nectar into honey and carefully packs it into the small, waiting hexagons. Beside her, hundreds of bees carefully pick their way across the combs, completing various tasks.

Beneath these vigorously working bees, in the first story of the hive, a host of female workers surround one very important bee. The queen is pampered and fawned over. Her doting daughters continuously surround her long, elegant body tending to her every need. She is the center, which the hive surrounds, and the life giver of all other workers. As the ruler takes confident, purposeful steps, her loyal subjects keep a careful circle around her. They watch as she carefully lowers her head into a nearby cell and uses her large, watchful eyes to inspect it. Once she has decided the comb has been properly cleaned, the queen strides across the cell and positions herself in front of it. Then, with great care, she arches her body so the tip of her behind dips into the comb and lays an egg. Stepping forward, she begins to inspect the next comb.

Later on, as the vibrant colors of yellow, orange, and red smear the sky, the last of the worker bees return home. As they make their final landing, they are greeted by waiting nurse bees who groom them like affectionate mothers. Weighed down by their precious loads, they quickly join their siblings within the hive to finish packing in the day’s haul. As they travel throughout the hive, they hear a comforting buzz and can smell their beloved queen. These small signs let them know the hive is safe.

Outside the hive, the world is settling down for the night. The fiery hues of the evening fade into a sea of endless black as the luminous moon takes its place in the sky. Milky white light slips off the moon and floats gently to the earth giving the grass a peaceful glow. Within the grass, crickets begin their lullaby taking the place of the subsiding buzz, and the rustle of leaves join with harmony. The air is filled with cool moisture as if the twinkling stars above are washing away the day. Filled with peace, the entire yard is a serene escape untouched by human flaw. With a final gentle breeze, the earth says goodnight, and the bees respond with a nearly silent buzz. The yard slowly falls back asleep dreaming of the day to come.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Honey Bee Count (basic honey bee anatomy)

Honey bees are amazing insects and have amazing and interesting little bodies. There are six main parts of the honey bee’s anatomy (her body) that I’m going to cover here. They are easy to remember if you count from one to six.
A honey bee stinger
One Stinger: Honey bees have one STINGER and can only sting one time, and then they die. Unlike other stinging insects (such as wasps) that have smoother stingers, the honey bees stinger has tiny barbs that are like hooks and get caught in what they are stinging. The bee tries to pull her stinger out but those barbs won’t budge and instead her stinger, a poison sack, and some of her intestines are ripped from her body. She cannot live without these so she flies off and dies. The little poison sac attached to the stinger will continue to pump venom until the stinger is removed Watch THIS video to see what happens when a bee stings.

Full pollen baskets on the bees back legs

 Two Pollen Baskets: The worker bees have two POLLEN BASKETS located on their back legs. These baskets are similar to the pockets you may have in your jeans, but on the bees they are made up of tiny hairs. Their body gets covered in pollen while they’re on flowers and they use special combs on their front legs to brush the pollen from their body into the pollen baskets. Then they bring that pollen back to their beehive where the bees will use it for food.

A is the head, B is the thorax, C is the Abdomen

Three Main Body Parts; Head, Thorax, Abdomen:  Honey bees have three main body parts, the head, thorax, and abdomen. On her HEAD the honey bee has two antennas which she uses to smell and touch. She also
has mandibles which are part of her mouth. She uses her mandibles to chew. The worker bees also have special glands inside their head that make food for the baby bees. The THORAX is where the wings attach to, and her ABDOMEN is where her digestive tract (stomach), heart, and stinger are. There are also wax glands on the bottom of her abdomen that make tiny flakes of beeswax.

Two wings hooking together for flight
Four Wings: Honey bees can use their WINGS to fly about 15-20 miles per hour and their wings flap over 200 times per second!  Sometimes it looks like they only have two wings and that is because they hook their wings together when they are in flight. Bees also use their wings to cool the hive down when it gets hot in the summertime by fanning and beating their wings very fast.

The bees 5 eyes

Five Eyes: Honey bees have two large compound EYES on either side of their head, and three tiny eyes on the top of their head. The honey bee’s two compound eyes are special because they allow her to see different colors and markings on flowers that we cannot see. They can also see ultra violet light, which we cannot see. A flower that looks white to us may actually look blue-green to a bee! The three eyes on top of the bees head are used to help her see in the dark, because it’s dark inside the beehive.  

Six Legs: Having six LEGS make honey bees insects! Did you know that honey bees are actually the only insects that make food for humans? That food is honey of course! On her front pair of legs she has combs which she uses to brush the hair on her body, and remember, on her back set of legs she has two pollen baskets. Honey bees are also able to walk on many different kinds of surfaces because they have little hooks on their feet to grip rough surfaces, and pads that help them walk on smooth surfaces like glass. Have you ever heard the expression “it’s the bees knees”? Well, guess what, bees DO have knees!

Next time you see a honey bee, count to six and see if you can remember these six things about her anatomy!

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!