A very exciting recent arrival at the Nature Center is an active honeybee hive. Honeybees have been around since prehistoric times, producing honey that is stored in a nest made of wax. Bees were brought to America by early European settlers.
Used as a food source for the hive, honey is a complex substance made of nectar and sweet deposits from plants. To make one pound of honey, bees fly the equivalent of 55,000 miles, tapping 2,000,000 flowers. It requires more than 500 bees to gather a pound of honey.
There are three types of bees within the hive — drones, workers, and queens.
- Drones are males that are produced from unfertilized eggs and only carry the DNA of the queen. Drones take 24 days to develop and may be produced any time from summer through fall. They have large eyes that are used to locate locate the queen during mating flights; they have no stingers. The queen mates with multiple drones and stores the sperm, which is later used to fertilize the workers’ eggs. Drones die after mating.
- Workers are females that are produced from fertilized eggs; there may be as many as 60,000 in a typical hive. They take 21 days to develop and have a variety of jobs over their lives, including cleaning, feeding larvae, receiving nectar, guarding the hive, and foraging. These tasks are aided by special body parts such as pollen baskets, glands that produce beeswax, glands for feeding larvae, and a barbed sting. In special conditions, workers can develop ovaries and turn into a queen.
- Queens are females that are produced when worker bees continue to feed larvae with royal jelly rather than switching to pollen to create more workers. Queens are produced in oversized cells and develop in only 16 days. The queen has a pair of ovaries and also stores and maintain the sperm collected from drones; as a result, she can lay as many as 2,000 eggs a day. She produces a variety of pheromones that regulate the behavior of the workers; her sting is not barbed; and she is unable to make beeswax.
Workers communicate with each other to show where the best nectar can be found via a special dance — the waggle dance. Other dances — the round dance and the tremble dance — are used to recruit other workers to collect nectar from returning foragers.
The practice of beekeeping dates back to the stone-age as evidenced by cave paintings.
Bees are maintained in hives by beekeepers who then harvest the honey produced. Beeswax can also be collected and processed to create products such as candles, lip balms, and other cosmetics.
Some beekeepers use their bees to pollinate crops commercially.