Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Honeybees



Well, I have done a post on chickens before, and I think it's about time I devoted a little bit of time to one of my other slightly unlikely favorites - honeybees.

I am perfectly fascinated by these little creatures. Granted, I don't exactly like to be stung by them. But besides their barbed stinger and painful poison sac, there are a thousand things to know about bees that are simply a testament to God's great wisdom as shown by the beauty and order of His creation.


Perhaps the most intriguing things about honeybees is the way they order their hive. They have a whole little government going! First of all, there's the queen. You can tell her apart from all the other bees because she is longer and slenderer than any of the other ones. As her delightful name suggests, she is the most influential member of the colony. She is the only bee in the entire hive who can lay eggs, and lay eggs she does - hundreds of them. She's basically in charge of keeping the entire population replenished. That's a pretty big job, if you think about it. It keeps her majesty pretty busy, so busy that she doesn't have time to take care of herself.



That's where the workers come in. These industrious little girls are the most numerous members of the hive, and a cluster of them surrounds the queen at all times, feeding her and taking care of her in pretty much every way imaginable. Of course, not every worker bee in the hive is responsible for caring for the queen at one time. Depending on their age, different groups of workers have different jobs. Some are in charge of making wax and building up the hive. Some are in charge of working in the nursery - that is, looking after the baby bees (larva). Some keep the colony cool by sitting at the entrance and fanning their wings to bring air into the hive. Others act as guard bees, heroically defending the hive from the wasps, skunks, mice, bears, and robber bees that might try to get in and steal the bees' precious supply of honey. Oh, yes, and some of them make honey, of course. I almost forgot that one. :) You can't make honey without nectar; and so some bees have to go out and forage. You've seen these workers buzzing from clover to clover, right? Incidentally, these foragers are the oldest workers in the hive.


Then there are the drones - the boys of the family. (I haven't explicitly mentioned that the colony is all one family yet, have I? That's one of my other favorite things about bees. The queen is the mother of all the other bees - which makes all the workers and drones sisters and brothers. Neat, right?) The drones do practically nothing but eat. There's not much of a use for them, except when it comes time to find a husband for a new queen. With that said, the hive never needs very many of them, so there are fewer of them than there are worker bees. The poor guys get kicked out of the hive every autumn. The hive can't afford to feed them through the winter, you see. So out they go. I can just hear the sister drones saying, "Alright, Wilbur, Mother's sick and tired of you eating her out of house and home. It's time for you to learn to take care of yourself!"

Of course, being social animals, the drones can't survive on their own....

....which makes the honeybee hive rather resemble the grisly infanticide practices of certain ancient pagans.

Oh well. There are quite a few other fun facts about bees that makes up for this little barbarism. (They're animals, after all...you can't expect them to be all that humane.)

For example, when the forager bees fly back to the hive after finding a supply of nectar, they tell the other bees where that nectar is by dancing. Depending on the dance the bee does, the hive can tell in what direction the nectar is and how far they have to fly to get there.

Did you ever hear of propolis? It's a funny word that we use to describe a certain sticky substance bees make. This works like super-glue and kind of clamps the hive together.

Each hole in the honeycomb bees make is a perfect hexagon.

We know bees sting, but that big "ouch!" isn't all there is to know about it (although, practically speaking, I guess it is). A worker bee's stinger is barbed, so any time it stings a mammal, its stinger stays in. This kills the bee. (Poor thing - and I thought that sting was painful for me!) A worker bee can sting another insect, however, as many times as it likes. A queen bee has a stinger, but it isn't barbed. That means she can sting anybody as often as she likes. :) And drones don't have stingers at all.

If the hive loses its queen, the workers can raise a new queen by feeding a larva special food called royal jelly. Royal jelly is supposed to be good for people, too...but I don't think it makes them into monarchs. :)

Well, now you know your A - bee - Cs. Tired of hearing about them yet? :) Well, I hope you're not too tired of them....you see, someday I would like to write a book where honeybees are the main characters.

And I don't want to scare away my entire audience yet. :)



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