Friday, September 9, 2011

Busy Bees

I have always liked this old-style beehive. As you can see, not too far away is the more modern version. I took this picture near the visitors' center near our favorite walking place, Walney Pond. I have shared other photos of the bee hives before.

The little bee returns with evening's gloom,
To join her comrades in the braided hive,
Where, housed beside their might honey-comb,
They dream their polity shall long survive.

~Charles Tennyson Turner~
A Summer Night in the Bee Hive
I find all the humming and activity of the bees fascinating, though I am careful not to get too close.

Bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years. The honey is used as food for the hive during the long months of winter, when flowers aren't blooming and therefore little or no nectar is available to them. European honey bees, genus Apis Mellifera, produce such an abundance of honey, far more than the hive can eat, that humans can harvest the excess. For this reason, European honey bees can be found in beekeeper's hives around the world.

Honey bees are social insects, with a marked division of labor between the various types of bees in the colony. A colony of honey bees includes a queen, drones and workers. The Queen is the only sexually developed female in the hive. She is the largest bee in the colony. A two-day-old larva is selected by the workers to be reared as the queen. She will emerge from her cell eleven days later to mate in flight with approximately 18 drone (male) bees. During this mating, she receives several million sperm cells, which last her entire life span of nearly two years. The queen starts to lay eggs about 10 days after mating. A productive queen can lay 3,000 eggs in a single day.

Drones are stout male bees that have no stingers. Drones do not collect food or pollen from flowers. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. If the colony is short on food, drones are often kicked out of the hive.

Workers, the smallest bees in the colony, are sexually undeveloped females. A colony can have 50,000 to 60,000 workers. The life span of a worker bee varies according to the time of the year. Her life expectancy is approximately 28 to 35 days. Workers that are reared in September and October, however, can live through the winter.

Workers feed the queen and larvae, guard the hive entrance and help to keep the hive cool by fanning their wings. Worker bees also collect nectar to make honey. In addition, honey bees produces wax combs. The comb is composed of hexagonal cells which have walls that are only 2/1000 inch thick, but support 25 times their own weight. Honey bees' wing stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.

I found this Native Bee House at Meadowlark Gardens on my last visit there.

From 1972 to 2006 there was a dramatic reduction in the number of feral honeybees in the United States, and a gradual decline in the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers. In 2008 the U.S. average losses of honeybee colonies were about 35 percent, where some beekeepers lost 90 percent of their colonies. One contributing factor may have been a virus, but that seems unlikely because the virus can be found in other countries, and those countries are not suffering the same losses.

While most attribute the problem to mites or insect diseases, other possible causes have been noted, such as stress due to the environmental changes or pesticides. Cell phone radiation and genetically modified crops have also been included as possibilities. It is thought that most likely it is a combination of factors.

It makes you think doesn't it? Maybe we can do our part by taking a few small steps by not using so many harsh chemicals and pesticides around us for a start. Plant more bee friendly flowers in your garden. There is a very interesting article here which may help. Pandora may be out of her box but maybe we can push her back a little one step at a time. This didn't start out to be a 'green' post but I guess it has ended up as one.