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Bees and Wasps (part 3)

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ConorOberstIsGo
1041778.  Tue Dec 17, 2013 1:52 pm Reply with quote

There are three types of honey bee in a hive: one queen (known as the king before the 1660's) - who is much larger than the rest and lays the eggs, 'worker’ bees - all female and responsible for maintaining the hive, looking after the queen and larvae and finding food, and drones - male bees who cannot sting and whose only responsibility is to mate with queen.

Bee mating occurs during the queen's maiden flight, 80 metres up in the air. When male bees mate they die, exploding with a popping sound that is quite audible to people nearby.

New beehives start when a hive reaches a high enough population. At this point the young queens, who have been raised in anticipation, wait until a new hive site has been found and then 'swarm' to the new site along with a large proportion of the first hive's young worker bees and drones.


Because of the disappearance of honey bees also known as Colony Collapse Disorder, demand for bees is so great that truckloads of bee colonies can be hired out in parts of the US by farmers who want their crops pollenated.

As bees fly they actually build up a static charge that pulls pollen onto their bodies, so that when they land on a flower it sticks right to them. The bees that go out collecting nectar and pollenating flowering plants are actually the elders of the hive; younger bees perform various tasks including nursing the larvae and acting as bouncers or guards. If a bee attempts to enter a hive that is not their home she will be wrestled by younger bees and sent on her way. Oddly if a bee returns to her own hive drunk - from a beer garden or a rotten, fermenting orchard - she too will be wrestled away until she is sober enough to rejoin the hive, sometimes losing a leg to the bouncers' aggression.

Bees not only have to defend their hives from mammals looking for a meal of honey and larvae but also sometimes from other bees. The Robber Bees of Central America, as the name suggests, make no honey themselves but instead aggressively raid other bee hives.

Actually a subspecies of the European honey bee, African honey bees earned their "killer bee" reputation for their more aggressive tendencies. When the bee was brought over to Brazil in the 1950's it became apparent that as well as producing more honey, African honey bees reacted faster - and in greater number - to threats, inflicting ten times as many stings during a defensive attack. The human bloodstream can tolerate the venom of over 1000 honey bee stings however just one sting to the human tongue could cause inflammation capable of blocking vital airways. When the Africanised bees finally spread to the U.S. in 1990, the "killer bee" turned out only to claim 6 lives in the first ten years, proving not significantly more dangerous than regular bees.

Most bees are actually solitary creatures; only about 5% of the many thousands of bee species live in colonies or hives. Only 7 of these species are true honey bees while the rest of the main honey producers are the 800 species of stingless bee, found in the tropics.

Honey is essentially bee vomit and the honeybee is not born knowing how to make honey; the younger bees are actually taught by the hive elders. Stingless bee honey is runnier and sweeter than honeybee honey but no less remarkable. Honey is exceptional in that it includes almost all the vitamins and minerals necessary to sustain human life. It's also the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning. Honey is the only food that never goes off; jars of still edible honey have been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs.
The average worker bee produces about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her six-week lifetime. A hive of bees will fly 150,000 km - the equivalent of three orbits around the earth - to collect 1 kg of honey. A colony of bees can produce 25 kilograms of honey over the course of one summer. Bee keepers will only take about a third of this, with the rest of the stores used by the bees and their larvae themselves so they can survive the winter.

In late 2012 bees in France were seen to be producing honey in mysterious shades of blue and green. The honey was said to be unsellable because of the unsettling colours but was perfectly safe to eat. It was discovered that the bees had been feasting on the sugary dyes being processed at a local biogas plant; the waste in question was industrial amounts of the formula used to colour m&m's.

Honey bees have 170 odourant receptors, compared with only 62 in fruit flies and 79 in mosquitoes. Their exceptional sense allows for kin recognition, social communication within the hive, and of course the detection of food. Their sense of smell is so precise that they can differentiate between hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carries pollen or nectar from metres away. Because of this extraordinary sense, bees can quickly and easily be trained as sniffers, detecting drugs and explosives at airports. The bees aren't set loose to rifle through people's belongings of course but instead are taught to associate a sugary reward with the scent of whatever drug or substance is in question. They are then harnessed in a handheld box so that when they smell the target scent their proboscis extends and this triggers an alert to sound. These bees are essentially living organic components in an otherwise electronic device.

Bees are able to communicate with each other and share information about the best food sources and hive sites using their famous ‘waggle dance’. When the bee returns to the hive it moves in a figure-of-eight and waggles its body to indicate the direction of the food source from the hive. The bigger the waggle, the better the food! If another bee objects to the directions given in the waggle-dance - perhaps because the food source is dangerous or depleted - then she will headbutt the dancing bee to get her to stop. This behaviour also occurs when hunting for a new hive location.

To cast a vote for a location a bee simply starts buzzing around the site until there are enough bees that agree. When about a 15-bee consensus is reached they all head home to tell the others.

 
Alfred E Neuman
1041790.  Tue Dec 17, 2013 2:11 pm Reply with quote

The swarms of bees that I've seen don't wait until a new hive site has been found before setting out, they just go, and hang around on a tree or under the eaves while their scouts look for a suitable site.

A swarm of bees hanging from a tree is quite noisy and can be heard over the sound of a lawnmower.

 
ConorOberstIsGo
1041810.  Tue Dec 17, 2013 3:21 pm Reply with quote

Ah okay, I'm not a beekeeper so that could be a misunderstanding from what I've read. But I appreciate being corrected on this; it's not my forte :)

 

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