Amazing facts about a honey bee's life


A honey bee collecting nectar from a flower.

Although chemists worked unsuccessfully for centuries to convert common metals into gold, the tiny honey bee for thousands of years has been effecting a far more remarkable transformation.

You have undoubtedly seen bees in the process of working this miracle.

From flower to flower they hurry, sucking up the sweet liquid called nectar.

Even on their flight home the amazing transformation begins within their bodies, but it cannot be completed without the help of fellow workers back at the hive.

There, in a matter of hours, industrious bees cooperate together to convert the nectar into one of the tastiest and most nutritious of foods - Honey!

But honeybees excel in other things besides the production of honey.

They are marvelously equipped for pollinating plants.

They maintain an immaculately clean, air-conditioned hive.

They are remarkable engineers, and can communicate involved instructions that other bees are able to follow.

Little wonder that the honeybee has been called the most important insect in the world.


The bee family facts


A swarm of bees.

Honeybees live in large families or colonies that may number 75,000 bees or more.

More than 99 percent of these family members are unfertile females known as worker bees.

The colony also has one queen bee, the, mother of the entire family, and, in the summer, several hundred male drones.

Since the males apparently serve no useful purpose in the winter, they are all killed before winter sets in.

Therefore, when the weather warms in the spring, preparations are made to produce more males.

The drone brood cells are cleaned, and the queen bee deposits an unfertilized egg in each of them.

In about twenty-four days the drones mature to nearly full size and cut their way out of their cells, just as a chicken leaves its shell.

They possess no stinger, have no glands for producing wax or royal jelly, nor are they equipped for gathering nectar or pollen from flowers.

But they do the all-important work of fertilizing the queen bee.

Remarkably, males are produced from unfertilized eggs, but themselves fertilize the queen so that she can produce worker bees.

The passing of winter leaves the worker bee population greatly diminished.

So the surviving workers swing into action.

They feed their queen huge quantities of food.

By varying the amount of food she is fed, the bees control the number of eggs the queen lays, and thus control the population.

Now. they may increase her production to the astounding rate of some 2,000 eggs a day-totaling four times her own body, weight!

The queen fertilizes each of these eggs with sperm that she received from a drone bee.

In twenty-one days the young bees begin popping out of their cells-almost full grown and ready for work.

Should the queen bee lose her productivity because of age (she usually lives several years), or should the colony decide to divide because of overcrowding, another queen is produced.

To make a queen, several regular cells are enlarged and the larvae are fed abundant supplies of royal jelly.

This special milky substance is secreted from modified salivary glands of young workers.

By feeding it to the larvae throughout the entire period of their development, instead of just the first two or three days, the larvae develop into queens, rather than ordinary worker bees.

So, in a very literal sense, queens are made, not born.

When the colony decides to divide, the old queen takes off with part of the colony to find a new home.

This is called swarming.

Back in the original hive, the first queen to emerge from her cell seeks out and stings to death the other developing queens.

If two emerge at the same time, they battle to the death so that only one queen remains in the family.

After a few days the virgin queen leaves the hive and takes off on her mating flight.

All the drones follow in hot pursuit.

Up, up they soar.

Finally, all but one pursuer is left behind.

There, in midair, the two unite, but the, drone is mortally wounded when the queen wrenches free, ripping out his generative organs.

The mated queen then returns to her colony, impregnated with enough sperm to fertilize hundreds of thousands of eggs.


Communal life facts


Honey bees making honey.

Honeybees, like humans, are social animals, and even though they do not have the intelligence of men, their hives are a model of orderliness.

From their first day of life worker bees always seem to know just what to do and how to do it, even without being told.

They handle the problems of communal living with such efficiency that men are forced to sit up and take notice.

For example, any city must be kept clean, otherwise the inhabitants run the risk of disease and epidemic.

So in the hive sanitation squads are constantly on the job.

Soon after emerging from their cells, young bees busy themselves with disposing of every scrap of foreign material.

Without being urged or nagged by their elders, they lick the thousands of cells thoroughly clean, preparing them again to receive the queen’s eggs.

The result of this constant vigil is a hive that is spotlessly clean.

After a few days the milk glands of the young bees mature, and they assume the duty of caring for the young larvae.

Any mother will acknowledge that there is a lot of work to raising young ones.

But the attention children demand can never compare with the care baby larvae must receive.

After the egg hatches, the nurse bees must make some 10,000 feeding visits to each cell a visit about every minute!

Think of it, 10,000 feedings to raise just one bee!

And yet there may be thousands of larvae developing at the same time, all of whom need this same precision feeding.

What a relief to be able to cap the cell after about six days of feeding and let the larva develop into a full-grown bee!

Bees also have the problem, long faced by humans, of heating and cooling their city.

It is vital to the life of the young larvae that the temperature in the brood area should not fall below 90° or exceed 97° F.

So the bees react immediately when the temperature changes.

Should the temperature rise, as it often does in summer, the older foraging bees bring in supplies of water.

These are strategically placed in the hive, and the bees station themselves around and fan vigorously.

This evaporates the water and the hive is cooled.

But in addition to using air conditioning long before man developed it, bees are also experts at warming their city.


Should the temperature of the hive fall, the bees stoke their bodies with honey, which, due to their body’s high metabolism, is quickly converted to heat.

Thus, the temperature of the hive is raised.

In the brood area, bees maintain a temperature that is constant within one and a half degrees, even though the outside temperature may vary thirty to forty degrees.

A more serious problem arises in the winter.

How do bees survive when the temperature falls many degrees below zero?

They are unable to hibernate or migrate, so ingeniously they stoke up a furnace by which to keep warm.

But such a furnace you have never seen before!

Many bees form a closely packed shell to confine the heat within.

Bees at the center of this insulating shell keep in constant motion, generating heat.

When the temperature falls, the insulating shell shrinks and the dancers within move faster; but when the temperature rises, the shell of bees expands and the movements of those at the center slows down.

By this means the temperature is regulated.

But how do those bees clinging on the outside avoid succumbing to the cold?

Careful observation reveals the answer.

Those bees composing the insulating shell are noted to be continually changing places with the dancers on the inside.

There is a persistent flow from the center to the outer edges and back again.

In this way the bees alternately become heated by activity, and cooled during rest periods.

Honey, of course, is the fuel that runs this amazing furnace.

Yes, the foresighted bees have stocked up sufficient supplies to last the winter.


Engineering wonders facts


A honey bee's hexagonal honeycombs.

Humans take pride in their engineering feats, and, indeed, some of them are wonderful, but even in this field humans have learned from the lowly bee.

Although possessing no college degree in structural engineering, two-week-old worker bees construct honeycombs that are masterpieces of structural design.

For centuries humans have been intrigued by them, but it is only in recent years that close scientific observation has shown how truly marvelous they are.

The construction material is of the bees own making.

Young workers gorge themselves on honey, and, after several hours, wax begins to appear as thin flakes on their abdomen.

Transferring it to the mouth, the bees chew the wax thoroughly, mixing it with a frothy liquid and microscopic bubbles of air.

Then a miracle of engineering takes place.

The bees, working in cooperation with one another, shape this plastic material into perfect six-sided honeycomb cells.

Amazingly, the. cells are formed with such unvarying accuracy that at one time French scientist Rene de RĂ©aumur proposed making them a standard of measure.

Equally amazing, however, is the choice of the six-sided design.

It provides the maximum strength, the greatest storage space and, at the same time, fits the shape of the bee.

It is the one and only ideal shape for the honeycomb!

In order to obtain maximum strength for the least weight men have also employed this hexagonal design in their engineering projects.


Bee field work facts


A honey bee out in the field collecting nectar.

After about three weeks of inside chores the worker bees graduate to gathering pollen and nectar from the fields.

Although they literally work themselves to death in about a month, this industriousness during the summer assures survival of the bee colony in the winter.

When it is considered that they will fly some 50,000 miles. the equivalent of two circuits of the globe, to gather nectar, sufficient for just one pound of honey, one begins to appreciate how busy bees really are.

Yet to accomplish this amazing work bees are wonderfully equipped.

Their long tongues and mouth parts are perfectly designed for extracting the sweet nectar from the inward parts of flowers, and their hind legs have baskets that can be stuffed, with large masses of pollen.

On arriving home, young workers receive and store away this pollen, which, combined with honey, forms the diet of the young larvae.

The nectar is transferred to the crops of other workers, who force it in and out of their bodies several times before depositing it into open cells.

After being fanned to evaporate excess moisture, the honey is soon ready to eat.

However, if it were not for the bees’ highly developed communication system, this entire production program would be slowed to a snail’s pace.

Yes, fantastic as it seems, bees actually tell one another when they locate a rich nectar supply.

A scout bee will reveal the quality of her find by passing out minute samples.

Then, by means of a dance upon the vertical honeycomb and by sounds, she communicates the direction and distance to the food source.

When the scout bee dances straight up on the comb, she means that the food can be found by flying directly toward the sun straight down means it is directly away from the sun.

By varying the angle of the dance, the scout can indicate a food source in any direction.

The distance to the food, it is currently believed, is indicated by the length of the train of sound emitted by the dancing scout.

Although bees need the plants in order to live, the reverse is equally true.

It is estimated that if it were not for the bees, 100,000 species of plants, including many upon which mankind directly depends, would disappear from the earth.

Why so?

Because plants need to be fertilized to produce seed, and the bodies of bees, with hair all over them, are especially designed for doing this.

As they travel from flower to flower bees fertilize the plants by transferring pollen from one blossom to the stigma of another.

However, the effectiveness of this transfer is dependent upon a unique behavior pattern of the bee.

This pattern is called flower constancy.

It is vital that pollen from one species of plant be transferred to the stigma of a plant of the same kind.

This is because pollen varies from plant to plant.

Pollen from a poppy, for example, would be of no value to a rose.

But, remarkably, bees take this into consideration.

When they start working a particular flower they remain faithful to just that one kind, even though there may be other kinds of blossoms all around.