Raise your hand if you like bees! Ok, not what I was expecting. Alright then, raise your hand if you'd like to know more about bees! That's better. Well, I'm a beekeeper. (I know, I know. I'm ten times sexier now that you've pictured me all sweaty in a bee suit. Comes with the territory.) Anyways, it all started a few years ago when a childhood fascination and a drive to better serve the environment finally led me to the local arboretum where I enrolled in a certified beekeepers program. The course lasted about seven weeks and the classes covered everything from bee biology to hive maintenance. Fast-forward to today and I've become a bit of an enthusiast. I have two hives in my backyard, multiple bee tattoos and have actually given presentations to several naturalist classes about the joys of beekeeping. Oh, and I absolutely relish helping new beekeepers establish colonies in their community.
I could rattle on for hours about these super bugs and how they're responsible for pollinating 75% of the world's food supply, and that they spend the majority of their lives in darkness under the spell of an all-powerful queen. (Sounds like a Jay Z biopic, right?) Or I could get really serious and tell you that our bee populations are rapidly declining due to Colony Collapse Disorder. It's all noteworthy stuff, but for now, let's start at the beeginning (see what I did there?) with some of the core lessons I've learned about honeybees.
OH SHOOT! I done went and got all Encyclopedia Britannica on y'all's asses!
Note above the three types of bees that make up the social structure found in a honeybee colony. There's the worker, the queen and the drone.
Drone: Drones are male bees. You can tell if a honeybee is male by their bulbous abdomens and large eyes. A drone's sole purpose in the colony is to impregnate a queen. However, a drone's presence in the hive doesn't mean there's some kind of around-the-clock fuck fest going down. Drone's actually impregnate the queen with all the sperm she'll ever need ONCE. Yep. You heard me. But there's no hit-it-and-quit-it scenarios here. Drones love the booed up life, so they stick around and help raise babies and keep the hive neat and tidy. MY QUEENDOM FOR A DRONE!
Worker: Worker bees do just that: WORK. Day in and day out, workers leave the hive to forage for nectar (carbs) and pollen (protein) to bring back to the hive for food and storage. Workers are more petite in size than a drone and get this: they are all female. Worker bees make up the bulk of a colony's population which could boast tens of thousands of bees at a time depending on the season. Talk about GIRL POWER! Workers are also responsible for feeding brood (baby bees) and keep the hive's temperature regulated.
Queen: The queen bee is one bad bitch. Don't start no shit, won't bee no shit. A queen bee is created like any other bee except that she is fed royal jelly -- a protein-rich bee secretion -- during her entire development (17 days) as opposed to the first few like most workers. The queen is distinguishable by a longer abdomen which also accounts for her tiny wings. On her maiden voyage, a virgin queen mates with up to 15 drones and stores up to 6 million sperm. This allows the queen to lay around 1500 eggs a day. Phew girl. Another cool thing about queens is how they rule their subjects. Depending on the situation, a queen's pheromones can keep bees calm, order an attack, or even the mass evacuation of a hive (swarm). I said bad bitch, right?
Yes, chile. Bees get down, but not like you and me after a few Patrons on ice. Honeybees use what's been termed a "waggle dance" to communicate the location of rich nectar sources to their fellow hive mates. This is one of my favorite bee secrets, and to understand the full beauty slash complexity of this practice, a short informational video is key.
It's no big surprise that bees make honey, so I'm just gonna come out with it: you're eating bee vomit. Oh. You didn't know you were eating insect projectile puke all these years? My bad! Well, you shouldn't be deterred. Shit's good. And the health benefits are numerous . . . Oh, you still wanna know how it's made? YAS! More charts!
So bees have this extra long tongue-like sucker called a proboscis (the dangly thing below the glossa a shown above). They use this sucker to drink the nectar from flowers and store it in the honey stomach. When the worker returns to the hive she engages another worker in a full-on spit swap where they pass the nectar back and forth until it is partially digested. The nectar is then deposited into a comb chamber. Since some moisture is retained, the bees fan the nectar with their wings until it evaporates into the thick, golden honey we know best.
For more information on honeybees and beekeeping click HERE.
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