Youngstown and Mahoning County Public Library: Bees
Love these insects or hate them, bees have been a part of our land much longer than humans. They date back to the geological era of the Cretaceous: the last period when dinosaurs lived, around 150 million years ago. Bee fossils have been found in the United States from bees that lived 60 million years ago. 20,000 species are now present on all continents except Antarctica, too cold for bees. There are eight surviving honey bee species. And, of course, honey has been considered a desirable food for thousands of years.
Bees are an important part of a plant’s pollination cycle. While bees gather nectar, they also collect pollen and spread it among other plants. Some species of bees have pollen stuck to their hairs that cover them. Other species have baskets on their legs which carry pollen. Each time a bee comes out, it visits an average of 100 flowers. Each bee performs about ten flights per day. A bee can find itself several kilometers from its hive in search of food.
The queen bee is the largest in the colony. She lays eggs and is the mother of all, living for about four years. Bees destined to become queens are fed royal jelly until they develop. About ten days later, she leaves the hive in search of other bee colonies and mates with about ten males only once in her life cycle.
Drones are males produced from unfertilized eggs. They only exist to impregnate a queen from another hive and then die.
The worker bees look after the larvae, defend the hive, collect and produce food. Those who live in summer live about a month; those born in the fall live all winter. Worker bees are all sterile females. The tasks they will perform depend on the age of the bee. After its birth, the bee is responsible for cleaning the alveolus of the hive from which it emerged. It will be reused either for the next larvae or for storing honey. After the first few days, the bee becomes responsible for cleaning the rest of the hive. Then, the aging worker bee becomes a nurse who takes care of the young larvae. Then, the bee takes care of the queen who will take care of laying up to 2000 eggs per day. At 12 days old, young bees can use the pollen to make honey. After about two weeks of age, the bee can produce wax. At 20 days, the bee can defend the hive. It is not until quarantine that the bee will be ready to go out and search for pollen.
Bees produce honey, royal jelly, wax, propolis, and venom. Honey is what a bee eats for a living. They make it themselves from nectar and honeydew. It is stored in honeycomb cells which are sealed until use. Royal jelly is the substance used to feed the larvae. It is produced by mixing pollen with liquid from nurse bees. Wax is created by special glands in the bellies of worker bees. It is used to make the honeycomb where the honey is stored. Propolis is produced from tree bark resins that the bee has processed and digested. Bees use it as a disinfectant and spread it on the walls of the hive.
Bees, like all insects, have a body divided into three parts: the head which has the sense organs; the thorax, which has wings and legs; and the abdomen, with the stinger and poison gland for protection.
Venom is the bee’s self-defense weapon. When a bee stings a human, he will die because the stinger which is barbed will remain embedded in the skin. It will tear out the intestines of the bee. The venom is delivered by the hollow stinger. There is a distinctive smell to the process that alerts other bees to danger nearby. Only worker bees and queens are able to sting; However, the queen bee only stings when she is fighting for dominance against another queen. Bees are much more likely to sting when defending their hive than when foraging.
Bees are fascinating creatures, and an understanding of their cycles and life processes really adds to their appreciation.
Find it at the library:
Banfi, Cristina. The world of bees. Milan, Italy: White Star Kids. 2018.
Gehring, Abigail. Family property. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2014.
Sanders, Charles. The autonomous farm. Short Hills, NJ: Burford Books. 2003.
Sheleton, Neil. The book of everything about backyard farming. Avon, MA: F&W Media. 2013.
Miss Cindy has been around Ohio libraries for many years. She creates programs for all ages because even if she loves the little ones, her passion is to do “stuff”. Cindy’s husband asks that you don’t show him or tell him new “stuff”. But Cindy knows you’re going to listen to her, and she’s going to make it a lickety-split program!
This press release was produced by Youngstown and Mahoning County Public Library. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.