Honey Bee Life Cycle, Habits and Buzzee Stuff!!!

How Old are Bees?

There has been some debate about the age of bees. The oldest known honey bee as we know it today was found about 35-40 million years ago, but a discovery in Burma has found a close ancestor encapsulated in a piece of amber that is over 100 million


years old. While this ancestor does share some traits with the wasps, it is more bee than wasps, but does point to the idea that bees evolved from wasps and this might show us when in history the species diverged going from the carnivorous insect to the pollinating honey maker we know today. 

Honey Bee Life Cycle and Hierarchy?
The fascinating thing about a honey bee colony is that the whole hive works in concert with the queen as conductor to maintain and further the hive and the individual bee cannot survive without the colony. Every bee has a function and every bee knows it's function which it performs tirelessly. There are three types of bees found in a colony- the drone, the worker and the queen. 
 The Drone
The drone is the male of the hive and leads a charmed life as he does not work, does not help with the offspring, gathering food


or helping build the hive. He does not even feed himself, the female workers do. It has only one purpose in life- to mate with the queen. The drones are slightly larger than the female workers but do not have a stinger since the stinger is a modified egg laying organ only females contain. When the hive gets cold, the bees will shiver to produce heat and when it gets hot the bees will flap their wings to help cool the comb. The drones have been known to participate in this activity, but aside from that, they wait until the time comes from them to gather in a Drone Congregation Area where the males wait for a queen to come by engage them in mid flight love making acrobatics. Just as the female worker dies when she stings because she cannot pull out her stinger, the male faces the same problem with his organ which he loses along with his abdomen while mating and dies immediately afterward. 

The Worker
In stark contrast to the drones, the females do everything in the hive except lay eggs. They construct, maintain and clean the comb, forage for food, feed the larvae, feed the queen, scout for resources, scout for locations, make honey and protect the hive. The job of the worker changes as they get older. It takes about 3 weeks for the egg to mature through larva and pupa into


adulthood and he first thing a worker does when it is born is to turn right around and spends a couple of days cleaning out their cell for reuse. The worker honey bee then spends the next 10 or so days caring for the brood by feeding the drone and worker larva a jelly from the same glands she uses to produce the royal jelly she feeds the queen. Around the 12th day, the wax glands have developed and the worker moves on to construction and maintenance of the comb. They also regulate the temperature as the brood require exact conditions for maturation and the honey must be kept cool so it wont melt. The workers huddle together and shiver if it gets too cold in the hive and will pour water around the comb and fan their wings to cause evaporation and cool the hive. During this time, they are also responsible for receiving and storing nectar and pollen brought in by the forgers as well as feeding the queen. The next three days will spent as the dreaded guards. Thought the female is capable of stinging throughout her life, this is when she on 24 hour duty. They guards monitor the entrance to make sure that no robber bees, bees from other hives trying to steal their honey, enter and that all the bees that enter have the right scent. They also guards that inspect disturbances- these are the ones that tap you in the head if you've ever gotten too close to an active hive. Finally there are the reserves, the group of guards gathered by the entrance ready to attack if a threat is detected. Now, just after their 20h day in life, the bees are finally free to leave the hive and move on to the job of foraging. The gather nectar by sucking it out with their tongues which they store in a second stomach. When they return to the hive the nectar is passed on to one of the younger bees who process it into honey.


While they are gathering nectar, they rub against the pollen in the flower which sticks to their back legs and clumps up in special hairs they have, and is then brought back to the hive and also used as a major source of nutrients. The same pollen rubs off as they travel from flower to flower causing pollination. The other essential ingredient essential to the hive is propolis. It is mainly used to seal up cracks in the cavity and protect the hive from other insects and bacteria. It is also used for dealing with any predators that have died in the hive. Most of the dead bees and waste from the hive are carried out if the hive by the workers, but occasionally something too big to carry gets stung to death and the bees have to figure out a way to prevent the carcass from decaying. They seal it in propolis, essentially mummifying it and prevent it from spreading bacteria. 

The Queen           


There is normally only one queen per hive and she is treated like royalty because she is the only one capable of laying eggs in the colony. She is a baby making machine and can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. She can be identified by her abdomen, which is slightly larger than the worker bee. She can also be spotted by the 'court', or small group of attendants that constantly surround her and care for her every need including feeding her and getting rid of her waste. They also help her control the hive and assure the colony functions coherently by collecting and distributing her pheromones which she also does while she travels the hive. The


queen is born in a special cell that protrudes off the comb and is similar in appearance and texture to a peanut. There are 2 types of queen cells- one serves to birth a new queen when the hive is ready to swarm and the other is to replace an existing queen that is ailing or has died. Though all bees are fed royal jelly for a varying amount of days in their development, the queen cell is flooded with it and she becomes a fertilized queen by the exclusive diet of royal jelly. 

Why are Honey Bees Important?

Most people are not aware that bees are responsible for helping create 1/3 the food human beings eat!!! That's between $7-10 billion worth of food production a year and aside from asking for no compensation, they create honey for us as a result of their work. There's an old saying repeated by many times throughout history that if there is trouble with Honey Bees, trouble with man is not far behind. There even seems to be some essential connections being discovered now between the development of certain flowers and the presence of honey bees. 


While there are other pollinators in the world like birds, butterflies, the wind and other insects, they pale in comparison to the effectiveness of a honey bee colony. Most other insect pollinators are solitary creatures and of those that are social, the colony usually consists of a few hundred workers to maybe a few thousand at the end of season. Consider that a honey bee hive can begin with between 5-10,000 bees and can grow into 100,000+ while giving birth to new colonies, the sheer size of the work force makes them essential for our food supply. In addition, many social insects are one generation only meaning the previous years queen dies before winter and the young pick up the work the following spring after they overwinter. Honey bees are year round and will hibernate within the hive if it gets too cold, but can be seen active year round as weather permits. Add to this how easy they are to transport as many beekeepers who transport around their state, even around the country for pollination services will tell you.  We have over 8,000 years of history interacting with the honey bee, if there is another insect that can replace it, we haven't found it yet.

What's Going on with Bees?
Are they Disappearing?
The are many challenges facing honey bees these days and many causes being blamed for those challenges. The truth of the matter is in many cases we simply don't know.  One of the greatest challenges they are facing is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is characterized by a hive that still has its queen but is missing most or all of its adult bees, with a distinct lack of dead bees around and near the hive to explain where the adult workers went. Bees do not normally abandon a hive while there are capped


brood- eggs planted in cells that have been sealed. Other clear signs of CCD are the presence of these capped brood, as well as stored honey and pollen. In addition, attacks by the usual moths and mites, as well as robber bees that would normally take immediate advantage of a weak or abandoned hive, are significantly delayed and the a noticeable time lapse before these critters begin to attack  If there is no queen, then it is simply assumed the hive died because of a lack of queen so her presence is one of the requirements for it to be CCD.



What Causes CCD?


While there has been considerable speculation as to the causes of CCD, there is no clear answer yet. While unsubstantiated claims have blamed everything from cell phone signals to satellite signals, if these do have an effect on the honey bee it is not related to CCD. The majority of research now seems to indicate that CCD is caused by the perfect storm of environmental and biological factors. So basically you take a colony that is already weakened from poor nutrition (including feeding them high fructose corn syrup) and over migration, add the presence of environmental factors like pesticides that further weaken the immune system and then introduce a biological factor like Varroa Mites and you have a situation where the colony cannot survive any longer. This does not explain where the missing bees went, just the possible conditions that might create the environment for CCD. The only common factor found in over 95% of all hives infected with CCD is a pathogen transmitted by Varroa mites called Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV). This is not believed to be the direct cause of CCD, it is another indicator that CCD is what is causing the collapse of a fallen hive.   
Should I Worry- Is There a Cure?
While all the pollination required this year for agriculture in the US was provided, it is becoming considerably more difficult and beekeepers are having to travel further and further to accomodate farmers needs which stresses the bees even more and further weakens colony integrity. Having one out of three bites of food depend, directly or indirectly, on pollination services means diligence is required to assure we have healthy and plentiful colonies to help feed the world. While there is currently no cure for CCD, there is a vaccine showing promise that was created in Israel. Here is the USDA Agricultural Research Service's answer to the question what is the best thing the public can do?
What can I as a member of the public do to help honey bees?
"The best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides indiscriminately, especially not to use pesticides at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar.
In addition, you can plant and encourage the planting of good nectar sources such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed."

To learn more what you can do to help, click on of the links below.
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign 
 Working to protect pollinators of North America

Help the Honey Bees
Haagen Dazs Campaign to help  

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