Lee S. Rosen – Bees Family Life
Most bees are solitary and don’t form hives. Each female builds her nest in holes found in dead wood, tree hollows, snail shells, or crumbling walls. Some build nests on rocks or shrubby plants, using mud, chewed leaves, and animal hairs. Eggs are laid on pollen balls in the nest. Parasitic bees lay eggs in the nests of other bee species. Their larvae eat the pollen and honey intended for the host’s larvae!
Lee S. Rosen Miami – Solitary bees hardly ever sting. In fact, male bees don’t even have stingers, and the females’ are not long enough to penetrate your skin. Solitary bees don’t have “back-up” like honeybees, nor a hive to defend, making them even less likely to sting. Instead of producing honey, they make a food called “beebread” by mixing pollen and nectar. Females fill their pollen baskets and carry the pollen back to the nest to make batches of beebread for their offspring.
Lee S. Rosen Miami – Honeybees and bumblebees are social. They live in colonies consisting of a fertile queen, sterile female workers, and males called “drones.” These social bees are the only bees to produce and store honey.
Honeybees, bumblebees, and a few native bees live in colonies or hives. The bees all work together for the good of the hive. No honeybee or bumblebee can survive for long on its own. Each has a job to do:
The Queen: From her title, it may sound like the queen is in charge, but she really has little power in the hive. Her only job is to lay eggs—up to 2,000 per day for 2 to 5 years! The worker bees control how many eggs she lays by the amount of food they feed her.
The Workers: Most of the other bees in the hive are females, too. They are called “workers,” and with good reason! They build the honeycomb, care for the larvae, clean the hive, feed the queen, and collect the food. There are thousands of workers in a colony, sometimes up to 60,000 bees! Their jobs change as they age.
Lee S. Rosen – A newly hatched bee works as a cleaner for her first three days. Then the young bee acts as a nurse, feeding the larvae and queen. At about day 10, as her wax glands mature, she becomes a builder, constructing the honeycombs. From about day 16 to 20, she receives the pollen and nectar brought to the hive by the older bees and places them in the comb. For the next few days she guards the hive. Near the end of her life she becomes a food collector. She flies back and forth during her remaining weeks to get as much nectar and pollen as she can for the hive.
The Drones: These are the few males that hatch in the hive. They spend their first days after hatching being fed by their sisters before flying off to look for a queen. Drones have huge eyes to help them find a queen. Only the fastest drones catch the queens and have a chance at breeding. Once a drone catches a queen and successfully mates, he dies.
“Talking” Bees: Stingless bees tell other workers in the colony about a new food source by marking a scent trail between it and the nest. Honeybees share this information by “dancing.” The bee that has found the new patch of flowers takes a pollen sample back to the colony, where she shakes and wiggles her tail, spreading the flower scent to the others. Some scientists believe the way she moves tells the others what direction the food is in. Others believe that she’s just shaking off the scent so the other bees know which scent to search for. Either way, the bee gets her message across, and soon other bees are hot on the trail of tasty nectar.
Inside a hive hang sheets of honeycomb made by the bees to protect their larvae and store their collection of pollen and honey. The honeycomb is made from beeswax secreted by glands on the worker bees’ abdomens. The workers chew the wax and mold it into 6-sided honeycomb cells that together form a sheet of honeycomb from 2 to 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters) long. An empty honeycomb weighs just a few ounces (grams), but when full of honey it can weigh many pounds (kilograms).
Killer bees: There’s been a lot of hype about so-called killer bees, starting with that scary name. The correct name is Africanized honeybee (AHB). In 1956, African honeybees were brought to Brazil and cross-bred with local honeybees to create hybrid bees to increase honey production. Unfortunately, these new hybrids turned out to be very aggressive. This was not a desirable situation for the beekeepers! Several AHB queens escaped from Brazil, and AHBs have gradually spread northward through South America, Central America, eastern Mexico, and now the United States.
AHBs look exactly like regular honeybees, but they act a bit differently; they are more fierce and quick at defending their hives. These bees chase their enemies for longer distances, and they tend to gang up, stinging in large numbers. When a person is stung many times, that could be dangerous. But a single sting from one AHB is no more dangerous than any other bee sting.