Today, approximately 80% of the flowering plants in the world, from the fruits that decorate our tables to the huge forest ecosystems, are pollinated by bees. We have many fruits, from crimson cherries to crisp plums, thanks to bees. Thanks to the pollination activities of honey bees and bees living alone, food diversity can continue to exist. So what exactly is this honey bee?
Honey bees are members of the membrane-winged order of insects, the richest in the animal kingdom. It has been found that the honey bee came out of Asia 1 million years ago and spread to Europe and Africa. The scientific name of the honey bee, which is a species found in thousands of species, is Apis mellifera. The ancient history of the honey bee is not just about the time it has lived. For thousands of years, people have made honey bees their friends. Mankind, which has settled down, has also started honey production thanks to beekeeping.
Represented by approximately 20 thousand species in the world, bees have been continuing their fascinating work for even more than 100 million years. Unfortunately, things are not going well for the bees. The existence of bees worldwide has been under serious threat for years. Their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Against all these problems, we need to take every possible measure to protect the bees’ fascinating role in nature and protect their health.
The Life of a Honey Bee
Honey bees collect nectar by visiting approximately 6 million flowers to fill a 500g honey jar and transform this nectar into honey in the hive. If a single bee had produced a 500g jar of honey, it would have produced enough honey to fill this jar in 2000 days. This period makes about 5.5 years in terms of years. On the other hand, honey bees live for a maximum of 45 days. In order to produce a jar of honey, honey bees have to fly a total of 40 thousand km.
A honey bee can only produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. A teaspoon of honey that we consume on our tables is the honey that 12 bees can produce throughout their lives. This information is sufficient to explain that honey is very valuable, and we should not waste honey on our tables. Every teaspoon of honey that is wasted is wasted honey produced by 12 bees in their lifetime. We ask you to remember this information while consuming honey and respect the labor of bees.
Bees living in the same hive are called bee colonies (bee family). While there is only one queen bee in a colony, there are approximately 50,000 to 80,000 worker bees. The number of bees in the colony varies in the summer and winter seasons. Bees wait for spring to come by consuming the honey in the hive in winter and keep the number of bees in the colony to a minimum in order to consume less honey during this period. In summer and spring, they increase the number of worker bees in the colony as they need more worker bees for the production of honey pollen propolis.
In the spring and summer months, the bees working for the colony in nature can only live for 45 days because they are worn out. The worker bees die before they can consume the honey they collect from nature during the spring and summer seasons. Bees that do not come out of the hive in winter live for about 3 months until spring. All worker bees are given birth by one queen bee in the hive. The queen bee can arrange the number of births as much as the number of worker bees needed.
Honey bees make honey by reducing the amount of water in the nectar they collect from flowers and at the same time adding some enzymes from their bodies. Nectar is actually a carrot that the flowers give to the bees in order for the bees to visit them.
The queen bee, which gives birth to all other honey bees in the hive and has only one in the hive, has a lifespan of 8 years. The queen bee owes its long life to its diet with royal jelly. Worker bees offer the royal jelly they produce thanks to their sub larynx glands to the queen bee, thus giving the queen a lifetime of life.
100 Million Years of Honey Bee History
You may know honey bees as cute little creatures that produce honey for us, but honey is not all they do. Known for their industriousness, honey bees work like bees in order to maintain biodiversity and prevent the deterioration of the food chain in our world. Now let’s get to know these little cute creatures a little closer.
The history of honey bees in our world is much older than the history of humanity. Humanity came to know about the oldest known bee when a fossil of a bee that lived 100 million years ago was discovered in amber in Burma. However, the history of humanity in our world is stated as 300 thousand years in many scientific articles. When we compare these two pieces of information, we learn that bees began to live in this world long before we humans.
Due to its very old history, honey bees are social insects that have adapted to our world better than us and live as colonies. The information obtained from the analysis of wax residues on very ancient pottery found in Africa shows that humanity started to domesticate bees and produce bee products about 10 thousand years ago. The drawing of a bee and a beekeeper in a cave in Spain has a history of 7 thousand years. In ancient Egypt, beekeeping was practiced about 2500 years ago, and smoke was used to repel bees.
The 2 species domesticated to produce bee products are Apis Mellifera and Apis Cerana. While Apis Mellifera species is mostly used for beekeeping in Europe and West Asia, Apis Cerana is the bee species used in Far East Asia and South Asia. The contribution of bees to nature, which has a very old history from the history of humanity, is enormous. Bees take part in the fertilization of the flowers of plants and trees in nature, and they bring together the pollen, which is the male reproductive cell of the distant region, with the female reproductive organ of the flowers, ensuring the healthy reproduction of trees and plants and the continuation of their generations.
Beekeeping is encouraged in many countries in order for agricultural products to be productive. For example, in the United States, the owners of large almond orchards pay beekeepers who bring their bee colonies into the almond orchard during the flowering period of almond trees, about 150 dollars for each hive. To sum up, although bees are very small insects, their life on earth started very early for us and they take important roles in the food chain for other living things. The extinction of bees will greatly affect the continuation of the food chain.
How Do Honey Bees Make Honey?
The reproduction of flowering plants and trees in natural life is largely dependent on honey bees. These tiny creatures ensure the vitality and continuity of our ecosystem. For life to be sustainable, honey bees must exist. Its benefits are not just for making honey. Most of the food we consume comes to life thanks to the pollination process performed by bees. The reproduction of flowering plants and trees in the natural world is largely dependent on bees. These tiny creatures ensure the vitality and continuity of our ecosystem.
In order for bees to obtain honey, they must wander through the honeydew plant flowers and tree secretions. In order for a bee to obtain one kilogram of honey, it must collect the sap of more than five million plants. While continuing their lives, bees are found in a group in a hive. For the continuity of their lineage, they live in groups and act in cooperation. Worker bees, queen bees, and drones live in a hive. The average life span of honey bees is 1.5 months.
Male bees live for 6 months and queen bees live 2 to 7 years depending on the species. A worker bee can produce one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its average lifetime. A honey bee can fly at an average speed of 24 km per hour. While honey bees can distinguish the color blue, they perceive red and dark gray colors like black. This is why the color of the hives used by many beekeepers is blue. To fill a honeycomb in the hive, they absorb the essence of more than a hundred million flowers. While performing this process, they flap their wings for 90 to 100 thousand km.
If we look at their lives inside the hive, a hive can host up to 90 thousand bees. Male bees live only for mating. They ensure the continuity of hive life by mating with the queen bee. In addition, if the food in the hive is depleted, the worker bees go out to find food.
In order to produce a kilogram of honey in a colony, bees travel around the flowers by making a flight equivalent to 6 times around the world. In order to have this power, they need to consume 25 kilos of honey (food). A flying bee needs half a milligram of food to provide energy every kilometer. With a liter of honey, a bee flaps its wings 250 times per second, travels 3 million km, and wanders around all the flowers. A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers at a time.
Although the depth of a honeycomb’s eye is 12 mm, when it is filled with honey, the honeycomb is not deformed in any way. While one of the fastest computers in the world can perform 16 billion arithmetic operations per second, a honey bee has the capacity to perform 10 trillion operations at the same time, using less energy. Honey bees are nature’s most magnificent creatures, capable of processing a hundred million times faster than even the most efficient computer with the highest processing speed today.
These miraculous honey bees, which are indispensable for the continuation of the ecosystem, mean the continuation of their future for human beings. We should protect them against the negative effects of climate change, use environmentally friendly products, not disturb the balance of natural life in order to offer them plant diversity, and provide clean water resources.
Communication of Honey Bees
Being such a miraculous being for the life cycle, bees have 20 thousand different types. They provide a work cycle with rhythmic movements similar to the dance they perform among themselves. Each bee has a unique sound and this sound is related to its different activity. In dangerous situations, they buzz louder to signal danger. The queen bee, which provides the vital cycle in the bee colony, has a richer vocal structure. The feet and legs of bees have a high sensitivity to sense vibrations.
They can sense different smells, recognize each other, and distinguish between different species through their antennae. The most obvious indicator of this is that a bee cannot enter another hive. Guard bees ensure the safety of the hive and prevent the bee from another hive from entering their own hive. Each time the bees flap their wings, they ventilate the hive with a kind of fanning system. Although the sound the bees make seems to come from their wings, it has been determined that it actually comes from their chest.
The eye structures of bees are also composed of a simple and combined eye system. They have two compounds and three simple eyes. The compound eye consists of three thousand simple cells in a queen, four thousand in a worker bee, and more than eight thousand in a drone. A honey bee is capable of processing almost the same processing power as a computer, with little energy.
Honey bees cover the flowers they collect pollen with a special electrical field to prevent other bees from coming back. Noticing this electrical field, thanks to their receptors, other bees pass through the flower whose pollen is finished, without visiting it again, and thus turn to other flowers. They also do not experience a waste of time. Some bees do not return to their nests when they are sick. They die on their own because they lose their sense of direction. When infected with a disease or virus, they do not return to their nests and protect other bees.
Another interesting piece of information about bees is that their sense of direction is highly developed. Bees have one million nerve cell neurons. It is as if they have developed a unique map on earth and have drawn their way with some traces they have left.
Honey Bee Society
Among thousands of bee species, the honey bee is the most popular species raised by human beings. One of the features that distinguish the honey bee from other bees is that it has a real “social” life. They can have 30 to 100 thousand individuals in a hive. You may think that there can be chaos in such a crowded environment. However, honey bees do not only live together, they also have a well-defined distribution of duties, namely the caste system. They use the power of working together rather than individuality.
- Queen bee
In beehives where there is a regular distribution of duties, there is of course an individual who is responsible for all this distribution of duties. The queen bee ensures that the order in the hive continues and that the worker bees can do their job properly. Managing a community of thousands of individuals is not easy at all. For this, the queen bee communicates with the workers by using a kind of volatile chemical substance called “pheromone”. In this way, nurse bees take care of the larvae, and foragers go outside to collect pollen, nectar, and water.
Bees mate and produce new individuals in a unique way. The mature queen bee begins the mating flight with the drones. After mating with more than one drone, it can store more than 5 million sperm in the sperm sac. She then finds a suitable home for himself. Or put in human-provided burrows. It can give up to 2000 fertilized and unfertilized eggs on average in a day. This means close to 200,000 individuals in a single season.
Mating queens form drones from unfertilized eggs, while new queens and worker bees form from fertilized eggs. The larva, which will become a queen, is fed with royal jelly produced by nurse bees, unlike workers. This makes their development different. The bee that will become a queen has to kill her opponents. Sometimes it does this thanks to the strong pheromones it secretes. Worker bees select the bee that secretes the strongest pheromone and kicks the others out of the hive.
- Worker Bees
The beehive has a caste system controlled by the queen. The most important individuals in this distribution of duties are worker bees. They are the base class that maintains the hive. Worker bees, like queens, come from fertilized eggs. But their diet includes honey, nectar, and water instead of royal jelly. A worker bee performs many tasks in turn during its lifetime. An adult worker bee spends almost the first 3 weeks of her life doing tasks inside the hive.
It cleans the hive, looks after and feeds the larvae, takes and stores the pollen and nectar brought by the foraging bees, regulates the temperature and humidity of the hive, and builds new wax cells in the hive. Later, she becomes the keeper of the hive. When it gets a little older, it finally goes out of the hive, looking for pollen, nectar, and water, finding the food sources needed by the hive and bringing it to the hive. Thus, it completes her life.
Male bees are formed from unfertilized eggs. But they have no role in the distribution of duties in the hive. Their only job is to fertilize a queen during mating seasons. Therefore, when it reaches maturity, it competes with other drones. If successful, he transfers his sperm to a queen. Although it may stay in the hive at first, since it has no other task in the hive, the presence of drones in the hive after the mating period is not welcome.
Worker bees drive the drones out of the hive and prevent them from benefiting from any food source. In other words, the guards guarding the hives are not drones, as is believed. They also consist of worker bees, that is, female individuals.
Honey Bee Hive and Honeycomb Making
Although honey bee hives, one of the most beautiful works of art of nature, do not appear alone in the wild today, they have now spread all over the world thanks to beekeepers. Although very rarely, honey bees are a species that share their life with humans and cooperate with them, even if they nest in suitable areas such as tree cavities.
Although there are many different beehive designs today, in general, movable wooden frames are placed inside to build honeycombs on top of it. The entrance and exit holes in the slot are close to the bottom of conventional hives. There are two holes in a beehive. One provides the output from the socket and the other provides the input. Honey bees are very prescriptive creatures. Therefore, they do not use the other hole to enter the slot without opening the entrance hole.
Worker bees inside the hive begin to build the nest. With the help of a substance called beeswax they produce in their bodies, they begin to build the cells in the hive. It is not surprising, as honey bees only fly and pollinate from flower to flower. They are also very good carpenters. They use the hexagonal shape, which is one of the most economical, efficient, and robust shapes in nature while constructing their honeycombs.
This will not only fascinate geometry lovers. They also use a plaster substance called propolis during the construction of the cells, which, on closer inspection, look as if they were made with a precision measuring instrument. In this way, they provide hygiene while plastering the cracks of the nest. Honey bees are both very good builders, geometry experts who can make precise measurements, and very good cleaners.
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