What's the Word?
Apiary: a place where bees are kept; especially a collection of hives or colonies of bees kept for their honey. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
Having recently observed the honey bees at the Westview Baptist Church on Caesar's Mountain, and then, last week, getting the 411 on the new "queen" of Second Avenue, I decided that I wanted to know a little more about the inner workings of a honey bee colony.
And, just let me say, I got quite an education, a part of which I will share with you.
The multi-story bee hive contains a very efficient operation and requires several layers for the honey making/bee surviving process to take place. A little research by a here-to-fore uninformed observer, reveals that the hive consists of a cover to protect the "factory" from the elements of nature; an inner cover provides insulation against the heat and cold; Shallow Supers store surplus honey for the apiarist's, or beekeeper's, use and sale; the Queen Excluder allows the smaller worker bees to pass through to the supers, but keeps the larger queen bee in the brood chamber where she lays her eggs; and hive bodies or "brood chambers" are the living quarters for the bees. The bees store honey for their food supply in this chamber. The "Bottom Board" allows room for the bees to enter and exit the hive, but keeps out rodents, as well as the cold wind of winter.
The Bees of ﾠ"The Birds and the Bees"
Honey bees enlistﾠ a caste system, where every member of the colony carries out a specific function, to ensure the survival of their colony.
It takes three types of bees for a successful honey production operation, and the life expectancy varies depending on the type. Worker bees live for only four to six weeks in the spring and summer, ﾠtheir days are shortened in winter months to 140 days. The drones seldom survive past 60 days; while the queen can live from two to five years. "A healthy, well-fed queen lays up to 2,000 eggs per day, and the young worker bees act as her attendants, bringing her food and disposing of her waste," according to the Suite 101 website. But bees have their radar out for slackers in the process. When a queen dies, or her pheromone secretion declines (which keeps all other females sterile) ﾠor if her egg production decreases, then a process called "supersedure" takes place, which somewhat resembles our presidential primary.
When bees need to replace their queen they usually raise several candidates in the supersede cells. The worker bees feed them nothing but royal jelly to prepare them for their upcoming reign. However, when the first queen emerges, the fight is on as she stings the un-hatched queens to death while they are still inside their cells, and fights to the death any other queens in the colony, or the worker bees will do the job for her, forming a tight ball around the old or other queen, causing her to die from overheating. When they're not pampering or maiming and killing, the 20-to-60,000 worker bees in a colony act as nurses, and work at feeding the brood, building combs, cleaning house, accepting pollen and nectar from adult foragers, and act as undertakers and guards of the hive.
Need I tell you that all worker bees are females?
Don't be a drone
The drone, or male bee, has a very limited role in the bee colony.ﾠ These are the guys you may see flitting around in the air, practicing for the time when they get to mate with the queen - ﾠtheir only purpose in life. They don't have stingers, so they can't even defend the hive. They have no way of collecting pollen or nectar, so they cannot contribute to feeding the bee colony.
Once they have accomplished the mating task - they drop dead.
If perchance, they do not mate with the queen and live until cold weather, they fall under the "he who does not work, does not eat" rule, and they are either smothered by the worker bees or forced out of the hive to starve.
There's some serious business going on in these bee hives.
The next time you add honey to your tea, you might want to stop and consider just how much work went into producing it, and take time to educate yourself on yet another phenomenon of nature.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org