The Disappearing Bees. Their Secret Lives, Health, Honey, Pollen and Harvests

Bees share with man one common fate. – Virgil, trans. by John Dryden


Bees are beneficial for everyone. Recent problems with Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD, the failing health of bee hives and the disappearance of bees in many countries remind us of the important role of bees in our food cycle. The failing bee populations have been related to use of pesticides and infections in the hive.
How Bees Live in the Hive and Pollinate Plants

To understand why the bees disappear, consider what they need to thrive. The familiar honeybee is a common four-winged insect, usually with a stinger, of the genus Apis and species mellifera. There are between 10,0000 and 20,000 species of bees, but only a few species produce honey. A fossil of a honey bee dates back to the early Cretaceous period, 65 to 145 million years ago. The honey bee was introduced into the United States in Colonial America. The best-known bee species is the Western honey bee. Bees are social insects. As many as 40,000 honeybees live as a colony in a nest they build or a hive provided by the beekeeper. The colony contains a single queen, thousands of workers and, at certain stages in the colony cycle, hundreds of male bees called drones.

Bees always return to the hive and remain with the queen bee. Bees use the sun in navigation. They have compound eyes made of almost 6,000 tiny lenses that detect polarized ultraviolet light, sunlight that is polarized by the atmosphere. Bees dance to communicate with each other about food sources. The sounds from the movement of the bees are picked up by the tiny hairs on the bee’s head. Honeybee wings flap over 11,000 times per minute and create their distinctive buzz.

Worker Bees and Drones

Workers bees are small, undeveloped, non-breeding females with a short lifespan of about 40 days. Numerous chores keep them, yes, busy as bees. Worker honeybees feed the queen and larvae, guard the hive entrance and keep the hive cool by fanning their wings. Worker bees collect all the nectar to make honey and pollinate crops. In addition, they produce beeswax and build the combs where honey is stored and the young are raised. The comb is an architectural wonder, composed of hexagonal cells with walls that are only 2/1000 inches thick but support 25 times their own weight. The bee colony lives on the stored honey during winter and can survive for years.

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Drones are male bees without stingers. They do not collect nectar or pollen. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. If the colony is short on food, drones may be expelled from the hive.

The Life of a Queen Bee

The queen bee is selected while still an egg. She is fed only royal jelly and becomes a large fertile bee. Her job is to provide all the eggs for the colony. In one day a queen can lay her weight in eggs. She will lay one egg per minute, day and night, for a total of 1,500 eggs over a 24-hour period and 200,000 eggs in a year, and continue laying eggs for five years. If she slows down, her workers will move a fresh egg into a queen cell to grow her replacement.

The Beekeeping Business for Commercial Pollination

Beekeeping is known as apiculture. Many beekeeprs are in the business of contract pollination instead of honey production. Agriculture is too important to leave pollination to chance. Hives of honey bees are shipped from grower to grower to pollinate crops as they come into bloom. Hives travel to California when the almond trees come into bloom, to Washington for the apple crop, then to cranberries in New Jersey and blueberries in Maine, and so on. In total, honeybees pollinate about 100 flowering food crops including apples, nuts, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, celery, squash and cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and melons. Bees also polinate animal-feed crops, such as the clover for dairy cows.

Beekeepers buy hybrid queens and bees that have been bred for with special qualities. Desirable bees have high honey production, gentleness, resistance to disease and mites and no tendency to swarm.

Killer Bees are Honey Bees Gone Bad

The “killer bee” with a bad reputation is actually a type of African honeybee. These bees react very quickly, attack in large numbers, and swarm for long periods of time. In 1957, they were accidentally released in Brazil during a science experiment. Killer bees then moved north, reaching Mexico and southwestern Unites States.

Food Products from the Bee, Honey, Pollen, Propolis and Royal Jelly

The honeybee provides four food products for human use: honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. All are nutritious food sources and contribute to better health. If you have allergies, or if you are especially sensitive to bee stings, you may also be allergic to bee products. It is recommended that you consult your health care professional before using them.

bee pollen for saleMany people believe in the curative and health-giving powers of eating bee products. Although several reliable scientific studies are available, the benefits are often anecdotal or hearsay. Pharmaceutical companies conduct research with the expectation of marketing proprietary new products. Since honey and bee pollen are foods and cannot be patented, there is no business incentive to study them. The Office of Alternative Medicine, OAM, was created in 1992 as part of the National Institutes of Health to study natural therapies, such as bee pollen, that are otherwise ignored.

It is widely believed that honey, bee pollen, propolis and royal jelly boost the human immune system, desensitize allergies, and help prevent illnesses, even cancer and heart disease.

How the Bee Produces Honey

Flowers provide nectar, rather than honey. Bees repeatedly regurgitate and dehydrate the nectar to create honey. In a single collecting trip, a worker bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers. She will return to the hive carrying over half her weight in pollen and nectar. To produce one pound of honey, workers in a hive will make about 37,000 trips to the fields, fly 55,000 miles and visit two million flowers. A productive hive can make and store up to two pounds of honey a day. Thirty-five pounds of honey provide enough energy for a small colony to survive the winter. In the hive, honey is dried and stored in honeycombs that are then sealed with wax. Honey ripens inside the sealed comb and can last for many years.

Honey contains up to 80 different substances including vitamins, trace minerals and live enzymes. Besides its food value, honey is used to help heal infected wounds and burns. In one study, 58 people with wounds that resisted antibiotics for more than two years experienced healing after one week of topical honey application.

Royal Jelly From the Honeybee

Royal jelly is a nutritious white milky substance produced in the glands of worker bees. The queen bee is fed only royal jelly her entire life. She is known to live up to 5 years, while worker bees live an average of 40 days. It is believed that royal jelly, which contributes to the longevity of the queen bee, can also extend human life and postpone aging. It is sold at many health food stores.

Royal jelly is full of B vitamins as well as vitamins A, C and E. It also contains 20 amino acids, fatty acids, potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese and acetylcholine. In addition, it contains gamma-globulin, an immune-stimulating substance. Human studies show that royal jelly can decrease blood serum lipid and cholesterol levels, and decrease fat deposits in the arteries. This suggests that royal jelly could be used to fight atherosclerosis.

What Is Honey Bee Propolis?

Bees make bee propolis, also called bee glue, by secreting beeswax and mixing it with resins from the buds of conifer and poplar trees. Bees sterilize their hive by coating it with propolis. Its natural antiseptic qualities ensure a clean environment for healthy grubs.

Honeybee propolis has proven antibacterial and antifungal properties, which make it a natural antibiotic. People use it on wounds and as a remedy for acne, osteoporosis, itching, cancer and tuberculosis. It is also used today in chewing gum, cosmetics, creams, lozenges and ointments. Preliminary studies show that propolis may be effective to treat burns, infections, inflammation, and herpes. Like royal jelly, propolis has been used to stimulate immune responses, relieve allergies, and reduce susceptibility to colds and flu. Other studies conclude that propolis aids bone formation and regenerates tissue.

The Benefits of Honey Bee Pollen

Bee pollen, nature’s most complete food, is a high-protein mixture of honey and plant pollens. It is the main food for worker honeybees and larvae. It contains all the essential amino acids and a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. It is a particularly good source of the B-complex vitamins, as well as C, D and E. Bee pollen has been recommended to treat low blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, lack of energy and mental fatigue. Bee pollen is often used as a natural cure for allergies. It is also taken to build muscle strength, to control weight and to delay aging.

Among natural health professionals, honeybee products have become important ingredients for maintaining wellness and preventing disease.

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