Before I got bees, I thought they seemed kind of interesting. I knew they were amazing communicators and hard-workers and that they built honeycomb and made honey. But that was about it. So now that I’ve had my bees for while, I thought I’d let everyone know the coolest things that I’ve learned about bees along the way. Spoiler alert: they are amazing! So here are my ten reasons why bees are amazing and you need to raise them already, so hurry up!
Reason 1: Worker bees are the coolest bees ever:
The saying ‘busy as a bee’ really is true. Worker bees are crazy busy during their short lives, but I had no idea how much they actually do. When a worker bee is first born, she (all workers are girls) starts out her life cleaning out the hive and taking care of honeycomb related business. She will make sure that the cells are clean for the queen to lay her eggs and just make sure everything is in tip top shape. After that, she becomes an undertaker. Literally. Bees are fastidious creatures and want their hive to be perfect. So any bee that dies needs to be hauled out the hive and the undertaker bees are the ones who take care of that business. Then, she might go on to be in the queen’s entourage, taking care of the queen or act as a babysitter for the larvae. After that, she might guard the hive, or collect nectar from the returning field bees. When she starts producing wax, she’ll help build comb as well. She may also help fan the hive to cool it by flying back and forth in front of the entrance or act as a guard. It’s only after she’s done all of these different tasks that she becomes a field bee. A field bee goes around collecting pollen and nectar, which is what we think of when we think of worker bees, but I was amazed to find out how much more a worker bee does. And they do it all in a relatively short time. They only live about six weeks. And they get more done than I do in a year. Makes you feel pretty inferior, so it’s better not to dwell on it.
Reason 2: Queens will royally amaze you:
Queens lay eggs (obviously), but I was surprised to learn some more facts about them as well. Queens have a stinger, but they will rarely use it on humans (but they may fight a rival queen with it). Queen bees can’t feed themselves. If she’s hungry, one of her attendants has to feed her and groom her. She can’t even leave the hive to go to the bathroom and her attendants carry her waste out of the hive for her. But she’s not lazy! We think of the queen laying around getting attended to all day, but that’s not the case. She is constantly walking around her hive, laying eggs in her brood comb (the comb that’s reserved for rearing bees, not for storing honey). Even though the bees are packed in there like sardines, it’s like the parting of the Red Sea when the queen walks through and they let her pass, literally stepping over (and on) her subjects. Hey, it’s good to be the queen.
Reason 3: Male bees. I mean they’re not amazing, but they are at least interesting:
Oh, drones. Drones are the male bees and they can be kind of worthless, save the obvious. I’m sorry, I think my bees are turning me into a feminist. The drones are around for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to procreate. They are necessary for the hive to reproduce, but other than that, they don’t do much except eat. The drones are big, dark bees. They don’t have a stinger so they can’t protect the hive. You’ll see quite a few drones in the height of swarm season but after that, their numbers dwindle. Any drones left around in the Fall get killed off by the worker bees because they are a liability in the Winter. They don’t help the hive and they eat a ton of honey. It’s funny, while the girls are all busy working hard, I’ve watched my drones leave the hive in the afternoon to go congregate on hot summer days. Apparently, they go have a boys meeting (I think they go drink beer behind the shed but I haven’t caught them yet) while the girls are busy tending to the young, gathering food, keeping the hive clean, and you know, protecting the hive from any unwanted creatures. If you’re drawing any parallels to your own life, it’s not my fault, I’m just stating facts.
p.s. My husband ain’t no drone, thank goodness!
Reason 4: Their reproduction is fascinating:
Okay. We all know about queen bees laying all the eggs and such, but there is so much more to it than that. And it’s some real Game Of Thrones stuff going on up inside that hive, let me tell you. First off, a hive has to have a queen in order to get more worker bees. She is the only bee that can lay workers. And now that you know everything that the worker bees do, you know how they really are the lifeblood of the hive. But bees have to reproduce as well. The queen can’t live forever, after all. So when the queen is getting older, or the hive is getting crowded, the queen might decide to swarm. In a swarm, the queen will take half of the hive, a good deal of the honey supply and hit the road. But before she goes, she’ll lay some new queen larvae so that the hive can continue in her absence, effectively splitting the hive and reproducing. She’ll lay special eggs in special cells along the bottom of the combs called swarm cells. These larvae are fed ‘royal jelly’ by the workers. Royal jelly is necessary to lay a queen bee. Basically, a queen bee is the same as a worker, except that she was fed royal jelly during her larval stage, effectively turning her into a queen. The queen will usually wait around until these new queens hatch, but after that, she’ll take off to find a new home with her half of the workers. The new queens that emerge are called virgin queens. In order for a queen bee to lay worker bees, she has to be mated. So when a new queen hatches, she has to take a (dangerous) mating flight and mate with drones (see, they’re not totally useless!). Only after she has mated can she become a true queen capable of having a colony.
My bees tried to swarm this year because they had something called ‘false floor phenomenon’ going on in their Warre hive. We were able to catch the swarm, rearrange the hive and give the bees more room. But we got lucky, we could just as easily ended up with a new queen and half or our colony gone. But boy, did things get pretty crazy with all those queens in my hive. I’m talking Cersei Lannister level crazy. When we discovered that our bees were swarming, we had to go through our combs, box by box and cut off the swarm cells that our wanderlusting queen had laid. I was able to catch most of those virgin queens, but a couple got loose. When we got our queen and the swarm put back in the hive and the hive put back together, a couple of those swarm cell queens snuck in too. I have to tell you, I was freaking out. I was afraid one of those new queens would end up killing my old queen. But I was mistaken. See, sometimes an older queen will tolerate the presence of her daughter queen in the hive for a short time, but that’s usually when the older queen is older and weaker. But my queen is a pretty young queen herself, and she wasn’t about to tolerate these upstarts in her hive. If the colony doesn’t recognize a bee (queen or otherwise) they get pretty brutal. They will “ball” the intruder, which means they form a ball around the unwelcome bee, and the intruder will overheat and suffocate, and probably get stung a few times as well. So for the next few days, I went out every morning to find dead virgin queens laying on the ground that had been unceremoniously kicked out the hive. It was pretty vicious.
Reason 5: Supersedure cells
If the queen is weak or dies, the colony can make a new queen in emergency queen cells called supersedure cells. These queen cells are found more towards the middle of the comb. The worker bees feed this larvae royal jelly, just like in the swarm cells. But instead of swarming, the colony stays put and the new queen that emerges takes over for the weak or missing queen (after she’s had her mating flight of course).
Reason 6: Bees Don’t Always Die When They Sting
Bees can sting other insects as much as they want without it hurting the bee. It’s only when they sting us or some other mammal that they die. Their stinger gets caught in our skin and pulls off the back of their abdomen when they try to fly off. So, if a wasp gets in the hive, the bees can ball the wasp and sting the heck out of it without harming the bees (unless the wasp stings back, of course).
Reason 7: Bees have special sacs on their legs just for storing pollen.
I like to stand around next to my hive and watch the field bees fly in. Their legs are always laden down with big orange loads. It’s really cool. That is all.
Reason 8: Bees are actually really gentle.
My bees are right next to my garden, and at first, I was worried about the being so close to my house and animals and kids and such. I had visions of swarms of bees flying around and screaming children, but it’s not like that at all. Unless you were to stand right next to the hive, you probably wouldn’t notice my bees at all. You might see them flying around occasionally, but they certainly aren’t swarming around and they also could not care less about us. They are busy doing their job. They’re not going to drop their loads just so they can come harass me. They don’t care. So when I’m out in the garden and the bees are buzzing around the same peas that I’m picking, it’s no big deal. I go about my business. They go about theirs. It’s really quite peaceful. That being said, if you go harass a hive full of bees, they’ll go after you, but step away five feet, and they honestly will just fly right past.
Reason 9: Bees are pretty cool in the winter, too. Actually, they’re warm. But, you catch my drift.
During the winter, the bees keep their hive very warm and they do this by clustering together and vibrating. It’s always really warm inside the bee cluster in the hive, even on bitter cold days. The worker bees live longer during the winter so that the ones that were alive at the end of the Fall are around in the Spring to help prepare for the new gathering season.
Reason 10: Honey
Come on! Who doesn’t want their own honey? Just get bees already!
A lot of towns allow beehives so even if you live in town, owning bees could still be in your future. You’ll have to check to see if your city allows them and look into registering your hives. It’s also a good idea to check with your neighbors to let them know you’re thinking of getting bees, especially with allergy concerns. But honeybees are so peaceful, they are unlikely to cause any disturbances. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself some bees! Chickens are all the rage right now (which, I love my chickies, so I get it) but I think bees are pretty good homestead starter animals as well! Check out Beekeeping For Dummies for some good beginner information https://www.amazon.com/Beekeeping-Dummies-Howland-Blackiston/dp/1118945468/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1508177732&sr=8-2&keywords=beekeeping+for+dummies. Contact the Department of Agriculture in your state to learn how to register a hive (this is mostly to prevent the spread of disease).
*****If honeybees are not in your future, you should at least look into protecting the native bees flying around your yard. Native bees need way more help than the honeybees (who have us caretakers after all), so we should all be doing as much as we can to help the native bees. Honeybees don’t pollinate a lot of our native plant species, so native bees are a super important part of our ecosystem as well. Bee aware (see what I did there?) that the pesticides you are using to get rid of pests can hurt these guys as well. We all need to do our part to help these native bees survive, because they are really struggling right now 🙁
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