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Hard-working honeybees keep many plants pollinated

July 25, 2005|by JEFF RUGG/Copley News Service

Q: We have bees swarming a hole in an old black walnut tree. One day they moved to the fence nearby. There were hundreds of them in a small area. My neighbor said there is a shortage of bees in the area. Is there a way to get them to move or would someone be interested in moving them to another location? I am concerned for my grandchildren who play in the backyard sometimes. So far they haven't bothered us, but they could. Would there be honey in the tree? It would be hard to retrieve it as the hole is small.

A: There may very well be someone interested in your beehive. There are people who will "rescue" bees from people's yards. Beekeepers house bees in an apiary. Apiaries are so named because the genus of the honeybee is apis. Apiaries are regulated and inspected in every state. For information about bees, go to www.mda.state.mn.us. In the meantime, give the bees some space and they should leave you alone.

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You saw hundreds or even thousands of bees in the swarm on the fence. A large hive could reach 20,000 bees at one time. There needs to be that many bees, because of the amount of honey needed for the hive to be able to survive the winter. An individual worker bee can visit a new flower every six seconds and as many as 5,000 flowers in a day. In its entire lifetime of about a month, it will only be able to produce one-tenth of a teaspoon of honey.

Not only does the hive produce enough honey for itself to survive the winter, but it produces extra honey that the beekeeper can harvest. An amazing 80 pounds of surplus honey each year can be produced by a single hive. A single pound of honey requires stops at about 2 million flowers and about 55,000 miles of flying. So, for honeybees, time is honey.

The first job for a newly hatched queen bee is to kill her sisters and mother. She then mates with as many drones as possible in the one or two days of her life that she will fly. She will store their sperm in her body to use as needed for several years. She will lay as many as 1,500 eggs per day to about 200,000 per year. Each day, she will produce a pheromone that keeps the sterile female worker bees uninterested in reproduction. If she stops producing the pheromone or eggs, she is a goner.

A honeybee that finds a flower full of nectar or pollen in the morning will return all day long until the flower doesn't reward it or the weather changes.

Honeybees communicate the location and distance of blooming flowers to other bees by doing a variety of dances. They can see a wider spectrum of light than we can because they can see into the ultraviolet colors. If you look at many flowers using ultraviolet light, you will see rings and target shaped areas that tell insects where to get nectar. They can also see polarized light that allows them to navigate back to the hive by the different angles of light waves.

Honeybees were brought to North America by early colonists. Much of the nation's natural wild honeybee population has been decimated by a tiny mite. It is so small it lives inside the bee where it clogs up the bee's breathing passages. Beekeepers have worked very hard to keep the mites out of beehives.

Beekeeping in Egypt has been practiced for more than 4,000 years. In the U.S. today, many beekeepers move their hives to follow the regional blooming of crops. Two million hives are on the move to produce honey and farm crops.

Plants dependent on honeybees for pollination include: alfalfa, almond, apple, avocado, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, cucumber, pear, plum, sunflower and virtually all the melons and vegetables we buy in the store. The USDA estimates that one-third of our diet is derived from insect pollinated plants, with the bees doing 80 percent of the work. If you like watermelons, thank a honeybee. Not only are they responsible for much of our food, they also are the only insects that produce a food for us, too.

This work does not go unnoticed by the flowers. They are pollinated by the bee's efforts. The flower lures the bee to itself by producing nectar. The nectar is mostly made of sucrose that is swallowed and stored in the bee's crop. The enzyme invertase is added in the crop and fructose and glucose that together make up about 70 percent of honey is produced. Another 17 percent of honey is water and the rest is a combination of other carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

The nectar provides the hive with the energy food it needs so the workers can work as busy as a bee. Pollen gets all over a bees body as it gets the nectar from the flower. Special comb hairs on the leg are used to clean the bee. The pollen is carried back to the hive where it provides the bees with protein and other necessary nutrients.

Honey is naturally colored and flavored by the flowers the bees visit. Darker honey is usually also more highly flavored. More than 300 flavors are found in the United States, including avocado, clover and orange.

Honey is a versatile food. It is not just a sweetener. It can be used as a thickener for barbecue sauce as well as a cough or sore throat medicine. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast and fungi. The high sugar content, high acidity and other ingredients help it treat minor skin irritations and help it prevent scars. The downside is that you might be followed around by bears who want to lick you. If you take some honey as a pre-workout energy source, you might outrun the bear as it helps in endurance. It also helps athlete's muscles recuperate after a workout.

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