Creature Feature: Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
By CG Science Editor Emma Dean
As spring quarter envelops Ohio University, Morton Hill becomes the stage for the comedic dodges and darts of students attempting to avoid bees. These simple creatures consisting of six legs, two compound eyes comprised of thousands of lenses, three simple eyes, two pairs of wings, a nectar pouch and a stomach manage to incite a sudden panic.
While Morton Hill regulars may swear the bees swarm to attack, honey bees are not normally aggressive and only resort to stinging when they are provoked or protecting the hive. In fact, bees are also intelligent enough to learn and remember things as well as to make complex calculations concerning distance travelled and foraging efficiency with only an oval brain the size of a sesame seed. To communicate with each other, honey bees “dance.”
Honey bees maintain a fairly structured existence. When the hive that can be home to 40-45,000 bees becomes too crowded, the queen will lay fertilized eggs in wax cells. Nurse bees feed the queen larvae with a milky white, creamy food called Royal Jelly. Queen bees only eat Royal Jelly, which is the only difference between worker bees and the queen. Consumption of royal jelly is responsible for the size of the queen who is one and a half times larger than her worker bees.
After the queen lays her larvae, she and other scouts search for a location for the new hive. The first queen to emerge from her cell will leave to start the colony at the new location. The new queen will mate with up to 20 male bees called drones that then die after mating. Drones have no purpose other than mating. The new queen will then lay about 2,000 eggs per day. Fertilized eggs will become female worker bees and unfertilized eggs are fertilized by male drones and become new drones.
Worker bees live for about six weeks during the bustling summer and four to nine months during the winter. Drones either die after mating or are evicted from the hive in autumn in order to conserve food since they don’t work. However, the queen bee can live much longer than her subjects—up to five years.
Bees immediately know when the queen has died because they stop smelling her pheromones. If her death is premature, the workers bees attempt to make a new one from existing larvae. As long as the larva is under three days old, it can be converted into a queen bee.
- Bees obtain pollen from about two million flowers just to make one pound of honey.
- Honey bees are cold-blooded and generate heat by vibrating their bodies. The body temperature of a bee in flight is about 130 degrees Fahrenheit but can quickly lose the ability to move if caught in cold weather. The hive is kept at around 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Honey bees are not native to North America and were brought over by Europeans settlers.
- Honey bees are the only insects that produce food for humans.
- Bees can fly at an average of 13-15 mph.
- Bee venom is what carries the extra punch in a bee sting.
- Bee venom therapy is used to address health problems which include arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even MS.
- It is estimated that 1,100 honey bee stings are required to be fatal—unless of course, a person is allergic to bee stings.
- Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors. Compare that sense of smell to fruit flies with 62 odorant receptors and mosquitoes with 79.
- Each individual bee colony has a distinct odor so bees can easily identify which hive they belong to.
- The buzzing sound a bee makes is the result of beating its wings about 200 times per second