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Composition of a honey bee colony:
A honey bee colony consists of a queen, brood, workers, drones, and honeycomb. A colony of bees has anywhere from a few hundred bees to hundreds of thousands, but most colonies have between 3,000 and 15,000 bees. There is only one queen in a colony. She manages the colony and lays eggs (sometimes thousands per day). The eggs she lays are called brood. Worker bees are sterile females. They collect pollen, make honey and wax comb, defend the colony, and tend to the brood. Worker bees are capable of stinging. Male bees are called drones. Reproducing is their only main function; they are not capable of stinging. All the bees live in a wax structure called honeycomb. The honey comb is composed of wax sheets about an inch thick. Each sheet of honeycomb is made of thousands of hexagon shaped cells. These cells hold the liquid honey and the brood.
Honey Bees eating and drinking:
Bees make honey out of nectar that they collect from flowers. When bees return to the hive from collecting nectar they mix the nectar with an enzyme in their body and secrete it through special glands to produce honey. Honey is their main food source although they can also eat other sugary, syrupy substances like maple syrup, and soda. Bees store honey in their hives so that they have a food source year round even when nectar and pollen are scarce. To bees honey is an important source of carbohydrates. Pollen provides bees with protein. Bees eat pollen they find in flowering plants and they store it in the colony for scarce times. Bees also drink water. They prefer to drink from wet surfaces rather than standing water; this way they minimize the possibility of drowning.
How new colonies form:
When a bee colony gets to be large, the queen will leave the hive with a few thousand bees. This group of bees flies through the air and looks like a black cloud. It is called a swarm. Bee swarms are usually not aggressive. The swarm will land somewhere that it can hang from such as a tree branch or a roof overhang. When it is hanging it looks like a ball of bees ranging in size from a baseball to a beach ball. Most swarms are about the size of a volleyball. While the swarm is resting worker bees called scout bees, will go out and look for a good spot to make a new permanent colony. Usually the spot for the permanent colony is in an inclosed space such as the inside of a tree, a wall void or a roof void, however bees will sometimes make hanging colonies that are out in the open. These can be found hanging from tree branches etc. The swarm usually rests for 2 or 3 days, and then when the permanent spot is chosen the entire swarm will relocate to it in the matter of an hour or so. Meanwhile back at the original colony the remaining worker bees sense the absence of the queen and feed one of the eggs a special blend called “royal jelly” to produce a new queen to rule the original hive. This is the process through which bees divide their colonies and spread to new territory.
Hive age, aggression and size:
Once the bees are in their new location the workers start making wax comb by excreting wax from their glands. After a week or so there is enough wax comb to hold honey, eggs and larvae. This is when bees start to get aggressive. Once they have something to protect they will defend the colony by stinging animals that are a threat. A colony typically gets more and more aggressive as time goes on. After about 10 days most bee hives weigh about 2 pounds. That is 2 pounds of wax and honey not including the bees. A month old hive usually weighs about 10 pounds. A three month old hive will weigh 20 to 30 pounds. After a year most hives will have 50 to 100 pounds of honey and wax.
Honey bee life cycle:
All bees begin as eggs, then become larva, then pupa, then emerge as bees. During the egg, larva and pupa stages the bee is encased in a wax cell. During the larva and pupa stages the bee looks like a little white worm. The queen bee usually lives for 2 to 3 years. Worker bees live for about 6 weeks after emergence in the spring and summer, but can live up to 6 months in the cooler months. Drones live anywhere from just 2 weeks to 4 months. Drones die immediately after mating with the queen.
The importance of honey bees:
Honey bees are a vital part of our ecosystem. When a bee is collecting nectar or pollen from a flower, it transports pollen from that flower to the next flower it lands on. This transfer of pollen from one plant to another is how plants make seeds and reproduce.
Since plants cannot move on their own they rely on insects, birds and wind to spread their genetic material. Without bees many plants, including crops that we depend on to feed ourselves, would not be able to survive. Some people have estimated that if bees were to become extinct, humans would perish four to five years later. Although that prediction is debatable it is clear that bees are very useful. Bees also make honey and wax which have many uses
Identifying Different Types of Bee Activity
A bee hive: a bee hive is the spot where a bee colony has made their permanent home. A hive is comprised of one queen bee, worker bees, drone bees, and honeycomb containing both liquid honey and bee larvae. If a bee hive is out in the open, you will see sheets of hanging honeycomb covered in thousands of bees, and during the day you will see bees constantly flying into and away from the hive. If the hive is concealed inside a space in a building or a hollow tree, you will only see bees flying into and out of a hole or crack.
A resting bee swarm: a resting bee swarm is a group of bees with a queen that has divided from an established hive, and is looking for a new hive site. The swarm will hang from a tree branch or overhang while scout bees look for a permanent hive site near by. The resting swarm will look like a ball of bees and can bee difficult to distinguish from a new hive.
A traveling bee swarm: a traveling swarm is the same as a resting swarm except for that the group is flying through the air and appears as a black cloud of bees.
Scout bees: scout bees are sent out to find a permanent hive location. If you see bees entering a hole in a
structure but only a couple bees enter and leave in a minute these are probably scout bees. Also if you see bees meandering around a roof-line or other feature but not sticking to one spot these are probably scout bees.
Bees collecting nectar: if bees are flying around flowering trees or bushes but don’t seem to be concentrated in one spot, they are probably gathering nectar. If you watch closely you will see them land on individual flowers.
Bees drinking water: if you consistently see bees gathered around a pool or fountain they are probably drinking from it. Bees prefer to drink from wet areas around a pool so they don’t run the risk of drowning.
Wasps (Paper Wasps):
These insects are similar to honey bees in that there is one queen in a nest that commands sterile females and males. They do not make honey though. Instead they make papery nests that range from the size of a golf ball to the size of a dinner plate. They often hang their nests from roof overhangs and tree branches out in the open. Most nests will only have 10 or 20 insects. Wasps and hornets can sting multiple times and they actually eat meat (mostly in the form of other insects) in addition to nectar.
Like honey bees, most yellow-jacket nests consist of thousands of insects. There is a queen, many female workers and males. Yellow-jackets do not make honey. They make papery nests that are most often underground. They are very aggressive around the colony and can sting multiple times. These insects eat meat as well as nectar from plants. Because they do not store honey for the winter they cannot sustain large populations through the colder months, thus only the queen usually lives through the winter. Sometimes an entire nest will make it through the winter, in which case the nest grows very large in the second year and can even have more than one queen.