Updated: Mar 22
The oldest bee remains fossil over 80 million years old and resides in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. There are honey bee references through the ages.
Greek athletes call honey "the nectar of the gods" and used it to boost performance. References to honey can be found in the bible, the dark ages, and the middle ages, and in the 18th century, honey bees arrived in America with man's aid. Today one in every three bites of food we take is directly thanks to insect pollinators' actions, predominantly honey bees.
Honey bees are social insects, which live together in large organized groups. A honey bee colony consists of three types of bees, workers, drones, and a queen. A bee colony can grow to 60,000 bees with one queen, hundreds of drones, and thousands of workers. Each type of bee has specific tasks to perform, but it is the colony's combined effort that regulates survival.
Worker bees are all female and can capable of reproducing. They are the only bees most people see and live approximately six weeks, working three weeks inside the hive and three weeks outside. Their duties include housekeeping, feeding the queen, drones, and larvae, collecting pollen and nectar, and making wax. They take forty foraging trips a day gathering and will produce about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in their short life.
Drones are all males, and their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. Drones do not work, they don't make honey, and they cannot sting. Drones live in the hive in the spring and summer but often leave the hive to be part of drone congregation areas to mate with a queen. But since a queen only mates once, most drones will not fulfill that role. After a drone successfully mates with the queen, he falls back, and his endophallus is ripped from his abdomen, remaining attached to the queen. The drone quickly dies. The next drone attempting to mate with the queen removes the previous bee's endophallus and loses its own through the same mating process. When foraging becomes scarce during the fall, drones become another mouth to feed, and because they don't contribute to the hive, worker bees kick them out. They typically die from starvation or hypothermia.
The queen bee can live up to five years, and there can be only one queen per colony. In the spring, when the colony is growing, she can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day to ensure its survival. When the queen bee's egg production diminishes, the colony may decide to replace her with a new queen by feeding larvae a "royal jelly" substance. Typically worker bees produce more than one queen giving them the best chance of raising a strong queen for the hive. A newly hatched queen will sting and kill the unhatched rivals while they are still in their cells. If two queens are born at the same time, they will fight to the death.
How Bees Find Flowers
Worker bees disperse in up to 3 miles in all directions in search of untapped fields. Once they find a good nectar and pollen source, they return to the nest to tell the hive. Worker bees communicate via, and elaborate dance called a "waggle." During a waggle dance, the scout bee moves at an angle to indicate the flower source with the sun. Inside the hive bees know which way is up and down. They perform their waggle dance at a specific angle away from straight up. Outside the hive, bees locate the sun's position and fly the same angle away from the sun to find the flowers. During the waggle dance scout bees move their abdomen rapidly. The more she waggles, the further the flower's location from the hive. Finally, the scout worker bee regurgitates a sample of the nectar from the flowers. The other worker bees taste this nectar and smell the pollen stuck on the scout's hind legs. Armed with the direction, distance from the hive, taste, and scent of the flowers, the rest of the worker bees can now leave the hive to forage the same source.
A New Generation
Bees then bring the nectar back to the hive and store it in a hexagon-shaped cone. With limited room inside the hive, the hexagon shape gives the honey bees the most space to store their honey, but its construction requires the least amount of wax. This is important when you consider a honey bee that consumes eight ounces of honey to produce one ounce of wax. During the winter months, the hive lives on the stored honey and pollen. They cluster together for warmth and feed the larvae from the same stores. Come spring hive is swarming with a new generation of bees ready to find, forage and store fresh nectar and pollen.