Honeybees provide a great service to agriculture: they pollinate more crops than any other insect, and without them, fruits and vegetables couldn’t develop.
Honeybees also provide other benefits. Man has been raising bees and harvesting their honey for thousands of years. Beeswax, from which the honeycomb is made, is also harvested from beehives.
The Bee Colony
Whether hidden in a hollow tree or kept in a beekeeper’s wooden hive, every colony of honeybees functions in the same way. A bee colony is made up of three types of bees: workers, drones, and a queen.
Most of the bees in a hive are workers, sterile females that can number in the tens of thousands. Young worker bees are called house bees. They build and maintain the hive, feed the young, make honey and wax, and tend to the queen. Older workers fly from the hive to gather nectar and pollen for food and for use in making honey and wax.
As a worker bee buzzes from flower to flower, she gathers nectar and stores it in a specialized stomach called a honey sac. She also picks up pollen in her fine hairs and combs it into pollen baskets in her back legs. Heavily laden, she finds the shortest path home, making a “bee line” for the hive.
There are hundreds of drones in a colony. They are males that develop from unfertilized eggs, and their only job is to mate with the queen. During the mating ritual, the queen flies high into the air, nearly 30 feet above the hive. Up to ten or more drones mate with the queen and then die. The queen returns with enough fertilization to lay eggs for years to come.
The Queen Bee
There is only one queen in a hive, and she can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day and may lay a million eggs in her lifetime. When a new queen is born, the old queen leaves the hive with about half of her workers to form a new colony.
When flowers are in bloom, bees work nonstop from sunrise to sunset, gathering pollen and nectar and pollinating flowers in the process. To be as busy as a bee is to be busy indeed.