Pol­li­na­tor power: The bi­ol­ogy of the honeybee

Walker County Messenger - - Sports - By Josh Fuder

Last month, I at­tended the Young Har­ris Col­lege-Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia Beekeeping In­sti­tute.

While I am not a bee­keeper, I am also not a novice to beekeeping. In my role as a UGA Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion county agent, I have a num­ber of friends in var­i­ous bee clubs. I even have two hives that a friend keeps at my house.

In my two days at the in­sti­tute, I learned that there was so much more to these amaz­ing crea­tures than I ever re­al­ized. The week of June 17-23 was Na­tional Pol­li­na­tor Week, and I thought this would be an ideal time to share some of my new­found bee knowl­edge.

Bees have three body seg­ments: head, tho­rax and ab­domen. The head has five eyes; there are two on the side and three small eyes that look like dots on the top of the head. These three eyes are more like light sen­sors so the bee knows which way is up. These light-sens­ing eyes can get bees into trou­ble in snowy ar­eas. They some­times exit the hive when snow is on the ground, and the re­flected light from the ground is brighter than the sky, so bees fly up­side down be­fore crash­ing into the snow.

The tho­rax, the bee’s power cen­ter, is the lo­ca­tion of the bee’s four wings and the six legs. There are many bee look-alikes in the in­sect world. One way to dis­tin­guish a bee from a fly is the bee’s four wings. Flies only have two wings.

The ab­domen houses the in­ter­nal or­gans, and the stinger is lo­cated at the base of the ab­domen. The ab­domen has seven seg­ments and con­tains eight wax-pro­duc­ing glands. Wax is se­creted in liq­uid form through seg­ments four through seven un­til it cools and hard­ens. Af­ter it hard­ens, the hive work­ers col­lect it and form the hive’s cells. These wax scales are 3 mm across and 1 mm thick. It takes about 1,100 scales to make 1 gram of wax.

Bees, like but­ter­flies and moths, go through a com­plete meta­mor­pho­sis, which in­cludes egg, larva, pupa and adult life stages. With hon­ey­bees, what in­ter­ested me was the time it takes them to progress from egg to adult. A queen com­pletes this in as lit­tle as 16 days, whereas a worker, the fe­male sis­ter, takes 21 days. A drone, the male brother of the queen, takes 24 days. The dif­fer­ence is based on sur­vival. When a colony needs to re­place a queen, they must re­place her fast so egg-lay­ing can con­tinue.

It takes only three days for an egg to de­velop into a larva. A bee larva looks like a small grub or mag­got. It is white in color, nes­tled into a cell and has no legs or eyes. Dur­ing this stage it in­creases 900 times in weight. But how can it grow this fast, molt­ing its skin six times, if it is blind and im­mo­bile? The worker bees feed these vo­ra­cious lit­tle eaters, mak­ing ap­prox­i­mately 1,300 vis­its each day to feed them and clean their cells.

Af­ter bees be­come adults, they have var­i­ous roles in the hive. While we may think they leave the cells and start fly­ing to flow­ers, only the old­est adults at the end of their lives can be seen in gar­dens. The bees be­gin their adult­hood as home­bod­ies, work­ing on im­por­tant jobs like clean­ing and cap­ping cells, ba­si­cally act­ing as the hive’s san­i­ta­tion de­part­ment. Af­ter they grad­u­ate from these tasks, they move up to brood tend­ing, comb build­ing, groom­ing and food han­dling. It is not un­til about day 15-20 of their adult life that they be­gin out­door tasks, like ven­ti­lat­ing and guard­ing the en­trance to the hive. An adult bee’s first for­ag­ing flight is usu­ally not un­til about day 20. In the sum­mer, most bees only live for 35 days. For­ag­ing flights are dan­ger­ous busi­ness given all the haz­ards: lawn­mow­ers, wind­shields, birds, spi­ders and other preda­tors. It makes sense that this is a task for the older, dis­pos­able bees.

Josh Fuder is the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion agri­cul­tural and nat­u­ral re­sources agent in Chero­kee County.

Bee­keeper and bees at the UGA Bee Lab­o­ra­tory on the univer­sity’s Hor­ti­cul­ture Re­search Farm in Watkinsville.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.