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The Bee-Kind Garden
Apian Wisdom For Your Garden
By David Squire, Alison Copland, Coral Mula
UIT Cambridge LtdCopyright © 2011 David Squire
All rights reserved.
Getting to Know Bees
WHAT ARE BEES?
Honey bees are social insects that have been domesticated and encouraged to live in hives. Earlier, bees made homes in holes and crevices in trees, walls and logs; later they used 'skeps', then other early hives. Now, they live in man-made hives designed and constructed to meet all their needs.
WHAT ARE HONEY BEES?
They belong to a classification of insects known as Hymenoptera, meaning having membranous wings. Relatives of honey bees include wasps, hornets, bumble bees, ants, sawflies and ichneumon flies. They all have two pairs of more or less transparent wings.
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These are divided into two groups. The first includes sawflies and their close associates. They do not have a constricted waist and the egg-laying part, known as an ovipositor, is modified to form a saw. This enables females to saw slits or pockets into which eggs can be laid. The other group has a constricted waist and includes bees and wasps. Ants are also in this group, but they have mostly lost their wings (except for sexually active males and females).
STINGING OR LAYING EGGS?
Two groups of insects within the Hymenoptera have an ovipositor or a modification of it. With ichneumon flies and chalcid wasps this has been adapted to lay eggs on or within the bodies of insects which later serve as hosts and food reservoirs for their offspring. The ovipositor in bees and wasps has become modified into a sting. Female bees, wasps and ants, however, are able to discharge eggs through an opening at the base of their ovipositor.
Life expectancies of a hive's occupants (queen bee, drones and workers) vary throughout the seasons and especially from winter to summer. Each insect has its own agenda and duties and they all act in harmony. It is an interactive social existence and life spans reflect the nature of their roles.
A queen bee usually lives for two or three years and during this period lays 600,000 eggs. However, records indicate that some queens live for four or five years – or even longer. When her egg-laying abilities decline, her place is taken by one of her daughters, specially reared for this purpose.
A DRONE'S LIFE EXPECTANCY
During summer a drone usually lives for four or five weeks; he becomes sexually active when 10–14 days old, and his main duty is fertilizing the queen. Drones do not visit flowers for food; instead, they either remove it from returning foraging worker bees or take it from stored food within the hive. The thought that drones have a comfortable existence is confirmed by them usually congregating in the warmest part of the hive and only going outside on fine, sunny and windless days – and then only in the afternoon between midday and four o'clock.
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Their life expectancy varies throughout the year, with those born from late spring to midsummer (known as 'summer' bees) living for an average of 25 days. However, those born in early autumn (often known as 'winter' bees) live for 50 days or more. This life expectancy is influenced not only by the amount of work expected from them from one season to another (including foraging, looking after young larvae and other domestic duties), but also by an internal change influenced by the number of larvae required to replace them.
A HIVE'S RESIDENTS
The adult residents of hive are a queen, drones and worker bees. Additionally, there are eggs and larvae which, when given the correct attention a and food, develop into adults (mainly workers). Each adult bee has an individual role to play in the continuing welfare of a colony.
THE QUEEN BEE
In an established hive, there is normally only one queen bee (although slightly prior and just after swarming there would be young queen bees ready to emerge to replace her). She is the largest of a hive's occupants and her only job is to mate with a drone and to lay eggs.
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The main task of a queen bee is to lay eggs; during early summer she will lay about 1,500 eggs every day. This means that in every 24 hours she is producing more than her own bodyweight in eggs.
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These are male bees and their numbers vary throughout the year, especially during swarming; usually they form only about 1% (or less) of a hive's occupants. They are smaller than a queen bee and have an ungainly and round head.
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These are infertile females, smaller than drones, and the essential 'workers' within a hive. They forage for nectar and pollen, fan the hive to keep it cool in summer, act defensively against marauders and look after the queen bee in her vital role of laying eggs. Usually, there are 55,000 or more worker bees in a hive, but this can dramatically increase in large colonies.
These are larvae which have developed from eggs laid by the queen bee, and mainly will be replacements for worker bees. The eggs are laid in hexagonal wax cells created by the worker bees. The cells form a comb and each cell has a slightly downward slope towards its base.
When a swarm of bees emerges from a hive, it is nature's way of ensuring the perpetuation of the species. The impulse for the occupants of a hive to swarm is usually because it is congested and more space is needed. Swarming can occur from late spring to mid-summer.
CREATION OF A REPLACEMENT QUEEN
When the queen decides to leave a hive and create a swarm, worker bees react and start to construct several special cells, which are known as queen cells. Into perhaps 12 of these cells the queen lays eggs.
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DEVELOPMENT OF QUEENS
The eggs develop, and at their larval stage worker bees lavishly feed them with food secreted by their pharyngeal salivary glands. The larvae develop and grow rapidly and the cell walls enlarge to accommodate their increasing size.
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When a colony swarms, the old queen, together with worker bees and a few drones, leaves the hive and seeks a new home. Between five and eight days after the swarm departs, a virgin queen emerges from her cell and, unless prevented by worker bees, destroys all other virgin queen cells.
THE NEW QUEEN'S DEVELOPMENT
A few days after destroying potentially rival queens (when they are still at their larval stage), the virgin queen leaves the hive and is mated by a drone. She returns to the hive to continue the colony's existence.
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THE PRICE OF FATHERHOOD!
Immediately after fertilization, the queen is said to tear herself away from the drone violently, leaving his genitalia still inside her. Alternatively, some bee researchers suggest that she bites off the drone's genitalia. The fertilized queen returns to the hive and the drone dies.
SEARCHING FOR NECTAR
Because queen bees, drones and worker bees have their own feeding agendas within the social structure of a hive, their mouthparts differ and are specialized for their individual needs. Evolution has enabled each of them to fulfil their roles to perfection.
WHY ARE MOUTHPARTS DIFFERENT?
Worker bees are adapted to forage and collect nectar, while the queen and drones have much smaller and shorter mouthparts; the queen relies on being fed by worker bees. Drones, however, will solicit food from returning foraging worker bees, as well as taking food stored in the hive.
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LAPPING, LICKING OR SUCKING?
A worker bee's tongue is able to lap, lick and suck food; when sucking nectar from the bottom of deep flowers, it uses its proboscis like a straw. Where a flower contains little nectar, however, the bee laps it up with the tip of its proboscis, using it like a spoon. Bees are also able to lick nectar.
A worker bee mainly detects taste through its proboscis. Its tongue is red, long and hairy and able to curl up like a thin worm when not in use. However, when extended it is about half the bee's length. It is also thought that bees can detect and analyse tastes by using their long feelers (antennae) and legs. Research indicates that when a bee steps in a sweet syrup it will stretch out its proboscis and lick at the substance, but if a leg is put in a salt solution the bee will not give it any attention.
When collected from flowers, nectar contains about 60% water, whereas honey is formed of approximately 20% water. The removal of excess moisture occurs in the hive when a returning foraging worker bee gives most of its collected nectar to a bee within the hive. The nectar is manipulated by these 'household' bees and repeatedly exposed to the drying influence of air within a hive. This removes a large part of the moisture originally contained in the nectar.
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564–1616) The Tempest
Together with nectar and water, pollen is essential for the health and development of bees. It provides the protein essential for the development of larvae and young adult bees. Bees derive moisture from nectar, as well as collecting water from dew, raindrops on grass, ditches and puddles.
TRAFFICKING IN POLLEN
It is, of course, flowers that provide bees with pollen, and transporting it to the hive is a major logistic task. An estimate of the amount of pollen an average-sized colony of bees needs each year is 22–44 kg (50–100 lb) and this is claimed to represent 2–4 million bee journeys.
The amount of protein in pollen varies widely, and in North America research suggests that it is in the range of 7–30% in native plants. About 20% (by weight) of fresh pollen is water and 5% is made up of oils, fats and waxes. Pollen also contains small amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and phosphorus.
Depending on the flowers and the pollen they contain, a bee may take three or four minutes to collect a full load; at other times, this can be 20 or more minutes. If a bee is collecting both nectar and pollen at the same time, the period is even greater.
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TRANSPORTING THE POLLEN
When foraging for pollen, a worker bee invariably becomes covered with pollen. She then hovers and performs the ritual of gathering, placing and compacting it in pollen sacs attached to her rear legs. This grooming ensures that no pollen is wasted, and it is all collected and taken to the hive.
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ON RETURNING TO THE HIVE
When arriving back at a hive, a pollen-laden bee searches for an empty storage cell, or one that is partly filled with pollen. The bee supports herself on the edge of the storage cell, dangles her rear legs into the gap and uses her middle legs to brush off the pollen. Another bee will then push the pollen firmly into the cell. It is sometimes coated with honey; later, it is capped with wax.
THE BEE DANCE
The waggle dance is the flight pattern of bees exploring and seeking flowers offering nectar and pollen. It also indicates to fellow bees the direction and distance of patches of flowers yielding this food, and where water and new housing locations can be found.
You are my honey, honeysuckle,
I am the bee,
I'd like to sip the honey sweet,
From those red lips, you see,
I love you dearly, dearly,
And I want you to love me,
You are my honey, honeysuckle,
I am the bee.
ALBERT H. FITZ (Lyrics)
WILLIAM H. PENN (Music)
Bluebell in Fairyland, 1901
Earlier it was thought that bees performed two distinct flight dances – round dances and waggle dances. Round dances were considered to indicate nearby food sources and waggle dances to reveal distant sources. However, this is now thought to be incorrect, with a round dance basically being a waggle dance with a short waggle.
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Ancestors of modern honey bees are claimed also to have given primitive messages in their flight patterns, which included zigzagging, shaking, buzzing and bumping into fellow bees. These movements can be seen in today's wasps, stingless bees and bumble bees. Evolution, however, has now given modern honey bees greater communication skills and improved foraging success.
The waggle dance of a honey bee has a figure-of-eight pattern (as shown in the diagram above), which often appears confused because of the rapid side-to-side motions of bees. Indeed, such movement usually appears blurred. The direction and duration of these waggle runs indicate the direction and distance of groups of flowers ready to be foraged. Flowers located directly in line with the sun are indicated by waggle runs in an upward direction: directions to the left or right are given through sideways movements.
STINGS & WARNINGS
Bees are formidable foes when enraged and adopting a defence roll. Both queen bees and workers are able to sting, but the queen usually reserves her stinging ability for killing another queen or a worker bee. Worker bees who have used their sting invariably crawl away and die.
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Invariably, it is worker bees that attack intruders (including human beings) with their modified ovipositor. This stinging apparatus is normally hidden inside a cavity, the 'sting chamber', at the tip of a bee's abdomen, from which it can quickly protrude when required.
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Bee stings are complex and ingenious mechanisms, used for both defence and attack. The sting itself is a straight, tapering tube with a swollen base. There are also two barbed 'lancets' which pierce the prey's skin and, with rapid alternating thrusts, sliding back and forth, become deeply embedded in the foe. These same movements activate poison pumps that drive venom into the victim's tissue.
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Because each lancet has ten barbs, it is impossible for the bee to remove them from the victim's flesh. The motions of inserting the lancets and attempting to pull them out happens at great speed, but nevertheless leaves the bee mortally wounded and usually it soon dies. Even after the bee breaks away, the barbed lancets continue to force themselves deeper into the flesh.
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The amount of venom introduced into a victim is small and weighs less than half a milligram. Such is the sophistication of a bee's ability to sting that an associated gland provides a lubricant for the complex chemical composition of the venom.
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When stung, the average human being feels pain, with the pierced part becoming red and the surrounding area pale. Most sufferers soon recover, with localized swelling and itching. However, there is a risk of severe shock and collapse – if this shows signs of happening, immediately contact a doctor or hospital.
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Bees are terrified of fire, and its first sign is smoke. When bees detect soft, cool, gentle smoke, they rush into the storage area of a hive and gorge themselves on honey, which pacifies them and makes them more controllable when the hive is opened. However, masses of hot smoke infuriates them and causes an aggressive reaction. A smoker is a simple device in which corrugated paper or strips of sacking are burned and the smoke is puffed out gently by attached bellows.
Many insects resemble honey bees; some live solitary lives and others live in groups. They all play a role in nature and if you sit in a garden on a summer's day many can be seen. Most are passive and will not attack you; others, such as wasps and hornets, can be aggressive and dangerous.
Aggressive and with a predatory nature, these wasps catch insects which they sting into immobility and store in burrows as food for their larvae (grubs). They prey on caterpillars, weevils, flies, bees, froghoppers and spiders.
These form nests in hollow reeds, holes in wood or, frequently, tunnels in the ground. They are either stingless or unlikely to sting you unless threatened.
Popular social insects, the queen forms a nest on her own (unlike queens of honey bees, hornets and stingless bees). She forms a colony of 50–200 at peak population, in about mid- and late summer.
Excerpted from The Bee-Kind Garden by David Squire, Alison Copland, Coral Mula. Copyright © 2011 David Squire. Excerpted by permission of UIT Cambridge Ltd.
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