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17 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER (TSA)

The best known “worker bee” is the worker (honey) bee. Unlike the queen bee, these female “workers” are unable to reproduce themselves. Their labor and activity is directed toward feeding and caring a single queen and her many young.   Among honey bees, the single queen, her young, and the workers bees are members of a single community living in a single bee hive.

The worker bee begins her life, like all other honey bees, as an egg laid by the queen. A worker bee hatches in 3 days and is fed by mature worker bee “nurses” for another 6 days. Then, the young worker bee goes through her “pupa” stage. As a “pupa,” she becomes inactive and is sealed in a capped cell in the honey comb. She emerges 24 days later as a full grown worker bee.

After the job of caring for the young bees, (including workers, queens, and drones), the worker bees keep the hive at an even temperature for the benefit of the eggs and young bees. If the hive gets too hot, the workers collect water and spread it around the hive. Then, they fan air over the water and into the hive – a form of air conditioning that, when used by people, is called “evaporative cooling.” If the hive gets too cold, the workers cluster together to warm the hive with their body heat.

But this bee isn’t called “worker” for nothing. Their most public job is gathering nectar and pollen. These bees can be seen flying from blossom to blossom. First, the bee consumes some sugary nectar from each blossom to keep itself going.   But most of the nectar the worker bee collects is stored and turned into honey. Second, the bee gathers pollen from each blossom and stores it in small sacks on its back legs.

The worker returns to hive with its honey and pollen. Then, with the help of her fellow workers, both honey and pollen are stored in the cells of the hive’s honeycomb. The stored honey will be eaten during the winter months. The stored pollen can be eaten, but is also fed directly to immature bees. The workers also use pollen to produce a super food, royal jelly, which is fed to immature bees and the hive’s queen.

I should mention another job the worker bee performs. This job isn’t about the hive. As the worker bee moves from flower to flower gathering pollen, some of the pollen gathered from one blossom, rubs off as the bee is gathering honey and pollen from another blossom. This “pollination” fertilizes the blossom so that the plant or tree can produce seeds.

Without this “accidental” pollination by the worker bee, about 80% of the food consumed by human beings and animals wouldn’t exist. Oh, did I say 80%?   About the 19% of the remaining 20% of the food consumed by humans is meat and milk taken from animals. But those animal products only exist because those animals ate the seed, grain and fruit that resulted from worker bee’s accidental pollination.

The really short answer is — the worker bee’s “work” directly supports all civilized life on earth.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

Thursday 17 April 2014

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17 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER

As the name suggests, beeswax is a type of wax made by honey bees in their hive.   A glandular secretion of the worker honey bees, the “wax” start out clear, but after some chewing by the bees, becomes an the white color of the familiar honeycomb. Later, as the honeycomb comes into contact with pollen and other substances, it can take on yellow or light brown color.

The honeycomb is composed of “cells” which in which the hive’s bee raise their young and store food in the form of pollen. To remove the honey from the honeycomb, the beekeeper removes the wax caps from the comb’s cells. After the honey is extracted, the impurities are removed from the empty comb often by heating.

Historically, beeswax was used for almost everything from cosmetic to dental filings. In modern times, the wax is still used widely in cosmetics and as a food additive. The traditional use of beeswax for fine candles continues although, in candle-making, beeswax has the drawback of being highly flammable.

Beeswax is separated into three types. “Yellow beeswax” is unprocessed and obtained directly from the honeycomb. “White beeswax” is produced by bleaching yellow beeswax until it has a white color. “Beeswax absolute” is produced by treating yellow beeswax with alcohol.

Beeswax is used in the widest variety of modern products including lip balm, lip gloss, eye shadow, eye liner, mustache wax, shoe polish, furniture polish, and surfboard wax — to name just a few.

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10 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER

It should come as no surprise that the Maltese honey bee (formally, apis mellifera ruttneri) is a honeybee native to the islands of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. A cousin of the popular and numerous western honey bee, the Maltese subspecies evolved after the Maltese islands geologically separated from the European mainland.

MALTESE HONEY BEE (image)

With a blacker color than most other honeybees, this hearty subspecies is particularly adapted to high temperatures and dry summers. Quite productive, these bees have the single drawback of being quite “defensive.” When a bee is described as “defensive,” . . . well, . . . that translates into behavior that most of us would call quite aggressive. And, because bees can sting, it is wise to respect their . . . defensiveness.

MORE MALTESE HONEY BEES (image)

In the early 1990’s, the arch villain in the history of bee disease was introduced to the island of Malta: the varroa mite. This parasite substantially reduced the numbers of the Maltese bees.

In response, the much less aggressive, but quite productive, Italian bee, was introduced to the islands to make up for the lost populations of Maltese bees. The Italian honey bee has a good resistance to the varroa mite. The two subspecies, Italian and Maltese, have interbred to form a hybrid which is much more resistant to disease and much less aggressive than the original Maltese bee.

Of course, this endangers the Maltese subspecies, which is being displaced by the new hybrid. However, if you’re a beekeeper, used to the “defensive” behavior of the Maltese bee, this new hybrid, with its good disposition and robust good health, may come as a welcome change.

BEE FORAGES IN MALTA (video)

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10 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER

Xerces Blue (Glaucopsyche xerces) was a species of butterfly. It has the sad distinction of being one of the first American butterfly species to become extinct in modern times.

Sporting blue wings with white spots, it was first documented and described in 1852. The last sightings of this butterfly were in the early 1940’s in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Extensive human settlement in the Bay Area, around San Francisco, California, resulted in a swift loss of habitat.  The sudden disappearance of the butterfly’s familiar range is thought to have caused its extinction.

Efforts are underway to introduce the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly into the northern California range of the extinct Xerces Blue.  Indigenous to the Los Angeles area, the Palos Verdes Blue is a cousin of the Xerces.

The Xerces Blue butterfly has gained a measure of fame, in part, because of its extinct status, but also because its name was adopted by a non-profit conservation organization.   The Xerces Society focuses its efforts on the preservation of local California habitat for the benefit endangered species, native pollinators, and the maintenance of watershed health.

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10 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER (TSA)

The Xerces Society, named for the extinct California butterfly, Xerces Blue, is currently working to advance conservation of bumblebee habitat.  The society focuses on several conservation issues including the preservation of native pollinators.  In 2010, the society’s scientists developed a bee-friendly conservation strategy, the Yolo Natural Heritage Program, operated in Yolo County California.

An international non-profit organization, the Xerces Society, acts as an advocate for a number of species and their habitats. The organization’s members seek to work together with citizens, educators, and researchers on conservation and related educational projects. The organization’s efforts are not only directed to the preservation of native pollinators, but to other endangered species and watershed health.

The Yolo Natural Heritage Program (YNHP) is a habitat focused conservation plan and strategy for Yolo County, California. The program’s goal is to conserve “natural open space” and “agricultural landscapes” that also provide increasingly limited habitats for many local species.

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17 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER (TSA)

No bee has more names than the German bee including the “Black bee” and the “European Dark Bee.” All honey bees of are one species, Apis mellifera. The differences are often in the subspecies. The German subspecies has the distinction of being named after the species itself. So all honey bees are of the species Apis mellifera, but the German subspecies is also called mellifera. So, the German bee is formally called, Apis mellifera mellifera (or A. m. mellifera for short).

Honey bees are not only divided into subspecies, but some subspecies are divided into breeds, like dogs. All varieties or breeds of the German bee are quite dark ranging in color from almost black to dark brown. From a distance they all tend to look black.

Oddly, the “German” bee originated in Great Britain and Northern Europe and was only later introduced to Germany. This bee is good pollinator and honey producer, but particularly short tempered often stinging people and animals for no good reason.

But what it lacks in temperament, it makes up for in good health. This bee remains healthy in places with extremely cold winters, so it was “a natural” for Northern Europe with beekeepers so happy with the healthy productive hives, that they were willing to put up with the stings.

Why was this ill-tempered honey bee the first introduced to North America in the 1600’s? Again, this bee was healthy enough to survive the ocean trip to the New World and, then, to thrive in the cold winders of what is now the Northeastern United States. Because honey bees weren’t native to North America, the German bee quickly spread throughout the continent. But, later, the German bee fell victim to disease in both Great Britain the United States.   With the successful introduction of the Italian bee to Northern Europe and North America in the 1850’s, today, the German subspecies is quire rare.

 

 

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17 April 2014

THE SHORT ANSWER (TSA)

A honeycomb is a structure produced by honey bees inside their hive. The honeycomb is made of a wax produced by the bees (logically) called “beeswax.” The honeycomb is a mass of six-sided (hexagonal) cells or compartments.

For the honeybees, the comb’s compartments have two uses. First, the bees raise the queen’s young in individual cells. Second, the bees store food, honey, and pollen in the cells.

The combs used to raise young bees are called brood combs.  These combs can become dark and soiled (“travel stained”).   But other honeycombs are used to store honey.

Beekeepers provide their bees with hives constructed with sliding drawers.  Each drawer holds a single honeycomb. The honeycomb slides out and is uncapped. “Uncapping” is the removal of wax seals placed over the cells in which honey is stored.   After uncapping, the beekeeper will often use a honey extractor, which rapidly spins the comb to force all the honey out of the cells.

Beekeepers often return the empty honeycombs to the hive because the bees use a lot of time and energy building new combs. And the beekeeper would rather the bees use their time and energy to gather more honey instead.

With age, combs wear out. Then, beekeepers may process the comb for beeswax – a commercially valuable product.  But, often, beekeepers cut the comb into thin sheets and reinsert the sheets into hives. The thin sheet of comb with its pattern of six-sided cells works as a kind of “foundation” for the bees building a new honeycomb. With this “starter sheet” the bees will build a new comb much more quickly.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

Thursday 17 April 2014