A FEW FACTS ABOUT HONEYBEES AND HONEY
Honey bee are holometabolous insects, meaning that they undergo complete metamorphosis between the juvenile and adult forms.
There are 4 stages to the honey bee life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
There are 9 recognized species of Apis honey bees in the world. The most widely kept species in the world, and the one that we keep at MCA, is Apis mellifera, the European honey bee. This is the common name used for this species of honey bee that has a natural distribution in Europe and Africa.
European honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought over by settlers during the 17th century. One could argue that they have since been naturalized, as there are wild honey bee colonies that currently exist in North America.
There are 3 types of honey bees- workers, drones and (usually) one queen per colony.
Honey bees, like all insects in the order Hymenoptera, are haplodiploid- meaning that males (drones) develop from an unfertilized egg while females (workers and queens) develop from a fertilized egg. This means that a drone honey bee will never have a father or a son, but he can have a grandfather and grandsons—crazy right!!
Male, or drone, honey bees do not contribute to the gathering or production of honey. They are created by the colony each spring and summer as a means of colony reproduction.
A queen honey bee never visits a single flower in her entire life.
A queen honey bee can lay 2,000+ eggs in a single day.
A queen honey bee will go on one (sometimes two) mating flight(s) in her life, mating with several drones and collecting all the sperm she will need at once.
Queen honey bees can live for up to 5 or 6 years. However, egg-laying ability usually decreases after 2 or 3, resulting in replacement either by her colony or via beekeeper intervention.
Worker and drone honey bees live for 6-8 weeks during the spring, summer, and fall. “Winter bees” are worker honey bees that survive overwinter and continue the colony’s growth the following year. They are able to live this long due to physiological differences, such as more internal energy stores, that result from their diet during development.
It takes ~21 days for a worker honey bee to develop from egg to adult. It takes ~16 days for queen honey bees and ~24 days for drones.
A strong colony can contain 60,000+ bees at the height of the season.
A single worker bee will produce approximately 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
Honey bees have barbs on their stingers, which usually causes the stinger and part of the intestines to be ripped out after stinging. This eventually kills the bee.
Male honey bees, or drones, do not have stingers.
The honey bee is New Jersey’s state insect, and is estimated to be responsible for the pollination of 60% of the state’s crops.
Most honeybees in New Jersey are managed by beekeepers: there are very few feral hives due to diseases and land management practices.
Honey bees have a second “stomach” that is called a crop and is used for storing nectar on foraging flights.
Honey bees have special “pollen baskets” called corbiculae on their hind legs that are hairless and uses to store pollen on foraging flights. Worker honey bees will mix pollen with saliva to pack it onto their corbiculae and carry it back to the colony.
Strong honey bee colonies produce a surplus of honey each year that allows for overwintering and then reproduction in the spring. It is this surplus that beekeepers harvest, ensuring colonies still have enough food to survive the winter.
Honey is the only food that NEVER goes bad.
Honey naturally crystallizes. This is because honey is a supersaturated solution, basically meaning there is more sugar in the solution than should be at its volume. This is not a mistake, as the bees have done this on purpose! The crystallization rate of honey is largely dependent on the floral source and storage conditions. All honey, however, can be re-liquified by placing the jar in a warm water bath.
Honey and beeswax are naturally antimicrobial. This is due to both the extremely low water content of honey, which isn’t optimal for microbial growth, and the special enzymes that bees add during the ripening process, which further inhibit microbial growth.
Honey has been used by humans for medicinal, culinary, and spiritual purposes for thousands of years. It can be used on minor burns or scrapes, as an anti-inflammatory agent, to aid in digestion, and much more.
Honey contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants that are produced by plants in the nectar itself, or are added by honey bees during the ripening process.
What makes a queen bee a queen bee?
The differences between queen and worker bees are attributed to the diet fed to the developing larvae. Queens are fed solely royal jelly during their larval development. Royal jelly is a nutrient and protein-rich substance secreted by glands on the heads of young worker honey bees. All larvae are fed royal jelly for the first few days of development. However, after about 3 days, worker bees are switched to a diet of pollen, nectar, and royal jelly while queen bees continue to receive only royal jelly.
How much honey do honey bees make?
That really depends on the colony strength, beekeeper management practices, available resources, weather, and a number of other factors. A strong honey bee colony is capable of producing well over 100 pounds of honey in a single season. This number, however, is highly variable.
I heard that honey is technically bee vomit. Is that true?
While we love to tell people this to get them interested in the delicious, sticky substance...No, honey is not technically bee vomit. Vomit is technically matter that’s been regurgitated from a stomach. Bees store nectar in their crop, which does add enzymes to the nectar during its storage, however it doesn’t digest the nectar in the process. This technically does not make it a stomach, because no digestion occurs. SO...despite the fact that nectar is regurgitated numerous times before it becomes its final product of honey...it’s not technically vomit. That doesn’t stop us as beekeepers from starting conversations with that to bait the hook, though. 😉