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To Bee or Not To Be

Honeybees are industrious, intelligent creatures, and some experts suggest they date back thousands upon thousands of years.  Their welfare is vital to ecological security, but a fair number of colonies have died off in the past decade or so.

Many humans seem perplexed as to the cause of colony loss, although some individuals feel they have more than plausible explanations as to the reasons why.  Interestingly, curiosity in small-scale beekeeping appears rather robust, and even some seniors investigate the possibility.

Let’s look at several basic bee facts.

  • There are four phases of bee development: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult.
  • Three types of honeybees make up a hive: the queen, worker bees, and drone bees.
  • The queen is characteristically the only bee in the hive to lay eggs: she can lay roughly 1,500 eggs per day, some fertile, others, unfertile.
  • Worker bees are female bees that come from fertilized eggs.  They have many central duties such as constructing the honeycomb, feeding the babies, servicing the queen’s needs, cleaning, and protecting the hive.  Workers are equipped with barbed stingers.  When this bee stings a mammal, it almost always suffers death, as it mutilates itself trying to dislodge the stinger.  In the absence of a queen in the hive, worker bees can lay unfertilized eggs.
  • Drone bees are male bees that come from unfertilized eggs.  Their primary objective is to find (or become) a mating partner for the queen. Mating takes place outside the hive and typically involves several drones to effectively fertilize a queen.  Once a drone mates, it typically dies, as its genitals are ripped from its body.  Drones do not have stingers.
  • Female honeybees gather nectar and pollen.  As they do this, they pollinate many crops. Naturally, this process is vital to flowering, food-bearing plants.  Without honeybees, many crops would fail to survive.
  • Bees are considered insects.  In fact, they are the only insects that produce a food product humans consume (although some people eat insects themselves).
  • Honey is believed to hold therapeutic properties, as it contains powerful antioxidants.  It’s alleged to help ward off disease, regulate blood sugar levels, improve well-being, heal burns and wounds, enhance skin, and encourage good bacteria in the gut.
  • There are different types of honey.  Some health specialists say raw, organic honey is best. Typically, the darker the color, the higher the antioxidant level.  Some of the more known varieties are wildflower, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, blueberry, and manuka.
  • Bees also produce royal jelly, propolis, and beeswax.  Actually, the queen bee subsists primarily on royal jelly.

Beekeeping can be a demanding undertaking, but it can also be quite rewarding.  If you’d like to learn more about these fascinating bugs, Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston is sponsoring a “Celebrate Bees” weekend on Saturday, August 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, August 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Honey tastings, activities, and exhibits will be on hand.

For ongoing bee and honey news, Worcester County Beekeepers Association publishes a seasonal newsletter, bee school updates, and other important particulars on their Web-site.  To check it out, go to http://WorcesterCountyBeekeepers.com/

Warmth is definitely abuzz in the air, so beeee happy!

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