The Buzz About Bees
A Flush Fund of Fascinating Facts
by Maureen Dolan
A worker bee eats a meal of honey, the colony's chief source of nourishment.
Home sweet home
Bees do not create honey; they are actually improving upon a plant product, nectar. The honey we eat is nectar that bees have repeatedly regurgitated and dehydrated.
The average American consumes a little over one pound of honey a year.
In the course of her lifetime, a worker bee will produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.
To make one pound of honey, workers in a hive fly 55,000 miles and tap two million flowers.
In a single collecting trip, a worker will visit between 50 and 100 flowers. She will return to the hive carrying over half her weight in pollen and nectar.
A productive hive can make and store up to two pounds of honey a day. Thirty-five pounds of honey provides enough energy for a small colony to survive the winter.
Theoretically, the energy in one ounce of honey would provide one bee with enough energy to fly around the world.
Although Utah enjoys the title "The Beehive State," the top honey-producing states include California, Florida, and South Dakota. In 1998, the United States made over 89,000 metric tons of honey. China, the world's top honey-producer, created more than 140,000 metric tons of honey in 1997.
While foraging for nectar and pollen, bees inadvertently transfer pollen from the male to the female components of flowers. Each year, bees pollinate 95 crops worth an estimated $10 billion in the U.S. alone. All told, insect pollinators contribute to one-third of the world's diet.
Most researchers believe the honeybee originated in Africa. The first European colonists introduced Apis mellifera, the common honeybee, to the Americas. Native Americans referred to the bees as "White Man's Fly." Today honeybees can be found all over the world.
Bees often shield themselves from rain, which can chill their flight muscles to the point that they cannot fly.
Bees are not fast fliers; while their wings beat over 11,000 cycles per minute, their flight speed averages only 15 miles per hour. In comparison, a true fly in the genus Forcipomyia beats its wings over 62,000 cycles per minute. The Australian dragonfly Austrophlebia costalis has been clocked flying at a speed of 36 mph.
Bees possess five eyes. The three ocelli are simple eyes that discern light intensity, while each of the two large compound eyes contains about 6,900 facets and is well suited for detecting movement. In fact, honeybees can perceive movements that are separated by 1/300th of a second. Humans can only sense movements separated by 1/50th of a second. Were a bee to enter a cinema, it would be able to differentiate each individual movie frame being projected.
While bees cannot recognize the color red, they do see ultraviolet colors.
Unlike the stingers in wasps, the honeybee's stinger is barbed. Once the stinger pierces a mammal's soft skin, the attached venom pouch pumps a mixture containing melittin, histamine, and other enzymes into the target. When the bee pulls away, the barb anchors the stinger in the victim's body. The bee leaves the stinger and venom pouch behind and soon dies due to abdominal rupture. When a honeybee stings another insect, such as a honey-plundering moth, she does not leave her stinger planted in the invader. As she retreats from the insect victim, her barbed stinger tears through the insect's exoskeleton.
Nurtured with food bearing a slightly higher sugar content, queen bees are slightly larger than worker bees.
Being the Queen
During the mating flight several drones will deposit upwards of 90 million sperm in the queen's oviducts. The queen, however, will not use all the sperm. She stores about seven million sperm in a special pouch, the spermatheca.
In one day a queen can lay her weight in eggs. She will lay one egg per minute, day and night, for a total of 1,500 eggs over a 24-hour period and 200,000 eggs in a year. Should she stop her frantic egg-laying pace, her workers will move a recently laid egg into a queen cell to produce her replacement.
While workers select which fertilized eggs to brood in queen or worker cells, the queen decides the sex of her young. In a mechanism of sex determination known as haplodiploidy, fertilized eggs will become female offspring, while unfertilized eggs will become males.
Maureen Dolan, NOVA Online's intern, worked with a bee researcher from the University of Massachusetts Boston in the summer of 1998.