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The Honey Bee


Honey bees are considered to be social creatures. Their interactions are so precise that some refer to a beehive itself as a living entity. Within the social structure of the hive there exists a caste system, or hierarchy that is extremely well defined and never breached. Each member of each caste preforms specific duties within the hive and together allow the hive to survive and perpetuate. At the top of the system is the queen. She is the reproductive female of the entire colony. In other words the queen is the mother to every bee in the hive! The queen lays eggs and through a series of pheromones regulates the functions of the hive.  The worker caste is the most numerous type of bee in the hive. The workers preform nearly every job essential to the functioning of the colony with the exception of mating and producing eggs. The workers are all daughters of the queen. They guard the hive, gather nectar and pollen, clean, nurse the young ( beekeepers refer to the immature bees as "brood") produce honey stores, repair the hive, store pollen, produce wax and many other essential functions. Many worker tasks are very specialized. There are even specific workers known as "undertaker bees" that remove deceased bees from the hive. The least numerous bee in the colony are known as "drones". The drones are all sons of the queen, but have no father. The queen produces them from unfertilized eggs in a natural phenomenon called " parthenogenesis"  The only function of the drone is to reproduce with a queen from another colony. Immediately after reproduction the drone dies.   


How do honey bees communicate? Well,  honey bees have developed an extremely precise system of communication and signaling. For messages that require an immediate response, bees rely on a system of pheromones or "scents" that alert the hive of impending danger such as predators or intruders, or to identify members of their own hive. The majority of communication between honey bees is achieved this way.  To communicate the locations of flowers( and the nectar they produce), honey bees have a system of "dances". One type of dance, known as the round dance, communicates the presence of high quality flowers and nectar within close proximity of the hive. When a worker finds the flowers she uses the dance to recruit her hive mates to go to the location and acquire the nectar from the blooms. Foraging workers can fly several miles from the hive in search of food.  Imagine if you were out walking two miles away from home and found a patch of flowers 50 foot wide and 20 foot long. You thought they were really nice so you want to go home and tell everybody to go check them out. You have no map, no landmarks, or roads, colors or shapes. How do you tell anybody where to find such a small spot in such a large area? If you were a honey bee you would use a dance language called "the waggle dance" . In this form of communication the scout that wants to relay the location "dances" by shaking its body while walking in a figure 8. The number of shakes, the direction that the figure 8 is walked, and the number of times the dance is repeated communicates the distance, direction and quality of the flowers. The bees use the sun as a compass and can see polarized light, so even if it is not a sunny day the bee is able to communicate the exact location of resources to other workers in the hive. This language is so accurate that scientists consider it the second most advanced form of communication next to human language, of any animals with known communication skills.

The "Waggle Dance"

Honey bees are able to communicate precise locations of floral resources to other bees in the hive.


Did you know that Honey bee's are considered animals?

Yep! It's true. Scientists use a system to name and classify all living things. This system has several major categories: Plants and Animals are two of them. Honey Bees are in the kingdom of animals. This group is subdivided into a smaller unit of animals that share similar features called insects!

A Honey bee's eyes are composed of nearly 7000 individual "facets" each with their own lens. Honey bees can detect very fast moving objects. In comparison to humans, honey bees can perceive about 90 frames of visual information per second, where humans can only perceive about 20 frames. If you try to swat a bee she can see your hand motion clearly, where humans can often only see the beginning and end of the same motion.

Honey bees use "nectar guides" to efficiently locate nectar in flowers. Honey bees see colors in ultraviolet. The flower shows the bee the exact location of the nectar, but usually makes the bee contact the pollen prior to the nectar reward. When you look at a flower what you see is on the top photo. What the honey bee sees is on the bottom, the flower has highlighted the location of the nectar. Compare the two photos and you can see the path to the nectar forces the bee to walk through the pollen.

What's in a name?

The Latin name for a Honey bee is Apis mellifera, meaning "Apis"= bee, and "mellifera"= honey bearing.  This two name system is the way that scientists name all organisms on earth. The first part, Apis describes the genus, which is sort of like the type, or in common terms lets say your name is Jones, that would be your genus. The second part , mellifera, is the exact species or kind. So you know someone is a Jones, but there are Jones that live in the north and some that live in the south. How do you tell which branch of the Jones family a person is from? By the second part of the name... south for example. So in common terms we could say "Jones south"  or "Jones north"and understand some general information and some very specific information about a person that would help us to group people named Jones by their common characteristics.

The common name Honey bee is always spelled as two words because the name is within the actual taxonomic classification of the insect. In other words a honey bee is actually a bee. In contrast a ladybug is always spelled as one word because it is actually a beetle. A house fly (two words) is actually a fly, but a dragonfly(one word) is not a fly ( a fly has two wings, a dragonfly has four).

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