Think of a farm animal! — chances are you thought of a chicken, a horse or a pig! But there is a smaller animal that is also extremely important in agriculture — the honey bee! Honey bees are a species of bee, and are invaluable — they pollinate crops and produce honey. Here is a beehive. It’s where honey bees live and work.
Let’s take a closer look. Hives are home to huge colonies of bees. This particular hive, houses sixty thousand bees! Here is a bee returning to the hive! This bee has yellow and brown stripes, four wings and a stinger.
And it’s covered in pollen! It is a worker bee. Most of the bees in the hive are worker bees. All worker bees are female. They are responsible for feeding the young bees, building the honeycomb inside the hive, and collecting food.
Worker bees are experts at communication. By performing the waggle dance, a worker can communicate to other bees in which direction the best food sources are. The bee performing the waggle dance also smells like the flower patch it has come from, and has gathered nectar for other bees to taste. This helps other workers find the exact same flower patch! Without worker bees, the hive cannot function.
Look this bee has a round body, larger than a worker bee’s and slightly darker. It has large eyes and no stinger. But it’s still in the same hive! Is it lost? Not at all!
It’s just a different type of honey bee! A drone bee. Drones are male bees. There’s usually only a few hundred of them in a hive, depending on the size of the hive. Their only job is to mate with queen bees from other hives.
In every hive there is only one queen bee. She is the mother of all other bees in the hive. She is the largest in the hive, with the longest abdomen and small wings. The queen spends her days in the hive, laying eggs — she can lay up to 2500 eggs a day — while the worker bees bring her food and take care of her. If the queen bee dies, worker bees create a new queen by selecting a newly hatched bee and feeding it large amounts of a special food — royal jelly.
Large amounts of royal jelly allow the newly hatched bee to develop into a fertile queen bee. People sometimes use royal jelly as a food supplement, but the most important product of honey bees, by far, is their honey. Worker bees make honey by bringing flower nectar to the hive, and adding saliva to the nectar. The bees then feed on the honey. But lucky for us, they make two to three times more honey than they need, so there is plenty for us to use.
You may have heard that bee populations are becoming endangered. Honey bees are indeed threatened by the use of chemicals in agriculture and destruction of their natural living spaces. But honey bees are only one species of bee. And because of people keeping bees as farm animals for honey and pollination, there have never been as many honey bees around, as there are now. In fact, honey bees are often a threat to other bee species.
Honey bees can carry diseases and compete with other species for food. If you want to help all bees, not just honey bees, a good idea is to plant flowers that bees like, and that they can visit to gather nectar.