The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.


 

 

ELIZABETH LAWRENCE

Bees

Honeybees


17 different American states have the honeybee as the state insect, attracted by the bee's reputation for hard work, but actually up to two-thirds of a honeybee’s life is spent wandering around the hive doing pretty much nothing. Out of 20,000 species of bee in the world, only six produce honey. 85% of bee species are solitary.

Japanese honeybees have developed an effective collective defense mechanism whereby they form a ‘bee ball’ around hornets that would otherwise devastate a hive. As the hornet enters the nest, a large mob of about 500 honey bees surrounds it, completely covering it and preventing it from moving, and begin quickly vibrating their flight muscles. This causes a huge rise in temperature and a lack of oxygen which boils and suffocates the hornet to death.

Beekeepers use smoke to pacify bees but it doesn't work quite how you might imagine. The bees think there is an emergency, eat their fill of honey and are too fat and full to be aggressive. Another way to avoid being stung which has been practised since time immemorial is to cover your whole body in honey.

Drugged Bees


Give a bee cocaine, and it will start to dance in a wildly exaggerated fashion: it will dance much more enthusiastically and give the impression that it has found really great food, irrespective of whether or not it has. The theory is that the cocaine results in reward centres in the bees' brains being activated, causing more altruistic behaviour.

Bees who are drunk from fermented nectar have many more flying accidents than sober ones and can sometimes forget how to get back to their hive, dying as a result. Even if they make it back to the hive they can be rounded on by other bees who punish the drunken bee by chewing off its legs. 

A recent study from the University of Haifa reveals that bees prefer nectar with small amounts of nicotine and caffeine over nectar that does not contain these substances; the suggestion is that the plants may compete to give their pollinators this extra kick.

KIN HUBBARD (1868-1930)

A bee is never as busy as it seems; it's just that it can't buzz any slower.

 

Bees can recognise human faces.

Bees are not busy: they spend 80% of their day doing absolutely nothing.

Bees can be trained to sniff out explosives.

A pound of finished honey requires 55,000 miles of bee travel to produce it.

Bees and Human Tears


There are three species of stingless bee in Thailand (Lisotrigona cacciaeL. furva and Pariotrigona klossi) that have been observed drinking tears from human eyes (as well as from those of dogs and cattle). They mostly landed on the lower eyelashes from where they imbibed tears for up to two minutes, often singly but occasionally in congregations of five to seven specimens per eye.

While bees drinking sweat is relatively common (even honey bees will lick our sweat in dry weather), these bees seem to be drinking our tears in lieu of pollen, as a nutritious protein broth, i.e. for food as well as drink. In fact, all the signs point to them using mammalian tears as their main food source: they hardly visit flowers, don’t seem to have much trace of pollen or resin on their legs or bodies and are much less hairy than other related species. The 2009 report in the Journal of the Kansas Etymological Society doesn’t mention whether they make honey, although most of the large tribe of stingless bees do, as their name – Meliponini, or ‘honey makers’ – would suggest. The strong, smoky-flavoured ‘bush honey’ of Australia is produced by native stingless bees, not the imported European honeybees. Sweat honey, anyone?
 
Lachryphagy (tear-eating) is common among moths and butterflies. Some, like the Mabra elantophila, are tiny, and steal from elephants without their host seeming to notice; others, like Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica from Madagascar are large and sneaky: they have harpoon-shaped proboscises with hooks and barbs which they insert under both sets of a bird’s eyelids as they sleep.

Exploding Drones


Male bees – drones – are happy to leave the business of the hive to the female workers, leaving them free to pursue their sole vocation: mating with the queen. Most of them are frustrated in this ambition, and those that make it die in the act: after the lucky drone has caught the queen and mounted her, he explodes with an audible pop as he ejaculates inside her. He then falls off, usually leaving a portion of his phallus behind him. 

Murderous Bees


Dawson's bees are very aggressive, they are large burrowing bees that nest in the baked soil of the Australian outback. Males patrol the entrance sites to burrows for emerging females, seeking to mate with them as soon as they appear. When a female appears her pheromones cause all the males around to start fighting each other. 


The result is mass murder, with whole generations of male bees wiping each other out in order to attempt to mate with females.

SHUTTERSTOCK

Bees will travel as much as 12km away from their hive on every trip.

Bees have five eyes, three little ones on the top of their heads, and two large ones in front.

Gathering Pollen


Some bees literally shake pollen out of flowers by humming very loudly at them. Rapid muscle contractions produce forces of up to 30G – about three times the force of a fighter jet making a tight turn – and the vibrations dislodge pollen grains from a flower’s anthers, in a process called 'buzz pollination' or 'sonication'. Honeybees don’t do it, but bumblebees and many others do; various economically important plants, including kiwi fruits, blueberries and cranberries, are pollinated in this way.

Another technique harnesses electrostatic forces. As bees fly through the air, friction causes their bodies to build up a positive electrical charge, so when they get close to a flower – which usually carries a negative charge – the grains of pollen literally jump from plant to insect. Bees which use this technique learn to distinguish the different electrical fields around different flowers, so that they can tell which plants have recently been depleted of pollen and can be ignored. 

Waggle Dance


The only animal language we can understand isn't produced by an ape or a dolphin but the honeybee; by carefully interpreting a complex sequence of movements and vibrations called the ‘waggle dance’ we can understand bees telling one another the quality, distance and precise location of a food source.
 
The waggle language was first decoded by Austrian zoologist Karl von Frisch (1886-1982); each waggle, for example, represents an increment of 50m from the hive for a source of food.

Von Frisch first published his findings in 1945, and was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973, sharing it with Konrad Lorenz (for his work on imprinting in birds) and Nikolaas Timbergen (aggression in sticklebacks).

It is still the only Nobel Prize ever awarded for the study of animal behaviour.

Bees smell with their antennae.

Saving for a Rainy Day


A recent study at Jiangxi Agricultural University in Nanchang, China attached radio-frequency identification tags to 300 honeybees and monitored their working hours. It concluded that bees put in extra hours foraging when they anticipate a rainy day tomorrow (which they do by detecting changes in humidity and/or barometric pressure) – a habit which researchers found surprising, because bees don’t actually need to save for a rainy day (as they are natural hoarders rather than hand-to-mouth feeders in any case). 

JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL (1819-91)

Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.

SHUTTERSTOCK

WINNIE THE POOH

The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey. And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.

Queen honeybees give off a chemical called 'queen-substance' which has the effect of preventing worker bees developing ovaries.

Elephants are scared of the buzzing of bees.

The honeybee tracheal mite is small enough to raise a whole family in a bee's respiratory tube.

The 16th C. naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi advised men wishing to grow their beards quickly to rub their chins with the ashes of burnt bees.