Honey Bee

From Ohio History Central
Photo Courtesy of Adam Pettis

Fossil records of honey bees (Apis mellifera) date back 40 million years in Africa and Asia. Archaeological digs in those regions have revealed that prehistoric people used them in much the same way that modern man uses them today. They made their way to Europe by the Middle Ages. Honey bees were introduced into North America by early colonists. Bees that escaped captivity, soon multiplied and spread across the continent.

Honey bees have dark brown bodies with dark bands toward the rear of their reddish-brown abdomens. They have a stinger but can only use it once to sting. Once the stinger has been imbedded the honey bee attempts to remove it, the stinger is left in the victim. It is not long until the honey bee dies.

Scientists began to understand how honey bees live in the mid- 1800s. Improvements in the breeding of captive honey bees occurred between 1850 and 1890. There are three types of honey bees within a hive: the queen, the drone and the worker. Queens are large females, measuring one-half to three-quarters of an inch long. There is only one queen in a hive. They are the only ones who breed and lay eggs. She can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day or 200,000 eggs per year. Drones are males that mate with the queen. It is their only job. Worker honey bees have the hardest jobs of all in, and out of, the hive. Workers are sterile females. They are responsible for making the waxy combs that are used to store food and in which to raise the eggs of the queen. They take care of the queen, the drones, the larvae, as well as lay drone eggs, and defend and clean the hive. When they become older and toward the end of their lives, they will leave the hive and become the bees that gather nectar and pollen for the entire colony. The lifespan of honey bees reflect their roles. Queen may live up to two years, drones up to ninety days and workers only forty days.

The gathering of nectar and pollen is tremendously beneficial. It provides food for the bee colony; helps in the making of honey, which is used by humans; and aids in the pollination of plants. When worker bees land on plants or flowers, they collect pollen dust all over their bodies. They use specially adapted legs to “comb” the pollen off leaving it on other plants and, as a result, pollinates the plant. Using their chewing-lapping mouthparts, bees, must collect nectar from about two million flowers to make one pound of honey. The important job of gathering nectar and pollen comes towards the end of the worker bee’s life and lasts just a few days. They soon die and are replaced by other maturing worker bees.

Although most honey bees in the world are captive, living out of man-made and cared for hives, there are still some “wild” colonies of bees. Honey bees may be found in hollow trees of any habitat type throughout Ohio. Populations vary from year to year, depending on weather, herbicides and pesticides and parasites, bacteria and diseases that may invade a hive.</span></font>

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