Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bees - Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when a bee head butts someone?

Bees are not completely predictable but they can and do often warn a person or creature if they are feeling threatened. Head butting is a sure sign that you are too close and a sting is likely to follow. If you feel a bee, wasp or hornet give you a head butt you should immediately back away.

How do bees communicate?

Bees communicate with each other in various ways. They use different chemical signals to send messages to their hive mates. The Queen releases Queen pheromones (her own special perfume) which help to keep the bees working and organized. Her scent also lets them know she is in residence. Bees have a defensive posture that they can use when guarding the hive and they can also release attack pheromones. Bees also do several kinds of dances to communicate the exact location of a good source of nectar and pollen so that other bees can find it. Scientists are now discovering that bees communicate through vibrations in their honey comb too.

Where does beeswax come from?

Beeswax comes from the bees themselves. As a bee matures while working inside the hive they will begin to secrete wax. There are 8 glands or pockets on the bees' stomach. The wax leaks out into these pockets, at first as a liquid and then when it cools it turns into white wax. The wax sits in the stomach pockets until the bee uses its leg to pull a piece out. The worker will chew the wax and mold it with her mandibles to build the honeycombs.

Can all bees sting?

No, not all bees can sting. The male bee, called a drone, has no stinger at all. The worker bees are female and they can sting, but young bees who are working inside a hive may not have developed their venom glands yet so would be unable to sting. A worker bee can only sting a human or animal once and then will die. Their stinger has tiny barbs that catch in flesh and so when they sting their bottom gets torn off. The Queen can sting but it is rare for a Queen to sting a person. She can sting multiple times. [Pictured here is a honey bee drone. They enjoy visiting and having their pictures taken].

Note that hornets and wasps who have no barbs on their stinger and can sting multiple times.

What is a Killer Bee?

Killer Bee is a term that has been given to African Honey Bees. You may be wondering how African honey bees ended up in North America. Many years ago a scientist in South America was doing experimental breeding with African honey bees. African honey bees are well known for being fantastic honey producers. The only problem is that they are also very enthusiastic about protecting their honey--they're aggressive and don't hesitate to sting. The scientist was trying to breed African honey bees with South American bees to try to take advantage of the honey producing genetics, but create calmer and more placid bees by crossing them with South American bees.

But the scientist took a day off and a person who was taking care of the bee yard saw these little entrances on the front of the scientist's hives. These entrances were designed to prevent the African queen bees from leaving the hive to breed in the wild. But the person didn't know and removed the special entrances. The African queens did leave the hive and breed with wild bees. Very quickly this bee species spread through South America, into Mexico and from there the southern parts of the USA. So far this bee has not been seen in the northern and more colder parts of North America. The term now used to describe these hybrid bees (bees who have bred with domestic and wild North American bees) is "Africanized Bees".

Why does the honey in the store say "100% Canadian Honey" but in the small print it says it may be blended with honey from Brazil and Argentina?

Beekeepers have been working very hard for years to try to get the labelling changed to better reflect the reality. Often Canadian honey which is prized for its flavour around the world, is mixed with cheaper honeys from other countries. Beekeepers have had to lobby government for many years to win a labelling change and it hoped that soon this will be changed. That would mean that 100% Canadian Honey will be just that.

Do you have a question about honey bees? If you do, leave me a comment and I'll post a reply.

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