Saturday, December 23, 2017

Fun Fact: How Beeswax is Made

Fun Fact: Bees have pockets. Bees produce beeswax from their own bodies. On the underside of their abdomen are four pairs of wax glands. Under the wax glands are tiny pockets which hold the wax scales as they are being made.

When a wax scale is ready for use, the bee takes it out of the pocket by spiking it on the strong hairs of her back legs, and then passes it to the jaws.

There it is chewed, and other materials may be mixed with the wax. When it is soft, the worker puts it into place on the comb being built.

Source: Life of the Honey-bee - A Ladybird Natural History Book

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fun Fact: How bees cool the hive

Fun Fact: Bees air condition their hive the same way we do with water evaporation.

Bees will go out and bring back water,

Then they coat as a thin layer on the rims and caps of the cells.

Next, fanning bees will position themselves in a line up and will fan their wings.

With all the bees fanning together their combine efforts make a great air flow in the hive. 

When they fan like this it's called "stationary flying"

This video is of bees doing stationary flying at the hive entrance to pull hot air out and push cool air in.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Fun Fact: How do bees see in the dark hive?

Fun Fact: When building combs in the darkness of the hive bees don't use their eyes to tell their position in the hive, whether they are standing vertically facing up or down, etc.
Bees have cushions of sensory (feeling) hairs at all their joints (knees and ankles etc) which move by gravity all together as the bee moves - sort of like how seaweed would sway in the waves back and forth.

This aids the bee to know in which direction they are standing by how these hairs move back and forth.

(taken from Jurgen Tautz book The Buzz about Bees - this book has incredible macro photography of the bees).

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fun Fact: Bees have teeth

Fun Fact: Did you know bees have teeth?

They do on the inside edges of their wings.

Bees have four wings, two on each side.

The Fore Wing is the bigger wing and the Hind Wing is a smaller wing.

When she wants to fly she'll hook the teeth together on the inside edge of her wings.

Now she has two large wings that are hooked together.

She uses the large wings for flying.  She'll need these bigger wings, especially when she comes home carrying nectar or water or when her legs are loaded with pollen.

Once back at the hive she'll unhook the wings and tuck them back out of the way.

She in the photo, this bee has just come home and her wings are still hooked together but you can see how it's actually two wings on each side.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fun Fact: What happens when bees fly?

Fun Fact:  When honey bees fly, their bodies create static electricity.

This is similar to us, when we walk across a carpet  or if we rub a balloon on our bodies - then it will stick to us.

Static electricity is helpful for honey bees.  It helps them collect pollen.

When the bee lands on a flower, the light weight powdery pollen quickly attaches itself to the bee's fur.

Then she'll use her legs to scrape the pollen off her fur.  

She'll add some nectar from her honey stomach to make it into a paste and that pasted lump is what she attaches to her back legs to fly home with.

See the photo of this bumble bee on a flower.  She is covered in yellow pollen.

She's opened up a Snap Dragon flower with her strong body and has crept inside to collect nectar and pollen.

Her fur is quite covered in the pollen.  She's already started to put pasted lumps of it on her back legs.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fun Fact: Bees have Five Eyes

Fun Fact: Bees have five eyes.

They have two big compound eyes on the sides of their head and three tiny ocelli eyes on the top of their head.

Once they hatch the tiny eyes are hidden in their fur. 

The small eyes are used to detect movement.

Bees see with ultra violet vision and their favourite colour is blue.

Recently it was discovered that non blue flowers while put out a blue aura to attract the bees.

I wonder how the flowers learned that bees love blue?

Notice on this hatched bee that you can't see the tiny eyes because they are hidden in her fur.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fun Fact: The largest organ in the hive

Fun Fact: Do you know what the largest organ in the hive is? It's the beeswax.

Recent studies have shown that the bees communicate through the wax by vibrations that they make with their bodies.

The wax also holds the warmth of bees' bodies and acts like an insulator to keep the incubating babies warm. One chore for workers is to be a Heater Bee. 

A bee may look like she's just standing on a capped cell doing nothing but if you looked at it with an infrared camera that shows heat, you'll see she's pressing her thorax (chest) to the cell cap.

Then she contracts her flight muscles to transfer heat from her body to the wax which will warm up the cell and the baby pupae that's inside the cell.

 They can stay in this squatted position for as long as 30 minutes. The worker will have her antennae resting on the cell which is believed so she can check the temperature through the sensitive antennae.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Some Cells are left empty on purpose

Fun Fact: Bees will leave about 10 to 15% of brood comb in the nursery with no eggs. This is deliberate. 

One bee chore is as a Heater Bee.  These Heater Bees will make themselves hot by warming up their wing muscles.  Then they will dunk their body into an empty cell where the babies are incubating.

Next she will rapidly telescope her  body up and down for a period of time and then rest when she gets tired.

What she is doing is warming up the was of the cells close by which warms up the babies that are incubating so they don't get cold.  The bees maintain a constant temperature in the brood (nursery) area.

Before we learned this, when we would see an empty cell where all the babies are we thought the queen missed laying an egg in that spot.  But she didn't goof.  She does it on purpose.

This fun fact is from The Buzz about Bees by Jurgen Tautz.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Fun Facts: Bees can eat eggs

It is surprising to learn that if the queen lays an egg that is somehow damaged or faulty or if a worker lays an egg when she's not supposed to (since that's the queen's job) the workers will eat the egg.

I thought that was weird since bees eat pollen and honey but when I thought about it a bit more I realized that the egg could be good food for the bees as a source of protein.

If they threw the egg out as garbage it would be a waste of protein which keeps the bees healthy.

These fun facts are taken from an excellent book written by Jurgen Tautz.  It's called The Buzz About Bees - Biology of a Superorganism.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Second Post of Questions from a class in Germany

There are two posts of these fabulous questions asked by a grade seven class in Germany.

Q. Kieran S: How do bees make Babies?
A. The bees raise their babies in the wax honeycombs.  First, the queen lays an egg in a cell.  After three days the tiny egg hatches into a larvae.  The young bees will feed this larvae a pudding-like substance called Royal Jelly that they secrete from their mouth.  After a few days the larvae are then fed a mixture of pollen and honey.  Pollen has protein which helps the larvae to grow.  After about 8 days the cell is capped off by wax producing bees.  Then the larvae changes to a pupae and after about 24 days she will hatch as a bee.

Q. Mick: How fast are bees ?
A.  Bees can fly about 24 km per hour (15 mph)

Q. Hayden: how many bees are reproduced in a year?
A. In spring a hive may have anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000.  As summer comes along the population will increase to between 60,000 to 100,000 bees.  Most of the bees will be the female workers.  About 25% of the population will be male drones.  And of course one queen per hive.

Q. Hayden : can bees reproduce with wasps or hornets?
A. No they don't cross-breed which is probably a good thing because honey bees are much more gentle and non aggressive than wasps and hornets.

Q.Alina: How many bees live in a beehive?
A. In spring there are less bees but as summer gets going the queen stays busy laying about 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day.  In summer there are usually between 60,000 to 100,000 bees in a hive.  They need a lot of workers so they can fly out to gather nectar and pollen from flowers.

Q.Lenora P: How long is a bee's life span?
A1. A worker in summer can live about two weeks to a month.  She will wear her body out with all her hard work and then she dies.  In winter when bees only fly out to poop, they can live for several months.

Q2. What do the male bees do ?
A2. The drone has a very important job and that is to pass on his genes to future bees by mating with a queen.  Every afternoon drones will fly out of the hive and go to a congregation area where they wait for a queen.  They race each other to mate with her first.  Unfortunately the drones dies after he has mated with a queen.

Q3. What are bees eyesight like ?
A3. Their vision is quite different than ours.  They can see ultra violet colours which are mainly blue.  That's why blue and purple flowers are a bee's favourite.  (See the link in the previous post with photos of what a flower looks like to a bee).

Q4. What animals eat bees ?
A4. Skunks, shrews (like a mouse), birds, hive beetles, bears, spiders, preying mantis, wasps and hornets are some animals and insects that like to eat bees.  Bears like to eat bee larvae because it's a good source of protein for them.

Q5. What do beekeepers do ?
A5. Beekeepers check inside the hive to make sure the bees don't have disease and also to check to make sure there aren't too many varroa mites.  Varroa mites are like fleas in a hive that suck on the bee's blood and they can make the bees sick.  In late summer and fall we open the hives and remove the frames of extra honey that the bees don't need.  We keep that honey to eat or to sell.

Q. Rishi : How do bees act when they see another species of bees?
A. Most of the time bees will ignore other types of insects.  In late summer though when there's less food available other insects will try to get inside a hive to steal some honey.  The bees are diligent to protect the hive and they can grab the intruder and force them out of the hive (kind of like a body guard).

Q. Hayden: why do bees have hives other than housing?
A. Bees in hive are what we call domestic bees because they are kept by people.  There are many wild bees that live in homes that they find.  Wild bees can live in the walls of a house as long as they can find a small hole to get in.  They love to live in hollow trees, an attic, an old barrel.  They are always looking for what they think will be a good home.

Q. Joshua: Do Bee’s have any rules ( like the rules they have for pooping) ?

Q. Alex: what type of bee does the queen bee breed with?
A. The queen will leave the hive and go out to find a male called a drone to mate with.  She can mate with anywhere from six to twenty drones.  After that she never mates again and will stay in the hive and keep busy laying many eggs

Q. Joshua: Do Bee’s have any enemies? (animals)
A. Yes, skunks, raccoons, and bears love to eat bees and mice can be a problem with getting inside the hive.  A hive is a warm place with food so many insects and small animals want to go inside, if not for food, then to keep warm in cooler weather.

Q. Annabelle: Are there more male or more female bees?
A.  There are definitely more female bees called workers.  They do all the work of feeding the young, caring for the queen, processing the honey, foraging for pollen and nectar and guarding the hive.  About 25% of the population are male drones.  They will leave the hive daily to look for a queen to mate with.  Drones don't do any work or gather any food.  And, drones don't have a stinger.

Q. Annabelle: How long do bees live?
A. A bee can live a few weeks or up to about a month in summer.  Once she works outside the hive there are dangers that can injure her which will affect how long she'll live.  The workers will wear out their bodies with the hard work that they do.  In winter, they can live for many months since they only go outside then to poop.

Q. Annabelle: Which bees live longer, female or male?
A. I think the males live longer because they don't have to do all the work that the females do.  But once the drone mates with a queen he dies right away.

Q. Annabelle: How do bees decide who the Queen is?
A. The workers will choose an egg and when it hatches they will continually feed her Royal Jelly which makes her grow very quickly and develop sexual organs which makes her a queen.  The really fascinating question we have is, how do they decide what egg to pick to make a queen?  We don't know the answer.  But they must know something about it to make that choice.

Q. Annabelle: Is there also a king?
A. A hundred years ago the people thought that the large bee in the hive was the king and they called it the king bee.  Then they saw the large bee laying eggs and so they had to change that to call her a queen.  No, there is no king.

Q. Joshua: We say that bee’s make a”Buzz” Sound but what sound do they
really make?
A. They do make a buzz sound that you can hear when they're flying.  They call also make some little squeaks and the queens can make a pipping sound when they hatch.  The bees mostly communicate inside the hive with their chemical scents and also by vibrations that they make with their feet.

Q. Kieran S: how do bees drink
A.  The bees' proboscis is her tongue that she sucks up nectar with.  To drink she uses her tongue to suck up water instead.  She can also carry this water back to the hive to regurgitate to give others a drink

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Questions from a Grade 7 Class in Germany

Q1.  Ashwini.B:  How long does it take to make a honeycomb?

A1.  Bees need to eat lots of honey to make honeycombs.  If they have honey available to eat, they can build a comb the size of 4" x 6" in a few days.

Q2. Do bees see everything as humans?
A2.  No, bees' vision is very different than ours.  Honey bees can see ultraviolet light.  Their favourite colour is blue.  Here's a link which shows how bees see flowers:
How bees and humans see flowers

Q1. Ami:  When did people find out you can eat honey?
A1.  We're not sure when humans first started eating honey but I expect it was a very long time ago.  If honey leaked out of a hive, for example, if a branch broke in a storm exposing a bee hive and honey I'm sure humans would check it out because we're naturally very curious.

Q2. What temperature can bees survive in?
A2.  Bees can survive in a very cold winter.  In parts of Canada it can be as much as -40 Celsius in the middle of winter.  Bees don't hibernate in winter.  They stay awake in their hive and they form what we call a cluster.  They stand close together and shiver their wing muscles on their back to generate heat to keep each other warm.  They don't heat the whole hive, they only heat themselves.  Just like penguins, bees on the outside of the cluster will be colder and will slowly move to the center to get warmed up and then move back to the edge again.  So each bee gets a chance to get warmer.

Q.  Hayden: where do bees have the most population?????
A.  I'm not sure which country has the most bees.  The number of bees can be affected by how much food is available (flowers) and also the type of weather in that country.  At certain times in the year there can be a huge amount of bees in one state.  For example, in the USA when the almond trees are in bloom, the beekeepers there put all their hives on trucks and drive them to California so they can pollinate the almonds.

Q. Alex:how many breeds of bees are there in the world?
A. In North America there are about 3,000 different types of bees.  The honey bee is the only bee that makes large amounts of honey.  They make so much that the beekeeper can take some honey and they'll still have a lot left to eat.  There are some stingless bees in some countries that make honey as well but not as much.

Q.  Leon: How much honey could a bee make in one day?
A.  In her whole life a bee might make as much as 0.8 grams of honey.  When the circumstances are perfect for weather and sunshine, the flowers will put out more nectar and on those days the bees can bring in more nectar than on other days.

Q.  Jose: What do bees use honey for?
A.  Honey is food that gives the bees energy so they can do activities.  They make a lot of honey all summer so that in winter when there are no flowers available and it's cold, they can stay in the hive and eat honey.

There are more questions which I'll answer in the next post.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Bumblebee's Tongue

This is a queen bumblebee that was in my back yard.  I had some sugar water made up for honey bees and I offered her some.

Watch as her long tongue comes out to lick it up.  And if you watch carefully you'll see a little inner tongue that comes out of the big tongue and sweeps up the nectar.

Now you can see exactly what a bumblebee does when she puts her tongue into a flower.

Not even honey bees can reach as far into a flower as a bumblebee can.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bumblebees Play Soccer

In the last post we saw how researchers taught bumblebees how to pull string to reach a flower for food.  That was pretty cool.

This is pretty amazing.  They've taught bees how to play soccer.  First a fake bee was used to teach a bee how to move a ball into a circle to get a reward of sugar water.  After the bee figured out how to get the reward she could do it all on her own.

Then she taught other bees how to do it.  Watch this video to see for yourself:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Have you ever heard the saying monkey see, monkey do?  Or the saying copy cat?  These are examples taken from animals where one monkey watches another and then learns something and does it.  Cats learn by watching other cats.  This is where the saying copy cat comes from.  If you watch kittens you will see they copy what their mother does.

Below are videos where researchers at a university in England did an experiment with Bumblebees.

First they taught one bee in a step by step way how to get sugar water out of a fake flower.  The next thing they did was put the taught bee with an untaught bee.  Can you guess what happened?  The bee that knew how to pull get the sugar water taught the other bee to do it too.  This is called social learning. Watch this video on how the bees were taught:

We already knew animals were smart and could teach each other but now we know that insects can too.  I guess we can't ever call an insect dumb.