Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nature Study: Bees

Earlier this month at the Fresno Fair, I got a lesson from a beekeeper (not the one pictured above) at the bee booth in the agriculture building. Bees are fascinating.

If you're a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, you've probably read the bee section of Anna Botsford Comstock's A Handbook of Nature Study, but I'm telling you, Comstock does not do the bee justice.

Each hive has one queen bee. (Below is my daughter looking at the queen. She had a white dot on her, and she was surrounded by worker bees, grooming her.)

The queen is the only fertile female in the hive.

All of the worker bees are female, but they're sterile. The females are the ones that gather nectar and pollen, and females born in summer have a much shorter life span than females born in winter. In winter, fewer plants flower, but in summer, there is an abundance of pollen, so the females work themselves to death, dying with tattered wings.

Male bees are drones, and their job is mating with the queen. Bees mate when it's over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so in winter, males are useless to a hive. They physically can't do anything but procreate. They don't have a proboscis suitable for gathering nectar and they don't have a stinger to defend the colony. Instead of letting them hang around, eating up all of the hive's resources, females pull them out of the hive and pull their little bee belongings out after them.

(Male bees die after mating. Click here to find out why. Ouch.)

This is what a beehive looks like in nature:
We had just finished reading A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, so I, of course, thought of Pooh trying to get honey by pretending to be a little black rain cloud. 

This hive was was huge. The beekeeper said it was home to approximately 75,000 bees and contained between 50 and 70 lbs of honey! (A hive will have tens of thousands of workers, but only hundreds of drones.)
My daughter feeling beeswax for the first time
As you can see in the poster above, a queen goes from egg to adult faster than workers and drones.
I was really curious as to why a bee becomes a queen bee, instead of just a worker, or a male. The beekeeper explained that the worker bees feed her differently. 

A queen is not fed honey or pollen (she's fed royal jelly) --> she doesn't get phenolic acids --> certain genes are activated  --> the activated genes make the proteins that build the rest of the queen bee body. 

Worker bees do get honey and pollen, and as a result, do get phenolic acids. So, even though workers and queens have identical genetic material, workers become workers and queens become queens.

(For a great article from Wired about what queen bees eat, click here, and for more information on the life cycle of the honeybee, click here. For some general information about bees from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - for beekeeping in Africa - click here.)

It's also extremely interesting to me that the queen lays the egg of the queen who will possibly kill her to replace her.
Queen bee cells are much larger than the cells of workers and drones.

3 comments:

  1. It's fascinating. Between going through the chapters in The Story Book of Science on bees with my 10 yr old dd and reading The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter myself, I've learnt much that I had no idea of before. Great post.

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  2. It's fascinating. Between going through the chapters in The Story Book of Science on bees with my 10 yr old dd and reading The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter myself, I've learnt much that I had no idea of before. Great post.

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    Replies
    1. I love Gene Stratton Porter! Thank you for the reminder! :)

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