Honeybees

April 25, 2022

Last week I got a text from Melissa describing an incredible experience she had when she took Zena out for a potty break.  At 8:15 am, all was quiet in the neighborhood.  The kids were in school, and traffic was light.  She was standing on the sidewalk waiting on the puppy and kept hearing this low humming.  At first, she thought it might be the neighbor’s A/C unit, but it did not appear to be running.  Then she realized the closer she was to the porch the stronger the sound got.  She finally looked up at the Japanese Maple and saw it was in full bloom.  There were hundreds of honeybees working the blossoms.  It was so cool to hear them buzzing as they worked.  Nature is so Awesome!

When I looked online, I found the honeybee (also honey bee) is a eusocial flying insect within the genus Apis of the bee clade, all native to Eurasia.  They are known for their construction of perennial colonial nests from wax, the large size of their colonies, and surplus production and storage of honey.  This makes their hives a prized foraging target of many animals, including honey badgers, bears, and humans.  Only eight surviving species of honeybees are recognized, with a total of 43 subspecies, though historically 7 to 11 species are recognized.  Honeybees represent only a fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees.  The best-known honeybee is the western honeybee (Apis mellifera), which has been domesticated for honey production and crop pollination.  The only other domesticated bee is the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana), which occurs in South Asia.  Other types of related bees produce and store honey and have been kept by humans for that purpose, but only members of the genus Apis are true honeybees.

Honeybees have three castes.  The drones are male, while the workers and queens are female.  Drones primarily exist for reproduction.  They are produced by the queen if she chooses not to fertilize an egg or by an unfertilized laying worker.  Drones take 24 days to develop, and the hive may hold as many as 500.  Drones are expelled from the hive during the winter months when the hive’s focus is warmth and food conservation.  Workers are produced from an egg the queen has selectively fertilized from stored sperm.  Workers develop in 21 days and a colony contains as many as 60,000 workers.  Workers exhibit a wide range of duties that change with age, including feeding the brood, receiving nectar, cleaning the hive, guard duty, and foraging.  Queen honeybees are created when worker bees feed a single female larva an exclusive diet of “royal jelly”.  Queens are produced in oversized cells and develop in 16 days.  The queen has functional ovaries, and a spermatheca, which stores and maintains sperm after she has mated. Apis queens practice polyandry, and the female will mate with multiple (40-70) males.  Once mated, queens may lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.

THOUGHTS:  Eusocial comes from the Greek “eu” (good) and social and is considered the highest level of animal social organization.  The division of labor creates specialized groups referred to as ‘castes’.  Eusociality is distinguished from other social systems as individuals of one caste lose the ability to perform behavior characteristics of another caste.  Humans use similar castes for both free individuals and slaves.  In 2019, 40 million people (26% children) in the world were illegally enslaved, and more than 50% of enslaved people provide forced labor in the private factories and sweatshops.  In industrialized countries, slavery is from human trafficking.  In non-industrialized countries, debt bondage enslaves people as domestic servants, forced marriage, and child soldiers.  Honeybees working in a tree can be awesome, the work of enslaved humans is not.  Act for others.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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