I was wandering through the wilderness here by Element Mountain in Vermont last week. After a way I began to hear a low and very faint hum. It was really too low for my ears to pick up. It was more of a feeling. I began following this feeling and after a while my ears picked up the hum I felt earlier. Soon I saw bees zooming above me on their way to the hive. I followed them and within 40 yards or so I found the large yellow birch tree that harbored the Wild Honey Bee Hive.
As you can see in the short video posted below, the hive is tucked deep into the tree through a cleft access along a long twist-split along the trunk. No Winnie The Pooh huge gaping hole in an oak tree.
It is actually surprising to me how many people have never seen a Wild Honey Bee hive. Most people’s vision or image of the honey bee hive is a white box in some beekeepers field. I have nothing against beekeepers, not at all. I fully support them. They not only help protect the bees but also allow the bees to create their precious commodity, honey! Of course I speak of raw honey only, not refined honey or that trash most major conventional food stores carry as honey. Tests have been done on various conventional honeys and found no trace of real honey in them. Most of it is made from corn syrup, colorings and other flavors and fillers! It is not much different than root beer. Root Beer used to be made from natural roots like sarsaparilla and sassafras, just to name a couple, but today even the “natural” root beer is made with only sugars, colorings and carbonation; no root extract whatsoever.
The Honey Bee was introduced to North America in the 17th century from Europe. Prior to that, this continent was not the home to the honey bee. Sugars before the arrival of the honey bee on this continent came from fruits, flowers and trees, not bees. Today the honey bee not only supplies us with highly beneficial honey, but also are one of the main crop pollinators upon this land. Without the honey bee many crops we have today would fail. You might ask how crops survived before the arrival of the honey bee and it would be a great question. Before the honey bee was here, there were vast amounts of wilderness, no human created toxins polluting the environment and countless other insect species. There were not the huge expanses of developed wastelands separating the natural environment as there are today. It was easy for plants to get pollinated by the insects because there were far more insects and far more of the natural environment to easily move through. Of course not all plants use insects to pollinate. See my article called Leaf to Flower – Flower to Leaf.
The Honey Bee is part of the Apid Family, same as the bumblebee, and lives in colonies called Hives. The leader of the Hive is the Queen. She dictates everything the hive does and the hive does everything is can to protect her. If the Queen is killed, the hive dies. The Queen Honey Bee has a much larger abdomen than the male drones and female workers. She can grow up to ¾ of an inch (18-20mm) as opposed to the male drones of 5/8th of an inch (15-17mm) and smaller yet, the female workers at 3/8th – 5/8th of an inch (10-15mm). They all have 4 wings. The Honey Bee can fly around 15 mph, faster than you can run I bet. Unlike wasps and hornets, the Honey Bee has a barbed stinger and so can only sting once. After it injects the stinger, the barbs hold it fast and the as the bee flies away the stinger tears out of its body and the bee dies.
All day and everyday during the warm season the worker bees fly from hive to flower and back again, delivering pollen. Any flower containing pollen is fair game. The bees gather pollen on their legs and hairy bodies, as well as in pollen pouches located on their rear tibia. Once fully loaded with pollen, they fly back to the hive. Once they reach the hive all other bees near the opening and inside clear a path to give the pollen carrying bee the right of way into the hive. The pollen carrier literally does the “bee dance” which tells other workers where the pollen bearing flowers are located. The unique dance of movements communicates direction through the landscape to the flowers. Quite impressive. Bees average 50-100 flowers per pollen excursion. That is a lot of flowers! Bees do not sneeze since they have no nose 🙂 Bees breathe directly through their abdominal walls, which is why as you watch a still bee its back seems to be heaving.
The Queen Honey Bee can build a Hive of between 60,000 and 80,000 worker bees! All they do is gather pollen, create honey from the pollen and build and maintain the hive. That one Queen Bee can create that many workers in her short lifespan of only 2 to 5 years. The worker bees feed on nectar and eat honey. Not too bad of a diet there! They can all vibrate their wings and bodies together to generate heat to keep the hive warm on cold days. Its really like the whole hive shivering!
Royal Jelly is created by the workers to feed both larva and the Queen. Royal Jelly is the best of the best. It is a sort of white pasty “jelly” secreted by worker bees and contains the highest nutritional value of all their food. This is why it is reserved for the Queen and their larva only. While the Queen is fed royal jelly by the workers all the time, it is all she eats, the larva only get the jelly for 3 days when they hatch. After that the larva are fed a mixture of pollen and honey called “bee bread”. If there are Queen Larva among them, they will continue getting royal jelly for the rest of their lives and not the bee bread.
Food and the Queen bee are the hive’s true bond. Those two things keep the entire hive connected on the deepest level. The bees make and share food with each other. They mix the food with their personal saliva and this chemical sharing bonds every bee in the hive in a very potent way.
The workers build honey combs with 6 sides to store the honey in. Typically a female worker Honey Bee will produce only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her entire life and it takes about 2 million flowers to give enough pollen to make a single pound of honey! The Honey Bee has been doing this for between 10-20 million years.
Drone Males are mainly there for mating. Sterile Females are the workers and protectors of the hive. The Queen is there to breed. Queen larva are usually produced in the spring time of the year. At some elevations they can be made in early summer as well. Once the Queen eggs are laid the old Queen bee leaves the hive with a huge swarm of worker bees. The workers fly swarming around her to protect her as they search for a new hive location. Meanwhile the new Queen larva begin to grow. Typically within a day of the old Queen leaving, the new Queen larva begin to transform into bees. The first Queen Bee larva to transform promptly kills all other Queen larva so they become the only Queen of the hive. She then leaves the hive to literally get to know the neighborhood for a few days. Then she returns, satisfied she knows her region.
After a few more days up to two weeks she will fly out of the hive to find male drones to mate with. One, two, three, a dozen… she may mate many times before returning to her hive. The drones die after they mate, it is their only purpose. The Queen returns to the hive and takes up a semi-permanent position as hive ruler. She remains, running the hive until she gives birth to Queen larva the following year and then leaves with her own swarm of workers to seek out a new hive location. The cycle continues.
So the next time you eat some good quality raw honey, think about where it came from and the entire life experience of the Honey Bee. And if you ever come across a Wild Honey Bee Hive, consider yourself lucky because most people never see one. But there are plenty of apiaries around today to get honey from, so leave the Wild Honey Bees alone 🙂