The A, B, C’s of Bees: Johnston’s Organ

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With their 5 eyes, bees can see quite well.  But what about hear? I don’t see any ears protruding off those buggers.

For a long time, it was believed that bees were deaf and could not hear sound vibrations. But this belief didn’t jibe with some observational data.  When bees find a good nectar source, they return to the hive to tell the other bees about it.  What ensues is an elaborate “waggle dance” that conveys both the direction and distance of the food source.  Bees interpret this dance and leave the hive to go find the nectar. One would think they observe the dance using their sight sense.  However, it is dark in hives, and scientists realized that it must be more than just sight leading the bees on.

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The A, B, C’s of Bees: Italian Honeybees

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The Western/European honeybee (Apis mellifera) most likely originated from Africa and spread into Europe about 10,000 years ago.  Although it is not clear when humans first began keeping bees, Egyptian hieroglyphs from 4,500 years ago depict beekeepers, while records from Chinese beekeepers go back about 3,000 years.

Honeybees had a big influence on humans, providing them with food, drink (mead), medicines and wax for multiple uses.  Likewise, humans had an influence on honeybees as the selectively bred the insects for desirable traits.

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The A, B, C’s of Bees: Honey

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Most people know that bees collect nectar and turn it into honey, but the exact details of the steps involved in this conversion remain a bit fuzzy.

Nectar is a sugar solution made by flowering plants containing, on average, 40% sugar (although this can vary widely depending on the plant). Similar to when syrup producers boil down tree sap to make maple syrup products, honey is made by evaporating the water out of nectar.   Bees must reduce the 60% water content down to about 20% to reach the sugar content of honey.  They do this without the benefit of evaporators and instead must use their own bodies.

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The A, B, C’s of Bees: Guard Bees

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Worker bees live for about 6 weeks (that’s only 42 days) during the summer.  As they mature, they progress through different hive jobs. Between the ages of 12 and 23 days, a small proportion of worker bees will be on guard duty for just hours to a few days of their lives.  Their sting glands will develop and they will start to produce venom.

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The A, B, C’s of Bees: Flow Hive

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The bee world has been all abuzz lately about a new type of hive.  One that promises a seemingly impossible idea:  honey on tap.

Is it all hype or is it going to change the way we harvest honey?

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