This week, our general topic will center on the taxonomy of honey bees. what is taxonomy you ask? No, it’s not having to pay a fine to the government for having bees.
Taxonomy is the scientific classification of living things in order to identify and organize where they fit in related to other creatures.
Why is taxonomy important to those involved in apicultural pursuits? Beecause we are often very concerned about genealogical traits of colonies that will have the most success in the places we keep them.
Knowing where bees are originally from, the traits and genetic lines they descend from and how any and all of that relates to their success in various other locations is important to everything from pollination traits, defensive traits foraging and honey production traits and the types of pests and illnesses they have been adapted to as they evolved in the place they originate. Queen rearing is very much affected by knowing what bees are and from whence they came.
Scientific research that is always ongoing makes great use of taxonomy to locate and identify new species and sub-species of bees all the time.
It’s always a good thing to learn and know about taxonomy where bees and beekeeping are involved. Check out the new puzzles coming up this week that focus on honey bee taxonomy. The Crossword puzzle will post on Wednesday and will have the downloadable PDF with a wordlist on it. The answer sheet to the Crossword and the Wordsearch versions are already available for our supporters on our Patreon supporter webpage
The next episode of the Bee Smart beekeeping podcast featuring those Beehooligans will also talk some about taxonomy and how it is useful for beekeepers of all levels of experience.
Of course, we’ll bee sure to get some posts up with even more useful information along this line as well as we get through the week. The objective here is always to help folks Bee Smart.
Pretty much all bees have stingers on them or “stings” in general. Also, pretty much all bees sting to defend themselves and their nests. This is pretty well established.
However, what most people don’t realize is that not all bees lose the sting once they have used it to sting something else. As a matter of fact, pretty much only Honey bees, Apis mellifera, lose their sting due to having it literally ripped from their body along with the venom sac after having stung something else.
Through different studies, we’re pretty much convinced that honey bees actually know they are going to die when they sting. They know it and they do it anyway. In Japanese, “Kamikaze” means, “Divine Winds” referring usually to hurricanes an such. I’ve heard it they looked on Kamikaze airplane fighter pilots as being a special attack wreaking terrible destruction. This, I think, is a pretty interesting description of what damage can be done to an opponent when you are willing to go to such dramatic feats to not just defeat the enemy but utterly eliminate them. Think of the devastation a hurricane can do.
A honey bee, knowing it gives it’s life in it’s sting to defend nest and self is essentially going all out, literally giving it’s everything to overcome the perceived enemy at any cost. I think the concept of a swarm of bees taking to the air in order to not just defend the colony from attack but to make that enemy entirely go away is true to the concept of Kamikaze. Just about everything that has taken to raiding a honey bee hive, from wild bears to human beekeepers and everything in between, has learned to regret that decision as it runs as far away as fast as it can.
Not all bees lose their stings, oh no, pretty much all the rest can keep going back to give a gift that keeps on giving until the threat removes itself. Bumblebees are known as exceedingly docile and calm out in the flowers. There’s a time though when those bumblebees can attack ferociously if you are interfering with their nest. Not only will they come out to sting in defense, they retain the sting and just coming in again and again and again, etc…
Honey bees don’t always lose their sting though. It depends on what they are stinging. If they sting another honey bee for example or something of similar size and makeup, they will mostly keep the sing instead of having it pulled out and dying. In larger, thicker skinned creatures though, the tiny barbs that are on the sting will catch and not only stick in to be yanked out of the bee, they continue the attack after the bee has detached.
Oh yes, the honey bee stinger is actually a more complicated thing than a simple barbed needle. In fact, it is two needles working together in a piston-like motion so that once inserted into the body of a victim, they continue to dig themselves in even deeper giving more direct access to the venom in the connected venom sac that came off with the sting. A good reason to never pinch the sting to remove it is because by doing so, often more venom is injected by squeezing the ven0m sac along with the sting. Scrape that sting out with a knife, plastic card, even a fingernail instead.
That isn’t the end to the mischief the honey bee has wrought in stinging though. Oh no! It’s not done done with us yet. Not only does it’s stinger get physically, forcibly removed from it’s body, leaving it in our body. Not only does the sting continue to dig deeper into the skin to deliver its venom more effectively. While she has indeed gone off to die, the little worker bee who has wounded us so, she has also left a chemical marker scent upon us. A pheromone that acts as a beacon to other honey bee workers flying to the defense. We are now not only wounded, we are now tagged so that the other bees have a persistent pheromonal version of GPS straight to us. That’s right, running will avail us little safety, we are marked and they will come to finish the job. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? It’s a good thing they aren’t overly persistent.
Most of the time, if we can get anywhere from 20 to 100 yards away (depending on the breed of bee) they will consider having done their job sufficiently and removed the immediate threat and call the forces back home. Whew! This is actually true of pretty much all stinging bees. They really don’t intend to utterly eliminate us, just remove the immediate threat. Once the perpetrator clears out of the immediate area, most bees are fine with calling a cease fire and returning to battle stations.
In fact, there are times, again depending on the breed of honey bee, where instead of stinging immediately, they give us a warning instead. A simple little bump, a head butt if you will. Simply just to let us know, ” Hey pal, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll high-tail it out of here cuz playtime’s over. Don’t make me have to tell you again.” yes, I am anthropomorphizing but it’s more fun that way.
So now you know a little more about the stinging activity of bees. It’s a good thing to know. Just remember, bees don’t “attack” they aren’t going out looking for a fight. That would be the wasps and hornets. No, bees just want to do their thing and be left alone.
Think of it as bees are all about, “Don’t start none, won’t bee none.”
Loathe as I am to ever willingly refer reasonable people to a source that is so low that they don’t pay the contributing writers for their work except in “exposure” (while they rake in millions from advertising) when it comes to spreading misinformation about bees, I am compelled to correct it.
In this recent article, the author tries to make an educated seeming run at referring to honey legitimately as “bee vomit”. Their argument is founded on the generality of definition of the word “vomit”. If you use a “real” dictionary she says, then vomit is merely ejecting contents of the stomach through the mouth. If you use any other definition, you must be relying on Wikipedia and are subject to scorn and ridicule.
However, even though she goes to lengths to describe that bees have two stomachs and that honey transported by bees is carried in the non digestive “crop” or proventriculus of the honey bee, but still counts as “vomit” to her.
While she focuses on the definition of vomit as her ace-in-the-hole, she completely overlooks, or perhaps ignores, that in her own description she has already shown that she is incorrect.
Vomit is material ejected from “the” stomach. In a mammal having one stomach in which digestion occurs. In an insect such as the honey bee and having two stomachs (as fellow Beehooligan Dean Stiglitz points out, the proventriculus or “crop” is actually a gland and not a true stomach, further making the point that it is not vomit), the proventriculus NOT engaging in digestion, it would be more accurate to refer to it as a process of regurgitation.
A nationally viewed media source (not being worthy of the more credible term “news” since news sources actually pay their sources) to toss around words blithely is disappointing. Words have not just meaning my friends, but specific meaning. In casual discussions, words are often loosely bandied about. In a technical discussion, such as one actually involving science, medical, and other fields where specificity is necessary, words meanings take on greater importance.
So, technically speaking (as it seemed the article author was hoping people would see her point), honey is regurgitated nectar from “a” stomach called the “crop” not used for digestive functions by an insect.
It is not vomit from “the” stomach of a creature having only one in which to conduct primarily digestive functions.
Maybe if HuffPo would actually pay their sources, they could be taken more credibly on important topics like bees.
Honey bees communicate in a variety of ways. One way I find particularly useful is the use of pheromones to communicate with other bees, especially as a way to communicate to groups of bees if not the entire colony.
Comprised of a mixture of various biological chemicals excreted by different glands in bees, pheromonal communication is an extremely important method of communication on a large scale.
Look over the image below we found on the world wide web to learn more about some of the curious chemicals bees use to get a message across to each other with.
Here at the Bee Smart beekeeping project, it is one of our goals to help facilitate a successful beekeeping experience. Being that here in the U.S. are coming into our Spring season, if not already then very soon, it’s time to start looking at the things which can cause bee colonies to die at this point after having made it so far through the Winter.
Note that there are two most widely known types of Nosema, Nosema apis which has been here for a very long time, and Nosema ceranae which is the newer kid on the block of the two but every bit the troublemaker.
The linked article below by Randy Oliver at scientificbeekeeping.com makes a terrific presentation of the situation which rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, we’d rather just point you in the direction of the wheel.
Randy mentions a chemical treatment in the article for situations calling for treatments in IPM plans that include such types of treatments. However, Organic/treatment-free beekeepers want to pay very close attention to the things that can be done to help prevent Nosema from taking hold in the colony.
If you’d like to find out where the Beehooligans stand on dealing with Nosema after reading this article, head on over to our Forums on this website and sign up then browse through the sections and see where the discussion is.
This is more than a mere academic debate, as beekeepers worldwide are forced to make expensive management decisions, including very expensive antibiotic treatment and the sterilization of contaminated combs.
Honey bees are extra-ordinary creatures. There are so many interesting things to know about them that set them apart from every other creature in the world you could write every day in a lifetime and still not cover it all.
One of the fascinating things about bees is their vision. The anatomy and physiology of what they eyes are and how they work to help bees do what the do is phenomenal!
First of all, bees have two sets of eyes. There are the “simple eyes” technically called “ocelli” and there are the “complex” eyes which are the “Compound” eyes. Except for bee larvae, they don’t have any eyes at that stage.
Bees live in a world of almost complete and total darkness when they are inside a hive. Just like you and I, they need to find their way around in the dark. The bigger eyes, the compound eyes, aren’t the best for that. The ocelli are their answer to how to “see” in the dark.
There are three (3) small spots on the top of a honey bee’s head, between their antennae in a triangular layout. Those are the ocelli. Ocelli are only able to observe changes in light intensity, but that ability helps them do so much.
Honey bees have two (2) large compound eyes. These are the eyes we can see on the bees head on either side. The compound eyes have multiple tiny facets with lenses (ommatidia) covering each eye. Each of the three castes of bees has a different number of ommatidia. For example, Queens have about 4,000, Workers have about 5,000 and Drones have around 8,000 of them.
The compound eyes do more than just “see things” for the bees. Compound eyes are capable of forming images (seeing things), seeing in color (except red) including the ultra-violet spectrum, detecting movement, identify shapes and patterns, initiate head turning response, and seeing polarized light.
Not only that, but there are little hairs growing from the surface of the compound eyes and the bees use those hairs to detect air motion. That is how we figure bees to be such interesting pilots because it allows them to gauge airflow speed and direction.
Whew! Those are some kind of eyes.
This is what some researchers tell us bee see things as…
The biology of honey bees is a thing of technological wonder and artistic wonder. The more we learn about these incredible little critters, the more we realize we have so much more to learn.
One of the most common questions beekeepers are asked is what happens to the bees when it gets cold outside. Usually sung to the tune of, “Do bees hibernate?”
When it comes to insects, like honey bees, IF they did any such thing, it would probably be “diapause” and not “hibernation”. To be real loose and cavalier with explanations, “Hibernation” is like taking a very long nap and all the vitals become depressed and slow down. Think of it kind of like being in a coma.
“Diapause” is more of a state in which development in something like an insect, say… a honey bee, seems to nearly stop cold while bad and ugly things in the environment around them happen. Again, playing loosely with descriptions, think of it sort of like going into suspended animation when the weather gets too rough to find food or water, etc…
I have had more than one person ask if “diapause” was “The Change” for bees since they were all girls just getting older over the Winter. No, bees have plenty of other reasons to be cranky, they don’t need another one. Though in the Winter, they might actually appreciate hot flashes.
As for honey bees though, they do neither in the cold of Winter. Honey bees are awake and active the whole time. When temps hit somewhere around 57-ish degrees F or lower, the colony will cluster.
Honey bees survive Winter in their nest by “Clustering”. That is, they group together in a ball style shape in and around the wax cells in the combs and as a group, shiver their wing muscles to generate heat. By being clumped so closely together, they keep themselves and each other warm through the Winter. The colder it gets, the tighter they cluster together.
How do they keep up the heat? By eating honey. The bees forage for, make and store honey primarily for times like Winter, so that they will have a full pantry and not have to go outside to get more food. It’s already in the hive. The more they generate heat, the more honey they have to consume to maintain the energy to do it. The faster they go through the honey stores, the more likely it is that bees will starve out in the late Winter or early Spring because the food didn’t outlast the weather.
The closeness of their bodies and even the beeswax combs themselves also help to act as some bit of insulation so as to help keep some of the heat they generate hanging around and keeps them, in however little or greater effect, from using too much energy to soon.
It is an old tale indeed that let us know about the little man who could spin straw into gold. We have some interesting little creatures who are able to turn “liquid gold” (Honey) into wax.
As a matter of fact, through evolution, bees have actually been built to turn honey into beeswax. Parts of their body designed seemingly for specifically that purpose.
Only worker bees have the ability and the parts necessary to accomplish this remarkable feat. Even more interesting is that only bees in a certain age range are able to do it. When honey bee workers are 12 days old until they are 18 days old, they are best able to convert excess honey in the Honey Stomach (also known as the “Crop”) into beeswax. Of course, besides having excess honey or nectar in them, they must also have an active need for wax in the nest to either build the nest or to expand it.
Honey bees can also work minor miracles in regard to making wax. They can turn back their biological clocks in certain instances such as starting a new nest after leaving the old hive with a Queen bee.) Once in the new hive and with an immediate and emergency level need for new comb, the “old” workers bees that make up the majority of the swarm can make their bodies sort of go back to the physical condition at which the could make beeswax when they were younger in order to get the new nest started right away.
Anatomically, the honey and nectar bees gorge on to begin making wax is converted into a complex of substances like fatty acids, proteins and Hydrocarbons. Once the “mixture” is ready, it is secreted from the wax glands in the bee’s last four visible ventral abdominal segments which are covered by the “Wax Mirrors”, those being essentially little plate-like areas that the wax comes through in the form of little flat flake sort of shapes.
All in all, worker bees have eight (8) wax glands in four (4) pairs on the dorsal (bottom) side of the abdomen.
Once the wax is secreted the bees can then put it to good use in building their nest.
For the scientifically inclined, a great, in-depth article on the physiology of beeswax by Clarence Collison is at Bee Culture Magazine.
So, some folks may not know that honey bees have two (2), count ’em, TWO stomachs.
There is the Honey Stomach, also known as the “Crop”, AND a “True” or digestive stomach. The digestive stomach, located in the abdomen, is used to digest food used to fuel the bee. The Honey Stomach, located in the anterior (frontal) part of the abdomen is really just an expandable little, transparent “bag” that the honey and everything else the bee takes in goes to, or through, first before heading to the digestive stomach, if indeed that’s the intended destination.
Bees can choose to let whatever they take in go all the way through or to store groceries in the Honey Stomach until they get home. It’s the ultimate in grocery sack recycling really.
Nectar, water, honey (probably robbed from other hives) and other things destined for the nest get stopped and stored in the Honey Stomach until the bee gets home and disgorges said groceries to give to anther bee or deposit it into a cell, etc…
But, if Honey bees have two stomachs, would they get twice as hungry?
Honey bees haven’t yet been found to have sound receptors or “ears” like we do. Instead, it seems that honey bees have sensory organs that detect air movement (like sound waves). There are receptors in the legs of bees that pick up the vibrations detected from surfaces they are standing on or making contact with.