I always thought I knew what I needed to know about bees. Bees are cool. Bees make honey. Bees sting. Keep your distance from bees. The bees seemed cool with this arrangement as I mostly left them alone to do their thing. Then I was in Northern CA a few weeks back and spent some time learning about bees. I saw the film Queen of the Sun | What are the Bees Telling Us? about the plight of the honeybee. A must see film for anyone concerned with the state of agribusiness in our country and the world. I then had the pleasure of meeting and photographing two wonderful beekeepers. The first, one of the film’s featured beekeepers, was Guther Hauk. Gunther is a gentle soul with an amazing knowledge of bees and beekeeping. He is an advocate for sustainable beekeeping, having “retired” to The Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary in rural Virginia. The second was Barbara Schlumberger. She, along with Priscilla Coe and Michael Thiele founded The Melissa Garden at Barbara’s ranch in Sonoma County. She too is a sustainable beekeeper and bee advocate. Barbara was nice enough to give me a tour of the garden and introduce me to their bees. It was an incredible experience.
So I have a newfound respect and love of bees. And the bees and I have a new understanding. I will not steal their honey or fear them and they will not sting me. It’s worked out well so far.
Here are 10 fun facts about bees.
1. Honey bees have four wings, six legs, two compound eyes made of up many, many tiny lenses and three simple eyes on the top of the head that are light sensors.
2. Honeybees perform a waggle dance to communicate the location and the directions to distant food sources that are 100 yards to 2-3 miles from the hive.
3. In one trip honeybees visit 100-1500 blossoms to fill their honey crop, an organ separate from their digestive stomach that is used to transport nectar.
4. Forager bees, steadfast and committed to their task, make up to 30 trips a day. Using their long, straw-like proboscis they collect nectar from the wild flowers and herbs of meadows. As Johannes Wirz says in QUEEN OF THE SUN, “Bees are the golden thread from flower to flower, keeping the world in bloom.”
5. The honey bee’s wings beat at incredible speeds! About 200 beats per second, creating the their un-missable “buzz”. A bee can fly up to 15 miles per hour and can fly a total of up to six miles.
6. Bees were not only one of the first sources for sweetness, but also for light! Beeswax candles were used by humans to provide long-lasting light in the darkness. Secreted from glands of the bee’s abdomen, beeswax is used by the honeybee to build the honey comb in the beehive.
7. In their entire lifespan, a worker bee only produces 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of honey.
8. The beehive is a “super organism”. All of the bees work together as a single entity. A lone bee cannot live on it’s own outside of the hive for even 24 hours.
9. In winter bees live on stored honey and pollen and cluster into a ball to conserve warmth. Their “body” temperature in the hive is close to human body temperature, 95-97 degrees, regardless of the temperature outside of the hive.
10. Some big numbers to think about! In producing just one pound of honey, bees from the hive visit approximately one million flowers. The entire hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles. This is equivalent to one and a half orbits around the earth just to collect one pound of glistening honey.