Our friends, the honeybees

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper, Romalea guttata

Insects and arachnids are a great interest of mine, and as far back as I can remember, they always have been. I’m the person who runs toward the spider that other people are running away from. On the other hand, show me even a picture of a clown, and I’ll scream and run away like a little girl.  But seriously, I would feel guilty if I killed a fly, and I don’t even own a flyswatter for that matter. When I found a spider in the car the other day, I didn’t freak out and try to kill it. I knew there was a nearby park however, so I drove there, picked up the spider, and put it outside. Of course I’m not that reckless, I knew this was a harmless jumping spider. If was obviously a poisonous spider, or if I was unsure, I still may not have killed it, but I would have found some other way to get it out of my car.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis, Sphodromantis viridis

When I was little, I had an ant farm, a moth that I raised from a silkworm, a praying mantis, a pet spider, and butterflies. The butterflies were actually delivered to you as caterpillars, and it came with a little butterfly habitat that you put together. The caterpillars, five of them, were in a small plastic container that already contained all the food and everything that they needed to survive.  Once all five of them had crawled to the lid of the container and each had transformed into a chrysalis, they and the lid were carefully transported to the butterfly habitat. Once the butterflies hatched, I kept and fed them for a couple of days and then set them free. The butterflies were Painted Lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui.

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui

Anyhow, I’m an animal lover, and perhaps my admiration of the six- and eight-legged creatures is an extension of that love. But whatever the reason, I adore entomology and everything surrounding it. I know that some bugs are dangerous of course: mosquitoes, wasps, fire ants, some spiders, etc, and the one bug I really can’t stand are maggots, (I know they’re baby flies, but they really are disgusting). Otherwise though, and despite the dangers that some bugs can pose, they really are intelligent, and for the most part, good for the environment. I also think they’re cute and interesting, especially the social insects such as ants and bees; and it’s the latter that I want to address.

I won’t say that they are harmless, I know that it must hurt like hell to be stung by a bee, and I know for a fact that a bee sting can be deadly if you’re allergic to them. That being said however, most honeybees won’t sting unless they feel threatened or frightened; Africanized bees being the exception. And regular honeybees will die once they sting someone.   On that note, bumblebees are actually gentle giants. Wasps on the other hand do not need an excuse; if they want to sting you, they will sting you.

Black Carpenter Ant

Black Carpenter Ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus

So I may have been interested in bees for years now, but recently, my interest in them has become more pronounced for a couple of reasons.

One being that somewhere around mid-November, I will become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and their state motto (in California) is “Bees are at the heart of our existence.”  And our next chapter meeting’s keynote speaker is going to be someone from the Backwards Beekeepers in Los Angeles. The DAR does a lot work for our troops, such as sending care packages, homemade quilts, and helping those who have recently come home, make the transition. But they also do work for the environment, and thus, for honeybees.


Honeybee, Apis Mellifera

The other reason for my more prominent interest in honeybees, is because last month, my grandmother had a beehive in her backyard. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to see it, but she was able to call someone who could come and humanely deal with the bees. I was working that day and could not be there, but my mom was there, and during my lunch break I was texting her, interested to hear what they learned about the bees in my grandmother’s backyard, and making sure that they called someone who would not kill the bees. The man who came out to deal with the bees, found A LOT of honey that the bees had made, and was able to drill holes in the beehive without affecting the bees. He said that the queen bee would eventually leave, and then the colony would follow her; which is exactly what happened. There are still bees that come to my grandmother’s backyard, but now they only come to pollinate, and then leave.  Many times when I’m over at her house, I’ll go outside and watch them. I just stand by and let them do their jobs, and they don’t mind my presence. I think they’re adorable, and they know that I don’t mean them any harm. They really are interesting to observe.

Honeybee tongue

Honeybee with tongue partially extended

William Shakespeare said in his play, Henry V:

“For so work the honey-bees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king and officers of sorts;
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home,
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,
Others, like soldiers, armèd in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds;
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor.”

This quote depicts what goes on in a bee colony. It is not led by a king, but by a queen bee.  However bees, (and ants too), do have their own jobs within the colony. There are workers, scouts, nurses, and so on inside the colony, and they are all females. Once male bees hatch and mature, they leave the colony. Male ants are actually born with wings, and they too leave, once they are able.


Honeybee carrying pollen back to hive in a pollen basket

If honeybees were not here to pollinate, the environment and our place in it would be in big trouble. And there is also Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which has become a huge problem. CCD is characterized by the death and/or disappearance of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of honeybees from one colony without any obvious cause. As I mentioned, honeybees are vital to the environment, and it’s important that they don’t disappear permanently.