Self Expression Magazine

The Secret Life of Bees

Posted on the 13 August 2013 by Bvulcanius @BVulcanius

Last Saturday I attended a presentation by a beekeeper on beekeeping and learned quite a few things about bees that I hadn’t previously known.

There are many different types of bees, but they can easily be divided into the solitary bees and the honeybees. The honeybees are the only kind of bees that live together in a hive and thus manage to survive the winter. Make no mistake: all bees make honey. However, the honey we consume is solely made by honeybees.

Within a hive (that can contain up to 50,000 bees!) you’ll mainly see workers (female bees). About 1% of the hive will consist of drones (the male bees) and there will one queen (also a female bee). For some reason, I always thought that the queen was really important for a hive and in a way she is, but the workers are equally if not more important than her.

When a queen hatches from an egg, she rises up to 1 km into the sky and secretes a pheromone that attracts drones from as far as 5 km away. The drones then proceed to leave their sperm with the queen. This process can take up to seven days! Then the queen goes back into the hive to lay her eggs. This is what she does for five days straight. The queen decides which of her eggs will get fertilized and will turn into female bees and which of her eggs won’t be fertilized and will become drones. Naturally, because more workers are needed, most of her eggs will be fertilized.

The astonishing thing to me was that apparently the workers can decide which of the fertilized eggs will eventually become a queen. When the old queen is no longer capable of doing her job or when she dies, the hive needs to make a new queen to ensure the hive’s survival. The workers then pick one of the fertilized eggs and proceed to give this egg more of a certain nourishment (called royal jelly) than the rest. This makes sure that the female bee hatching from this particular egg will be bigger and longer and so become a queen.

beekeeper and bees

Beekeeper showing us a frame from one of his hives.

It was really cool to learn all this new information on the bees and to actually be able to see the bees and queen in action, since the beekeeper brought us to his hives and showed us some of the frames. He had marked the queen with a bright pink dot which he had attached to her with wood glue. He told us that he extracts the honey, but also uses the beeswax to make new frames, make candles or sell to riding schools (they use beeswax to polish their saddles, for example). Every year he goes to the south of Germany to apple orchards, where they make cider, to collect their must. He uses the must to smoke the hive (this smoke makes the bees more docile). It all seemed like such a natural process to me; I was certainly impressed.


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