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Honey Bee Information


Bees at a Hive A Varroa Mite on Bee Larva

Honey bees are the only insects that produce a food consumed by humans. Honey is produced in one of the busiest yet most efficient factories in the world — a beehive.

Honey bees are social insects with a marked division of labor among the various bees in the hive. A colony contains one queen, 500 to 1,000 drones and about 30,000 to 60,000 workers.

The matriarch of the colony is the queen. Nurtured on a special diet of royal jelly, the queen is the only sexually developed female in the hive. A few days after hatching, the queen mates with drones in flight. The drones, which are stout male bees that lack stingers, fulfill their single purpose in the colony by mating with the queen.

During this “mating flight,” the queen receives millions of sperm cells that last her entire life — often two years or more. A productive queen will lay up to 3,000 eggs in a single day. The sexually undeveloped female bees perform the work of the colony. Once hatched, these worker bees do a sequence of jobs – cleaning the nursery, caring for and feeding the larvae, collecting nectar, making wax comb, guarding the hive and fanning their wings to keep the hive cool.

A Queen Bee Surrounded by Her Workers

To make a pound of honey, worker bees must forage nectar from millions of flowers. To communicate the location of nectar sources, bees perform several different and distinct dances.

Honey Production:

In the fall, beekeepers prepare their hives for winter, ensuring that each hive has adequate honey “left on” (not extracted) to feed the colony. Many beekeepers also move their hives to warmer states during the winter. About one half of all commercial beekeepers are migratory beekeepers. Some rent their bees to farmers, moving their hives to pollinate various crops. Others relocate their hives near blossoms for honey production.

Extracting the Sweet Liquid:

Fortunately, honey bees normally make more honey than the colony needs. On average, a colony will produce about 80 pounds of surplus honey each year. To harvest the honey, beekeepers remove the honeycomb frames from each hive. The wax cappings covering the honeycomb are scraped off to expose the liquid honey.

Using a honey extractor (typically a centrifuge-type apparatus), the honey is spun out of the comb. The honey then passes through a filter and drains into a storage tank. The honey is often placed in 55-gallon drums and transported to a honey packer. Or, the beekeeper may bottle the honey for local sale.

Honey Composition:

Honey is a source of carbohydrates — mainly fructose (about 38.5 percent) and glucose (about 31.0 percent). The remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose and other complex carbohydrates. On average, honey is 17.1 percent water.

In addition, honey contains a wide array of vitamins, such as vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. Essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc as well as several different amino acids have been identified in honey. (Some of these compounds exist in quantities less than 10 percent of the recommended daily requirement.)

Honey also contains several compounds which function as antioxidants (see honey facts) — compounds that may help delay the oxidative damage to cells or tissues in our bodies. Known antioxidant compounds in honey are chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase and pinocembrin.
Research has shown that unlike most other sweeteners, honey contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.

Bottom picture is a new Queen emerging
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