I have started to take my interest in locally grown foods and sustainable living to a smaller notion. The agricultural in this part of the state has been an influential part of living within the community. What better place to start my research than at Kinfolk, the local organic grocery store. In my last post, I researched Honey Pot Candies, sold and created in only in Alfred, NY. I am interested in the local honey businesses surrounding the Alfred community. Many local beekeepers provide honey for Alfred and villages surrounding us. Since I do not know much about bees as an insect, I began researching bees.
I will be posting another blog at the end of the week providing information gathered from some local beekeepers that I have interviews with this week.
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, and are known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven to nine recognized families, though many are unrecognized and the actual number is probably higher. Bees are found throughout the world except at the highest altitudes, in Polar Regions, and on some small oceanic islands. The greatest diversity of bee species is found in warm, arid or semiarid areas, especially in the American Southwest and Mexico.They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
Bees range in size from tiny species only 2 mm in length to rather large insects up to 4 cm long. Many bees are black or gray, but others are bright yellow, red, or metallic green or blue. Bees have a long complex "tongue" that enables them to obtain the nectar from flowers. They have antennae almost universally made up of 13 segments in males and 12 in female. All bees have two pairs of wings, the hind pair being the smaller of the two; in a very few species, one sex or caste has relatively short wings that make flight difficult or impossible, but none are wingless. Bee flight patterns were applied the equations of air resistance and found that their flight could not be explained by fixed-wing calculations. This has led to a common misconception that bees "violate aerodynamic theory", but in fact it confirms that bees do not engage in fixed-wing flight, and that their flight is explained by other mechanics, such as those used by helicopters. Their sufficient lift is generated by the combination of short, choppy wing strokes, a rapid rotation of the wing as it flops over and reverses direction, and a very fast wing-beat frequency. Wing beat frequency normally increases as size decreases, but as the bee's wing beat covers such a small arc, it flaps approximately 230 times per second.
Bees are dependent on pollen as a protein source and on flower nectar or oils as an energy source. Adult females collect pollen primarily to feed their larvae. The pollen they inevitably lose in going from flower to flower is important to plants because some pollen lands on the pistils of other flowers of the same species, resulting in cross-pollination. Bees are the most important pollinating insects, and their interdependence with plants makes them an perfect example of symbiosis known as mutualism, an association between unlike organisms that is beneficial to both parties. Bees focus either on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are pollinators that are more efficient. It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honeybee.
The European Honey bee which is the domesticated bee found in Alfred, belongs to a species of eusocial bees, which live in colonies. Each colony has a single queen, many workers and, at certain stages in the colony cycle, drones. When humans provide the nest, it is called a hive. Colonies are typically small, with a dozen or fewer workers, on average. The only physical difference between queens and workers is average size, if they differ at all. A honey bee hive can contain up to 40,000 bees at their annual peak, which occurs in the spring, but usually have fewer. In some species, groups of cohabiting females may be sisters, and if there is a division of labor within the group, then they are considered semi social. If, in addition to a division of labor, the group consists of a mother and her daughters, then the group is called eusocial. The mother is considered the "queen" and the daughters are "workers". These castes may be purely behavioral alternatives. Males play no part in the colony's organization and only mate with the queens. Individual bees may have highly specialized functions within the colony. The tasks of defense, food collection and storage, reproduction, and many other activities are regulated by the colony's response to environmental conditions inside and outside the hive. Individuals communicate by means of chemical messages, touch, sound, and, in the case of honey bees, a symbolic dance language. The nests of many eusocial bees are very elaborate and may be constructed partially of wax secreted by the bees.
The Bee as a figure has been seen prominently in mythology and has been used by political theorists as a model for human society. Despite the honey bee's painful sting and the stereotype of insects as pests, bees are generally held in high regard. This is most likely due to their usefulness as pollinators and as producers of honey, their social nature, and their reputation for diligence. Bees are one of the few insects regularly used on advertisements, being used to illustrate honey and foods made with honey.
In North America, yellow jackets and hornets, especially when encountered as flying pests, are often misidentified as bees, despite numerous differences between them. Although a bee sting can be deadly to those with allergies, virtually all bee species are non-aggressive if undisturbed and many cannot sting at all. Humans are often a greater danger to bees, as bees can be affected or even harmed by encounters with toxic chemicals in the environment.