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Honeybee

HoneybeeIn 1976 Kansas schoolchildren collected more than 2,000 signatures from students across the state to make the honeybee the state insect.

Kansas House Bill 2236 stated, "Colonists are believed to have brought bees from England to the Virginia Colony in 1622 and pioneers migrating west are known to have carried beehives with them. The honeybee is like all Kansans in that it is proud; only fights in defense of something it cherishes; is a friendly bundle of energy; is always helping others throughout its lifetime; is a strong, hard worker with limitless abilities; and is a mirror of virtue, triumph and glory;... The honeybee, by making its honey, gives not only to Kansans but also to all the world's peoples a gift which is sweet and wholesome, something which all Kansans strive to emulate in other ways."

There are three types of honeybees: workers, drones, and queens. Workers are the smallest of the three and are all females. The first three weeks of a worker bee's life is spent inside the hive where it makes honey, cleans the hive, feeds larvae, and builds the wax comb that makes up the hive. The last three weeks of a worker bee's life are spent visiting flowers. Worker bees are the only bees to visit flowers. Drones are male bees, and their job is to mate with the queen. Queens are the largest of the three. Each colony has only one queen and her job is to lay eggs. During the period the worker bee is inside the hive she is referred to as a house bee. A house bee cleans the cell of the hive in which she was born and the cells around it. She feeds the larvae bee bread, bee milk, and royal jelly depending on the age of the larvae and whether it is a worker, drone, or queen. Wax glands on the worker bees produce a wax that they shape into honeycomb.

The worker bee is referred to as a field bee during the last three weeks of life. These weeks are spent outside the hive visiting flowers. About 10 one-hour trips are made daily. Each trip is usually made within three miles of the hive. During these trips the field bee collects water, nectar, pollen, and bee glue. The water is used to thin honey and cool the hive in the hot summer. Nectar is collected by the bee sucking it up with her tongue and then it is made into honey in the hive. Pollen is gathered into pollen baskets on the bee's hind legs. Pollen is high in protein. Bee glue is sap gathered from plant buds. It is used to seal cracks and varnish the inside walls of the hive.

Field bees "talk" or communicate with each other about where flowers can be found. This communication is in the form of dance. Once a bee has located flowers she flies back to the hive, gives the nectar and pollen to a house bee, and then dances to tell the other field bees where the flowers are located. The round dance indicates that the flowers are close to the hive, under 100 yards away. This dance is made by circling in one direction and then turning around and circling back in the other direction. The tail-wagging dance means that the flowers are farther from Honeybee combsthe hive. The bee uses the dance to draw a map to the flowers. The bee dances in a half circle in one direction, turns and runs straight while wagging her tail, and then dances a half circle in the other direction. The direction the bee is headed during the tail wagging part of the dance indicates the location of the flowers in relation to the sun. The number of times she wags her tail in a 15-second period indicates the distance the flowers are from the hive (see picture on left).

Cooperation produces results in a beehive. Making honey takes the work of both house and field bees. Field bees find nectar and bring it back to the hive. At this point the nectar is transferred to a house bee, tongue-to-tongue. The house bee spreads droplets of nectar on the roof of a honey cell. House bees then fan their wings over the honeycomb to evaporate the moisture in the nectar. Finally, other house bees cap the honey cells with a thin layer of wax. In the sealed cell the nectar ages and becomes honey.

Entry: Honeybee

Author: Kansas Historical Society

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Date Created: July 2011

Date Modified: January 2013

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