Bees Produce More Than Just Honey!
When people think about “what bees make” most would say honey, but it doesn’t stop there. In fact bees produce and collect many different elements that are the fruits of their labour. We have briefly identified 6 products and bi-products of bees here. More information coming soon.
Honey is the complex substance made when the nectar and sweet deposits from plants and trees are gathered, modified, and stored in the honeycomb by honey bees as a food source for the colony. All living species of Apis have had their honey gathered by indigenous peoples for consumption, though for commercial purposes, only A. mellifera and A. cerana have been utilized to any degree. Honey is sometimes also gathered by humans from the nests of various stingless bees.
In 1911, a bee culturist estimated a litre of honey represented bees flying over an estimated 77,000 kilometers to gather the nectar needed to produce the honey.
Nectar, a liquid high in sucrose, is produced in plant glands known as nectaries. It is an important energy resource for honey bees and plays a significant role in foraging economics and evolutionary differentiation between different subspecies. It was proposed through an experiment conducted with the African honey bee, A. m. scutellata, that nectar temperature impacts the foraging decisions of honey bees.
Worker bees of a certain age will secrete beeswax from a series of glands on their abdomens. They use the wax to form the walls and caps of the comb. As with honey, beeswax is gathered by humans for various purposes.
Bees collect pollen in the pollen basket and carry it back to the hive. In the hive, pollen is used as a protein source necessary during brood-rearing. In certain environments, excess pollen can be collected from the hives of A. mellifera and A. cerana. It is often eaten as a health supplement. It also has been used with moderate success as a source of pollen for hand pollination However, pollen collected by bees and harvested for pollination must be used within a few hours because it loses its potency rapidly, possibly because of the effects of enzymes or other chemicals from the bees; hand-collected pollen may remain usable for weeks, if stored promptly under suitable conditions.
Propolis or bee glue is created from resins, balsams, and tree saps. Those species of honey bees that nest in tree cavities use propolis to seal cracks in the hive. Dwarf honey bees use propolis to defend against ants by coating the branch from which their nest is suspended to create a sticky moat. Propolis is consumed by humans as a health supplement in various ways and also used in some cosmetics.
Royal jelly is a honey bee secretion that is used in the nutrition of larvae, as well as adult queens. It is secreted from the glands in the hypopharynx of worker bees, and fed to all larvae in the colony, regardless of sex or caste.
When worker bees decide to make a new queen, because the old one is either weakening or dead, they choose several small larvae and feed them with copious amounts of royal jelly in specially constructed queen cells. This type of feeding triggers the development of queen morphology, including the fully developed ovaries needed to lay eggs.
Royal jelly is secreted from the glands in the heads of worker bees, and is fed to all bee larvae, whether they are destined to become drones (males), workers (sterile females), or queens (fertile females). After three days, the drone and worker larvae are no longer fed with royal jelly, but queen larvae continue to be fed this special substance throughout their development. It is harvested by humans by stimulating colonies with movable frame hives to produce queen bees. Royal jelly is collected from each individual queen cell (honeycomb) when the queen larvae are about four days old. It is collected from queen cells because these are the only cells in which large amounts are deposited; when royal jelly is fed to worker larvae, it is fed directly to them, and they consume it as it is produced, while the cells of queen larvae are “stocked” with royal jelly much faster than the larvae can consume it. Therefore, only in queen cells is the harvest of royal jelly practical. A well-managed hive during a season of 5–6 months can produce approximately 500 g of royal jelly. Since the product is perishable, producers must have immediate access to proper cold storage (e.g., a household refrigerator or freezer) in which the royal jelly is stored until it is sold or conveyed to a collection center. Sometimes honey or beeswax are added to the royal jelly, which is thought to aid its preservation.