The Buzz about Bees

The Buzz about Bees

The first example of an ancient bee was found in Myanmar. The bee was trapped in amber 100 million years ago. Like wasps, these early bees ate other insects as flowers had not yet developed color and nectar.

Bees were instrumental in the development of flowers. Most plants can’t self pollinate. At first they probably relied on wind and chance for pollination. Over time, plants evolved traits - brightly colored flowers and nectar - to attract animals which would help them to reproduce. Plants and bees developed a symbiotic relationship - flowers give bees nectar and bees transport pollen from flower to flower thus ensuring the plant generates seeds and reproduces.

Bee collecting nectar from purple crocus

A honeybee colony is made up of three categories of bee. At the top of the hierarchy is the queen. A colony has only one queen and her only task is reproduction. She controls the behavior of the other bees in the hive with her pheromones. She lays up to 2,000 eggs each day and she can live for up to five years.

The worker bees are female and number about 10,000 to 50,000 in each colony. They have specialized tasks - care for the young, find new food sources, defend the hive, build the comb and provide food for the drones the queen and the grubs. They do not switch jobs, but carry out the same task throughout their lifespan.

Drones are the male bees and number about 1,000 in a colony. They don’t have a stinger, and don’t produce any food. Their only purpose is to mate with the queen and they die soon after mating. The worker bees feed them honey.

Honeybees at hive with queen at center

Scout bees look for food sources. When the scouts find a source of food, they return to the hive and teach the other bees where to find the food source. The scouts perform a ‘wiggle dance’ that transmits the directions. The other workers feel the vibrations with their antennae and taste the nectar the scouts provide so they know they’ve found the correct source. As soon as the directions are understood, the worker bees take off in search of the nectar source.

Worker bees fly over 3 miles from the hive and are able to constantly adapt to the plants and the season. They will return to an area until all of the nectar is depleted. Once back at the hive the nectar is given to another worker who holds the droplets on her tongue until the liquid evaporates and it becomes honey. She then deposits the honey into a cell for storage.

The honey comb is built for storage of honey and to hold the eggs and developing pupae. Each cell is made from a secretion of wax flakes on the underside of the abdomen. The worker then chews up the flake and mold the wax scales into place. Honey combs are only built as they are needed. Each cell of the comb is in the shape of a hexagon and is very space efficient and much stronger than a circle or an oval or square tube.

Close up of honeycomb

The size of the cell determines the gender and purpose of the hatched bee. The queen measures the cell with her front legs and decides based on the size whether or not to fertilize the egg. If the cell is to hold a worker bee or a new queen, she adds sperm to her vagina before she deposits the egg into the cell. Eggs hatch whether they are fertilized or not. The drones are unfertilized. The nurse bees feed all of the developing larvae royal jelly for the first 3 days of their development.

When a hive reaches population capacity, the queen lays an egg that is destined to become a new queen. The nurses feed the larvae that will become a queen bee royal jelly throughout her life. This rich food allows the new queen to develop ovaries. During the new queen’s development, the worker bees seek out and find an appropriate home for the new colony. Once the new queen has reached maturity, the reigning queen leaves with a third of the hive to start a new colony. This is called a swarm and usually takes place in spring.

Humans have had a relationship with bees for hundreds of thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence that bees have played a role in human culture since prehistoric times. Bee swarms, bee hives and honeycombs appear in ancient rock art across sub-Saharan Africa. At first, Humans sought out wild bee colonies, but it is likely that bees were domesticated around the same time that animals such as pigs and cows were being tamed to live alongside humans. Scientists have been testing pottery dating from 10,000 years ago for traces of beeswax. The pottery was found across southern Europe, Asia and North Africa, and the evidence points to a long history of early farming cultures using bees and harvesting both honey and beeswax.

In most places, beeswax was the only type of wax available. It has long been used to make candles, and in its natural state it is firm but pliable. It is thought that beeswax was used by ancient people to bind stone points to wood in making weapons and was likely used for repairs.

In Egypt 2000 years ago, encaustic paintings were made using beeswax. The wax was heated and mixed with pigment before being applied to prepared surface. It was then exposed to the sun which “burned in” the image.

Honey has long been used as an antiseptic and sweetener in food and to make alcohol. Sweetness was rare in the ancient world, so honey would have been highly valued. It is likely that both beeswax and honey were collected for utilitarian purposes and for use as medicine and in religious ceremonies.

 The record of when bees were first domesticated is incomplete. Domesticating bees eliminated the need to search for colonies, but the hive and the bees living in it were destroyed during collection.  In the 1800s, a man named Lorenzo Langstroth discovered that bees would keep a space free for movement within a hive. This led to the development of hives with frames that could be removed. The bees build the honeycomb inside the frame and the beekeeper can remove the frame to collect the honey without harming the bees. This development has allowed humans to more safely interact with bees and harvest their honey and wax.

 Frame with honeycomb and bees on it

Wild bee colonies have become rare due to loss of habitat, climate change and pesticides and toxins in the environment. Pesticides are affecting all bees, and Colony Collapse Disorder as it's called, is devastating wild and commercial  bee colonies throughout the United States. As up to one third of our food supply relies on bees and other pollinators the loss of bees will have drastic consequences on all life on this planet.

Beeswax acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-septic which makes it an effective treatment for skin-conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema. The anti-inflammatory properties calm and soothe the skin, and help to reduce swelling. It forms a barrier to protect the skin from pollutants, but it won't block pores. Beeswax is a humectant, which means that it attracts water to the cells which helps to keep skin hydrated. 

Our Shea & Beeswax Hand & Cuticle Therapy is a thicker, rich cream that soothes dry, cracked or itchy skin by providing moisture and protection.

For your beard and hair, try the Organic Shea & Cocoa Butter Hair & Beard Pomade or in the handy portable biodegradable tube Grooming & Styling Wax. Both tame fly-away hair while providing necessary moisture and a sheen. The Grooming & Styling Wax gives a slightly firmer hold, but doesn't leave your hair feeling stiff.

Along with a pleasant natural fragrance evocative of honey, our Beeswax Pillar Candles release negative ions which cleanse the air of pollutants, dust, mold and pollen. Beeswax candles burn clean and don't produce soot like candles made of paraffin - a distillation from petroleum.


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