You may think honey bees are simply annoying creatures which can ruin a picnic in the countryside, but with its workers bees, drones and queen, a bee hive is like a mind, a collective intelligence as powerful as the biggest computer – except that your PC doesn’t make honey. Bees truly are amazing.
One third of the UK’s food is pollinated by bees.
It may look like chaos, but inside a bee hive is one of the most sophisticated living things in the history of evolution – the oldest known bee fossil is 100 million years old . One bee on its own doesn’t amount to much, but taken together a very different picture can be seen.
The honey bee’s wings stroke incredibly fast, about 200 beats per second, thus making their famous, distinctive buzz. A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.
Although our Highland Titles bees will be ‘living’ in lovely new style polystyrene hives like the one above – better to keep the bees warm in Winter, they have a secret way of keeping themselves warm! Seen normally, all bees may look the same, but go beyond the ordinarily visible into the infra-red and some bees are warmer than others. Some glow bright orange like hot coals, radiating heat to their surroundings. Others are dark and cool. It’s the precise control of heat that allows a bee colony to be such a unique and successful form of organisation. But what is all this heat for? Heat is concentrated in one central area of the hive, the brood nest, where young bee pupae are growing. A bee that may appear relatively still, when looked at in infra-red is glowing bright orange, revealing its role as a specialist heater bee. The bee warms itself up by vibrating its flight muscles – vibrations that allow it to warm up to 44 degrees centigrade, previously thought to be high enough to kill it. Others that seem to be grabbing a quiet snooze are actually tight little balls of fire that are acting in a motherly role to keep the brood warm. Without warmth the babies will not grow and develop.
A hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits around the earth to collect 1 kg of honey.
The more we learn the more amazing these little guys become. It is now clear why bees spend so long foraging for nectar that will be turned into honey, as over two thirds of the hive’s honey goes on the central heating of the colony. At Highland Titles we don’t take honey from the hives. Doing so usually means artificial feeding in the winter when all they really need is their own pure supplies! There is a rarely seen moment caught on camera in a BBC documentary when an exhausted heater bee is topped up by a refuelling bee just returned from foraging.
“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live?” ~ Albert Einstein
Even more amazing – by precisely controlling the temperature, these heater bees control the destiny of the young. Incubated at 34 degress, the newly born bees are likely to become humble housekeepers, but kept just one and a half degrees warmer, they may instead turn into intelligent and high-ranking foragers, living up to 10 times longer.
When a bee is born its first job is to clean out the cell in which she was born. Jobs are then allocated on the basis of age.
Duties of Worker Bees
1-2 days – Cleans cells and keeps the brood warm
3-5 days – Feeds older larvae
6-11 days – Feeds youngest larvae
12-17 days – Produces wax, Builds comb, Carries food, Undertaker duties
18-21 days – Guards the hive entrance
22+ days – Flying from hive begins, Pollinates plants, Collects pollen, nectar and water.
One ounce of honey would power a bee for a flight completely around the earth!
Bees need to communicate with each other to pass on the location of food sources. To do this bees have evolved a unique dance language that can be understood by us. A worker bee returning from a rich source of food will ‘dance’ on the vertical comb surface by running in a circle, on each revolution the bee will bisect the circle at an angle.The angle with respect to 12 O’clock represents the angle to fly with respect to the sun.
If the bee ran from 6 to 12 O‘clock i.e. straight up, this would say fly directly towards the sun ‘.
And 7 to 1 O’clock would mean fly just to the right of the sun, 12 to 6 O’clock ‘Fly directly away from the sun’. In other words the bees translate the angle to the sun as an angle to the vertical.
To represent distance the bee ‘wiggles’ its abdomen whist crossing the circle, the more wiggles the greater the distance. So a bee will ‘say’ to its friends ‘Fly over there for about a 1 mile and you will find something that tastes like this’. Pretty Smart!
Bees are in danger of disappearing from our environment. Farming practices continue to disturb the natural habitats and forage of solitary and bumblebees at a rate which gives them little chance for re-establishment.
The importance of honey bees to the future of mankind cannot be overstated and the Highland Titles Nature Reserve in Duror, in conjunction with Plan Bee Ltd., now has 10 hives busily buzzing away. We have also undertaken an education program with local schools, both primary & secondary, to teach the youngsters what science already knows. The children are currently designing and painting their hives which will be swapped over to the Reserve in Spring ready for the school to adopt, with follow-up visits planned.
These pictures were taken during our recent visits to Kinlochleven High and Primary Schools and Ballachulish Primary School. There were lots of questions and the kids seemed genuinely interested, which is great as honey bees are so important to their future!