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Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Honeybees at work

  • Article by: Jim Gilbert
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 26, 2014 - 3:23 PM

Nearly every day during the growing season, I have the opportunity to bee-watch, sort of like bird-watching but without the binoculars. I like to move within a foot of the handsome half-inch animals and observe their actions at flowers — they usually focus on clovers, alfalfa and roses this time of year.

Honeybees aren’t native to this country. They were first introduced into New England about 375 years ago. Archaeologists recently found evidence that beekeeping was going on about 3,000 years ago in what is now northern Israel.

Most of our local honeybees live in artificial hives, but swarms regularly escape and establish wild hives, usually in hollow trees. Honeybees can even be encountered in very urban areas. It’s not unusual for beekeepers to keep hives in major cities, often on rooftops. Honeybees are always colonial. A hive may contain up to about 60,000 bees at full strength. Most bees return to their hives occasionally during the day and remain there during the night. So honeybees seen in cities aren’t strays. The bees usually fly fewer than 100 yards to forage, so the hives are close by.

Honeybees from the same hive visit approximately 225,000 flowers per day, traveling about 15 miles per hour. They are the No. 1 pollinators for vegetable crops and orchards. A single honeybee can produce only a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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