I take the opportunity to bee-watch nearly every day during the growing season.
I like to move in within a foot of the golden-brown half-inch insects, with their darker brown bands on their tail ends (abdomens), and observe their actions as they drink nectar and collect pollen dust.
Honeybees are vital pollinators for flowers, fruits and vegetables. They transfer male pollen to female flower parts, allowing plants to grow seeds and fruits.
These bees also collect nectar from flowers and store it in their “honey stomach.” Back in the hive the nectar is passed from bee to bee until it gradually turns into honey. Then the bees store it in honeycomb cells, which are like tiny jars made of wax.
This spring we first saw them on common snowdrops in the garden and blooming silver maples during March. The honeybees helped greatly into spring, pollinating apricot, plum, apple and other fruit trees in May. Now we see them on wild and garden roses, and white clover, among other plants.
Most honeybees live in artificial hives, but swarms regularly escape and establish wild hives, usually in hollow trees. Honeybees aren’t native to this country; they were introduced into New England about 380 years ago. Archaeologists have found evidence that beekeeping was going on about 3,000 years ago in what is now northern Israel.
Honeybees are always colonial; a hive may contain up to 60,000 individuals at full strength. Most of the bees return to their hives occasionally during the day and remain there during the night. These bees are quite speedy. They can fly about 15 miles per hour; in contrast we walk about 3 mph.
A parasitic mite has infected over half of U.S. hives. Honeybees are battling their own global pandemic, for which they are utterly unprepared.
Left untreated, a colony of honeybees will typically die from the mites within two years, so beekeepers must medicate to rid hives of mites to maintain a profitable business.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.