By Charlie Vanden Heuvel
The life of the Worker Honey Bee is rather short in relation to other insects. The Honey Bee Worker emerges from the brood cell to immediately begin her chores in the hive. The first chore is cleaning brood cells of the cocoon and other debris. The first three weeks of life are consumed with in-hive duties ranging from cleaning, receiving nectar, feeding eggs and larvae, guarding the hive, and acting as attendants to the Queen.
In the latter three weeks of her life she exits the hive to serve in the capacity as forager. The marvel of this portion of her life displays nature at it best. It truly is the reason so many fall in love with the honey. An insect that has mesmerized humans for ages.
To begin our understanding, we must first look at a form of communication displayed by the Foraging Honey Bee, the Waggle Dance. When a Foraging Worker returns to the hive from a great source of nectar, water, or pollen, she sets about sharing her find with her hive mates. This is done in the form of the Waggle Dance. In a short dance, first decoded by Karl von Frisch, it was not until the 1990’s that Dr. Thomas Seeley unraveled the mystery of this communication. A figure eight dance has the leg of the 8’s direction sharing the angle from the sun to the nectar source. The length of this leg becomes the distance from the hive to the source.
The foraging bee is able to recalculate this angle as the sun moves across the sky!
What a lifesaver this effort translates for the foragers. Flying up to five miles from the hive, the tiny bee could waste extraordinary efforts in search of nectar, pollen or water; yet nature has provided the simple means to share.
The intensity of the value of the source is also shared by the number of iterations the Waggle Dancer performs. If but one revolution it is a poor source, dancers repeating the performance many times point to exceptional sources.
Nectar is vital to the colony as its main energy source during the adult life of the bee. It is also dehydrated from its typical 70 to 80% water content down to about 15% to become honey. The honey, for the colony, is its winter stores of survival. When man became aware of the precious gold, it translated into one of our sugar sources.
As the Worker Bee sucks up the nectar from the nectaries, either within the flowers with which it attracts pollinating animals, or by extrafloral nectaries; the flower’s pollen is brushed onto the hairs of the bee’s body. She then cleans herself of these bits of pollen, adding a bit of nectar to moisten, and stores it on her hind legs for transport back to the colony.
Each morning, scouts arise first to seek out nectar sources. Upon their return, they perform a Shake activity awakening the sleeping girls from their night’s slumber. Then once awake, the scout performs the waggle dance.
In the case of nectar, the foraging bee transfers it from their honey stomach via their proboscis to a Receiver Worker within the hive who ultimately stores it into cells. Should foraging bees, especially during a nectar flow season, overwhelm the Receivers, a Treble Dance is performed to recruit more Receivers. Should this communication be ignored, especially by the Waggle Dancer, an additional form of communication emanates – the Beep Signal, where the Worker Bee butts its head into the Dancer emitting a Beep sound.
Nature is truly awesome in its symbiotic relationship between the Honey Bee and the flowers reliant on the sexual transference of pollen.
Next time you are out in your garden, hiking the trails or even camping take a moment to admire these beautiful creature.