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A Walk in the Woods: The sweet life of bees isnít all about making honey

By Melody Bell Wilkes
For the Salisbury Post
Ask a beekeeper why he or she works with bees and the answer might surprise you.
It is not for the money. It is not to impress the neighbors. Itís for the love of bees.
These social insects are instinctively driven to perform their household duties like overworked mothers. There is a real truth behind the saying ibusy as a bee.î
When a bee is three to 10 days old, they are nurse bees. They care for and feed the undeveloped young called the brood. They also make a special food necessary for the development of the larvae. As the bee gets older, duties change.
Worker bees are all female. They are the smallest and most plentiful bees in the hive, sometimes number in the thousands. In the spring and summer, when they are most active, they live only four to five weeks. In the winter, they may live several months.
Worker bees are the workhorses of the colony. House bees clean cells so they can be used again. Guard bees protect the hive. Wax bees build new cells and repair old ones. They construct the comb by secreting small flakes of wax through glands in their abdomen. They chew the wax, then place it and mold it into combs. Each comb is composed of many six-sided (hexagonal) chambers where the food (pollen and honey) is stored.
Foragers are the oldest and most experienced. They are given the most difficult task of collecting pollen and nectar. These are the bees you see. They also pollinate flowering plants, helping nature renew itself. Foraging workers perform complex idancesî to convey information to other bees such as where to find nectar or a good place to build a hive.
Of all the bees, the queen is the most important. There is only one queen in a colony. She is the largest one and the only female capable of laying eggs. She leaves the hive only to mate and then dedicates her life to laying eggs, possibly as many as 2,000 a day. The queen may live five years.
Drone bees are the colonyís males. They are incapable of feeding themselves and have no stinging abilities. Their only function is to mate with young queens. There are hundreds of drones per hive and they live for about three months.
When we eat honey, we are eating the beeís food. The bees have to work hard to make every drop of honey. Nectar, gathered by foraging honeybees, is stored in an organ inside a beeís abdomen, which is in front of the true stomach. When the honey is ripe, bees seal it in the cells with wax. It takes about 556 workers to gather 1 pound of honey from about 2 million flowers.
The Cabarrus County Beekeepers Association meets the fourth Friday of each month at Troutmanís BBQ on U.S. 601 at 6:30 pm. They welcome beginners, families and experienced beekeepers.
To report a swarm of bees for collection, contact the Cabarrus County Extension Office at 704-920-3310.

Melody Wilkes is owner of A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company that provides outreach wildlife programs. Contact her at 704-436-9048 or visit www.awalkinthewoods.us.

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