The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is responsible for approximately 80% of the pollination of fruits, nut, grains, and vegetables in the United States today. Honey bees are not native to North America; they were brought here by European settlers in the colonial days to pollinate their crops and for the products created or gathered by the honey bees-honey, propolis, royal jelly, pollen, and beeswax.
But their contribution to mankind does not end there. More recently, research indicates that honey bee venom therapy may ultimately provide treatments for a variety of medical conditions in humans, including arthritis.
The greatest value of honey bees is in their service as pollinators which far outweigh their value as honey producers. The honey bee is well adapted for pollination. Each colony contains thousands of individuals which are available to forage for the food (pollen and nectar) that's required to rear their young. Like other bees, their sense of smell, eyes, mouthparts, and numerous branched body hairs are ideally suited for finding food sources, sipping nectar, and collecting and distributing pollen.
Honey bees visit a wide variety of flower types. In a single day, one bee makes 12 or more trips from the hive, visiting several thousand flowers. On each trip, it confines its visit to one plant species, collecting one kind of pollen.
Honey bees have a complex communication system that enables the colony to find and collect food with maximum efficiency. These characteristics make honey bees a most valuable agent for cross-pollinating crops.
Other honey bee facts:
• Cornell University estimated the direct value of honey bee pollination in U. S. agriculture in the year 2000 at $14.6 billion.
• Honey was used in ancient times by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to pay taxes, as food sweeteners, in religious ceremonies, and to treat many medical conditions, including wounds.
• Honey contains vitamins, antioxidants, and is antimicrobial.
• Honey bees have 4 wings that beat 11,440 times per minute.
• Honey bees fly at a rate of 12 miles per hour.
• Bees possess five eyes: three small ones in a triangle on top of its head and a large compound eye on each side of its head.
• Bees cannot recognize the color red.
• Honey bees in a colony will fly approximately 55,000 miles and visit 2 million plants to make one pound of honey.
• The honeycomb is composed of hexagonal cells with walls that are only 2/1000 inch thick, but support 25 times their own weight.
• In the course of her lifetime, a worker bee will produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.
• One colony can produce from 60-100 pounds of honey per year.
Who would have though that such a tiny creature could have such a major influence on human welfare?
Deborah Rankin is also a beekeeper and a member of the Texas Association of Beekeepers. For more information on honey bee queens and a humorous "interview," click on this link (article from The Galveston County Master Gardener, a monthly newsletter for Master Gardener volunteers).
Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-KindTM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.
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