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Honey Bee Behavior

Bee HousesHumans have consumed the sweet honey produced by bees for hundreds of years, but these complex creatures do far more than create a topping for our toast. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that bees pollinate 80 percent of flowering crops, which amounts to about one third of everything we eat. Bees also pollinate much of the alfalfa fed to cattle, making them the single most important insect for human survival.

Beehives are made up of female worker bees, male drones and a queen. Most honeybee hives contain hundreds to thousands of worker bees, which create the hive from wax that they secrete from their abdomens. Drones are male bees whose only purpose is to mate with the queen and create new queens, after which they will be thrown out of the colony.

In order for bees to produce honey they must consume pollen and nectar from flowering plants. The honey is created from nectar and stored inside of honeycombs. Honey is the primary bee food source and is fed to larvae. Bee colonies can last for years without food, surviving off food stores.

Bees communicate with each other through the use of pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals released by each bee that influence the behavior of other bees in the hive. Pheromones can tell bees when to attack a predator, when to forage for food and when to lie dormant. Pheromones are so strong that bees will follow the cue to attack predators even through it means they will lose their stinger and die. Pheromones are essential to an orderly operation of all bees throughout the hive.

Unfortunately, the overuse of pesticides, disease and environmental devastation has led to a decrease in bee populations. To help create a bee-friendly environment you can do simple things, like limit insecticide use, plant a bee-friendly garden (native, single flower, non-hybrid varieties produce the most pollen) and support local beekeepers. Responsible honey harvesting should not damage the hive or the bees.

For more information on bees and how to become a beekeeper, visit the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association http://www.pugetsoundbees.org.