Nearly everyone is familiar with the honey bee (Apis Millifera). I am always impressed by the activity one little insect can generate by flying through a group of people on a summer picnic. If the bee flies within two feet of a person that person begins to fan the air in attempt to drive the bee away. I think that people would be more tolerant of the presence of bees if they knew more about them. This article discusses some facts about the bee that I think are quite amazing.
Many bees that approach people are not honey bees, but are drone carpenter bees. Carpenter drones seem to show a curiosity toward people. Drone bees have no stingers and therefore cannot sting you. Since the average person cannot tell the difference between honey bees and carpenter bees, or between a drone and a female, we should try do get rid of the bee around our head as non-aggressively as possible. If a female bee fears that she is in danger she is more likely to become aggressive herself and sting you. Violent swatting at the bee will probably increase your chances of being stung.
One of the amazing things about bees is how much work they do that is a direct benefit to humans. About 1/3 of the food crops harvested each year grow because they were pollinated by insects. Honey bees do the vast majority of insect pollination. The value of crop pollination by honey bees in The United States in 2009 was estimated at $15 Billion.
In 2009 honey production in the United States was the lowest it has been in many years and totaled 120 million pounds. Each worker bee produces about one teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. Billions of bees have worked their whole lives to provide the honey we spread on our breakfast toast.
In addition to their stomach bees have an internal nectar pouch. In this internal pouch the bee deposits the nectar gathered from her foraging until she can return to the hive. A bee may have to frequent as many as 1000 flowers to fill her internal nectar pouch with nectar. Some people think the little saddlebags on the back legs of the bee contain the nectar. These little bags are actually pollen.
Bees produce beeswax to build their hexagonal shaped honeycombs and brood cells. The U.S. harvests about 10,000 tons of beeswax annually. It is used to make fine candles, furniture waxes, polishes, cosmetics and shoe polish.
One of the most interesting uses of beeswax is to manufacture PRP. NASA technology turns beeswax into extremely small hollow spheres known as PRP (Petroleum Remedial Product). This product is a very fine powder that when spread on an oil spill absorbs 20 times its weight in oil. It holds the oil and it floats, thus keeping the oil off the bottom of the ocean or its estuaries. As a serendipity bonus, the wax provides food for and acts as a stimulus for indigenous microbes that consume the oil.
Bees also produce propolis, a sticky glue-like substance with which they repair their hive. This product is the basis for some wood varnishes and bonding agents. Propolis has a long history of uses in traditional medicine and is claimed to be beneficial in the treatment of inflammations and minor burns. It is said to be effective in treating fungal infections and even reduce the probability of developing cataracts.
In areas where honey bees have disappeared their ecological niche is often filled by more aggressive and less useful insects such as other species of bees or hornets and wasps.
We should be more than happy to share our neighborhoods with these marvelous little insects.