The Secret Life of Bees

This week is National Pollinators Week and to start it off let’s talk about bees. Not only do bees produce honey, but they also pollinate a large variety of plants. Unfortunately, their populations are threatened due to global climate change, pesticide use, and other factors. As a result, agriculture and plant life are affected.

In order to gain an appreciation for bees, it is important to understand their roles and how they contribute to the environment.

There are 4,000 bee species native to North America. They exist in colonies containing the queen bee, worker bee, and the drone. The queen bees and worker bees are both female, however the queen bees are the ones to reproduce. The worker bees pollinate and collect nectar for the hive. The drones job is to mate with the queen.

This image, featured in May 30, 1912 Bridgeton Pioneer, shows how bees collect pollen using the brushes on their hind legs.

Image showing the bees' hind legs and how it collects pollen.

In Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Scientist, Dr. McIndoo found that bees can smell and tastes after conducting thousands of experiments on bees. In testing the senses, the scientist used vinegar, lime sulfur, kerosene, carbolic acid, formic acid, peppermint oil, quinine, strychnine, and various honeys. It was found that they preferred honey and they were able to distinguish between the types of honey. They disliked peppermint the most. It is currently known that bees use their antennae to detect odor. Their antennae contains 170 odor receptors, enabling them to have a keen sense of smell. This compensates for their unsophisticated sense of taste.

This image from the article is featured in March 23, 1916 Bridgeton Pioneer.

A cartoon portrayal of the experiment testing bees' scents.

This image from the article featured in August 15, 1912 Bridgeton Pioneer shows an inexpensive bee observatory. The bees enter the bottom hole (where the arrow is pointed) and move towards the center where they can ascend. The hole at the top is most likely used for feeding and honey supering. To keep it dark, paper is placed along structure, and this is also used to keep it warm during the winter time.

Image of the observatory beehive.
Image with heading "Beekeepers School at Rutgers College" describes beekeeping classes held at Rutgers College.

This article, featured in January 08, 1921 Perth Amboy Evening News , mentions bee keeping sessions held in the Entomology Building at Rutgers College. Students can buzz with delight learning important beekeeping skills.

(Contributed by Kristi Chanda)

Sources:

Bees. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Bees

Bees. (2018). Retrieved from https://pestworldforkids.org/pest-guide/bees/

Foden, S. (2017, November 21). How Do Honey Bees Smell, Feel and Taste? Retrieved from https://animals.mom.me/honey-bees-smell-feel-taste-11598.html

Morin, A. (2020, February 6). Bumblebees are going extinct in a time of ‘climate chaos’. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/02/bumblebees-going-extinct-climate-change-pesticides/

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