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Children are naturally curious about bees and ask lots of questions. I hope these questions and answers are helpful and lead to even more curiosity about our wonderful honey bees.

Just for fun Jessie and I measured a worker bee by
putting a bit of honey on the ruler. You can do this easily.

worker bee on ruler
How did I get my bees?

swarm catching box with honey bees walking in

The above photo shows how I got some bees that had landed on a curb. I used a special swarm catching box with old comb in it so the bees were attracted to the familiar smell of a hive. You can see the bees actually marched right in!

swarm on dress form Dummy beekeeper with swarm box bees on frames

Sometimes swarms land on strange places. This swarm landed on a dress form that was on a sidewalk in downtown Petaluma. Then I remembered the title of the book Beekeeping for Dummies so I just had to dress the "dummy" in my beesuit after I got the bees in the swarm catching box!

Moving bees into Griffin's hive

In the photo on the left you can see how the bees in the small box are transferred to a full sized hive. This swarm became a good working colony for Griffin by the following spring of 2005.

What jobs do the bees have?
The answer to that depends on what kind of bee it is and how old it is.

worker bee, queen bee, drone bee on brood frame

This is what we call a brood frame. If you look carefully, you will see one special bee that has a red dot painted on her thorax. She is the queen. Her only job is to lay the eggs in the cells. Most of the other bees in this picture are her daughters who are called workers. That's right! The girls do all the work in the hive starting with housekeeping minutes after they are born! The first three weeks of their lives they are assigned indoor jobs such as feeding the larvae. The next three weeks they are foraging bees that go out to the flowers to bring back nectar and pollen. In the Spring and Summer the workers last only about six weeks. The fattest bees with the biggest eyes are the drones which are boys. They do no work at all. Their only purpose in life is to mate with a queen so she can have daughters and then the drone dies. Drones have no stingers so they do not defend the hive. The girls remove the left over drones when food is scarce.

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six different colors of pollen on six bees
This is a picture of six colors of pollen.When you are a beekeeper, you will start looking at flowers differently than before. You will notice not all pollen is yellow. When a bee is out foraging, it collects only one type of pollen each trip so the excess pollen it drops will go to a plant in the same family. For example a bee may go from apple blossom to apple blossom. She doesn't care if they are not the same varieties of apples as long as they are apples.
In the photo below on the left the bee is collecting pollen from white clover.
The photo of the bees carrying many different colors of pollen was taken by Ron van Mierlo in Sweden.

How do the bees carry the pollen?

bee with clover pollendrawing of bee with full pollen baskets

In the photo on the left you can see the back legs are used to carry pollen. Only the worker bees have these special back legs.The bee moistens the pollen and uses the middle legs to pack the pollen in the pollen baskets.
The drawing on the right showing this action as a bee is flying is from 1919 edition of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture published by the A.I. Root Company, Medina, Ohio. The newest edition of the book is a good reference book. Look for it in your public library. It is organized like an encyclopedia so you can look up all kinds of information. The older editions are interesting and can be found in many used bookstores.

Pollen that is not packed on the back legs stays on the other hairy parts of the bee until it falls off onto the stigma of the next flower the bee lands on. That pollinates it so it will produce seeds for the next generation of that plant. About one-third of the total human diet comes directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants (fruits, legumes and vegetables). Honey bees' pollination is very important.

What do the bees do with the honey and pollen they collect?
They eat the honey to give themselves energy. The pollen is mixed with honey and fed to the larvae. Nurse bees eat honey and pollen so they can produce royal jelly. The larvae are like little caterpillars only they can't go out to find food for themselves so the nurse bees feed them for six days after they hatched and before they spin cocoons. We call the eggs, larvae and pupae "brood." After 21 days the worker pupae emerges as an adult bee. She has to chew her way out through the special wax cappings the nurse bees put over the pupae. The picture below shows adult bees hatching. You can see that the other bees don't help them into the world. Soon after these bees hatch, they will be cleaning the brood area.

worker hatchingbees hatching

How do bees "talk" to each other?

bees touching each other

In this photo you can see the bees touching each other's antennae. They are communicating information. They also are known to have special dances on the honey comb called "waggle dances" where one bee will tell the others where the flowers are that have nectar and pollen.

brood frame showing capped honey, pollen and brood
In this picture you can see how the bees store honey and pollen in an arch over the brood area. The honey is capped with almost white wax to keep it fresh. The pollen mixed with honey is just below the honey close to where the queen lays the eggs. This is so it is handy for the nurse bees to take it to the larvae. The pupae are capped with a light brown wax to protect them until they hatch out.

What can hurt the bees?
mite on bee's wing bee with deformed wingsperfect worker bee

One thing that hurts bees is varroa mites. You can see one on the left top wing of the bee on the left. The varroa mites spend part of their life cycle living off the brood. If there are enough of them, the hive will die. The mites also carry a disease called deformed wing virus which cripples the bees.You can see the bee in the middle has deformed wings. This deformed bee was carried out of the hive when it was still alive. The colony did not want it. Compare its wings to the one on the right.

Other bee predators are a tracheal mite that bores a hole in the bee's wind pipe, dragonflies, ants, yellowjackets, some birds, skunks and bears. People think bears are after the honey when they rob hives. Actually they eat the bees and the larvae which are a source of protein for the bears. They enjoy the honey, too. Mice, rats and wax moths will destroy the wax combs and the wooden hives.

A few suggested books you will find helpful:
The Magic School Bus Inside a Beehive by Joanne Cole, Scholastic 1996-
very basic book for younger children, also available as a video (published in Spanish also)
Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston, Hungry Minds, Inc 2002-
an excellent reference book with good up-to-date information, easy to find at bookstores
How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey by Walter T. Kelley, Walter T. Kelley Co. 1993 a classic, with good pictures and lots of well tested information
Honey Bee Hobbyiest, The Care and Keeping of Bees by Norman Gary, PhD
published 2010 by Bow Tie Press. Very good illustrations and easy to understand. Lots of good, practical tips by the author who has worked with bees and taught at U.C. Davis for many years.
Life of the Honey Bee by Heiderose and Andreas Fischer-Nagel, Carolrhoda Books, Inc. 1986 This is for children and has great pictures and good information.
Are You a Bee? By Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries, Backyard Books, Kingfiser, 2001 An excellent book for children with good clear drawings and information. It was recommended to me by a first grade teacher who uses it with his class.
Letters from the Hive, An Intimate History of Bees, Honey and Humankind By Stephen Buchmann with Banning Repplier, Bantam Books, 2005 A brand new book packed with information and lots of history of bees and honey.More for adult beekeepers but older children can learn from it, too.
When the Bees Fly Home By Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Joline McFadden , Tilbury House Publishers, 2002 A touching, realistic story of a boy who finds a way to help his beekeeper father. The illustrations are great! Bee facts are on every page.
The Bee by Paul Starosta, Charlesbridge Publishing 2005 translated from French byElizabeth Uhlig This is one of the most complete factual books on honey bees every written for children. It even includes some information about yellow jackets, and other bee cousins. The photography is stunning!
The Backyard Beekeeper, An Absolute Beginner's Guide to keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden by Kim Flottum, Quarry Books 2005 This is the most up-to-date comprehensive book every beekeeper should own. The author has used his extensive knowledge gained as editor of Bee Culture magazine to put together this book with extensive photos of every aspect of beekeeping.
Understanding the Honey Bee by Purdue University Purdue Extension 4-H-571-W
contact Knowledge to Go 1-888-EXT-INFO to order. It is a great project manual each 4-H beekeeper should have.

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For more information about swarm catching or other beekeeping interests my e-mail is peterson@svn.net

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