Honeybees are very useful to humans. As their name suggests, they make the sweet, delicious treat known as honey that we enjoy. They also make beeswax from which we make many useful items. But the most important thing bees do for us is to pollinate the plants. The honeybee visits flowers which secrete a sweet liquid called nectar. This water-like nectar is sipped from the blossoms by the bee and carried to the beehive. The raw nectar goes into the cells in almost the same condition as it was when the bee sipped it from the flowers.
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It is inside the hive that house bees evaporate the nectar down to the thick consistency which is what we know as commercial honey. We usually think of the main use of honey as a spread on bread, pancakes or biscuits. However, honey has a large use in cooking; such as pastries, canned foods, milk drinks, desserts, frostings, syrups, and salad dressings. Honey contains simple sugars and does not require digestion like regular sugar, so it is useful for quick energy pick up and even for diabetic people.
Most honey is sold as extracted honey but it is also sold on the honeycomb which is the wax chambers the bees make in the hive in which to store the honey. The wax comes from a worker bee’s belly when she is fourteen to twenty-one days old. The wax chambers are just big enough for a bee to crawl inside. Sometimes people like to eat honeycomb. It can be eaten on toast or as is; then the wax becomes like a chewing gum, but like chewing gum it should not be swallowed. In recent years a new process called the Dyce process has made it possible to make a very nice granulated honey called creamed honey which is gaining in popularity.
However, granulated honey is not used much commercially because it is still an almost unknown honey product. Beeswax is the second most important product produced by the honeybees. Beeswax, the earliest of waxes, has been used in the form of candles for lighting. This is today the second largest use of beeswax. The Roman Catholic Church used to require that pure beeswax candles be used in church but as the numbers of churches grew there wasn’t enough beeswax available so that now the Catholic Church requires that candles are at least 51 percent beeswax.
The reason the church requires beeswax candles is because the candles do not smoke. Probably the largest user of beeswax today is the cosmetic industry. Beeswax is used as the emulsifying agent in face creams, lipsticks, lotions and rouges. It is also used in shoe polish, sporting goods and military hardware. The beekeeper himself is the third largest user of beeswax which he gives to the bees as the base of their new comb. There are 70 or more commercial uses of beeswax today.
Each year in the United States some 200 million pounds of honey and four to six million pounds of beeswax are produced. Honeybees are not the only insect that pollinates plants, but they are the best. A lot of our food, such as corn, tomatoes, peas, squash, strawberries, apples, pears, and watermelon would not continue without this pollination. During the last three weeks of a worker bee’s life, they fly out of the hives as a forager. The bees take pollen and nectar to the hive and deposit it into cells. During a foraging trip each individual bee will collect pollen from just one kind of plant.
By doing this, each bee helps pollinate the blossoms. When the bee crawls around on the blossom, the pollen (containing male plant reproductive cells) clings to fine hairs located on the bee’s legs. The pollen is carried from one blossom to another blossom of the same kind of plant, where it sticks to the female part of the flower. Without pollination plants would not produce fruit or seeds. Without seeds now new plants could grow. Pollen is carried in small pollen baskets on the outer sides of the bees legs.
In order to fill the baskets with pollen, the bee uses her mouth parts and scrapes the pollen from the blossoms and hairs on her leg to secure it in the basket. The pollen is also known as bee bread. This is because the bee eats the pollen. When bees find a good supply of food they use sign language. They return to the hive and perform a dance to show other bees where to find food. There are two kinds of dances. The round dance tells the other bees that food is about 100 yards away or less. The wagging dance tells bees that food is at such an angle to the sun and how far away the food lies.
Tests have been made and even if the food is miles away, this dance is still extremely accurate. For some people bee venom is deadly, but for some people bee venom is good medicine. Some people who have arthritis (a swelling and pain in joints) pick up a bee by her head and hold her tail to the sore joint until the bee stings. The venom makes the joint swell up and this flushes out the arthritis. So as you can see, honeybees give us honey, wax, and comb. They also pollinate our flowers. Therefore they are a very important resource.