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Why are honeybees important?

Honeybees are one of the most important pollinators of the fruits and vegetables we eat. Honeybees are not native to the US, they were brought here by early settlers from Europe to pollenate the crops they brought with them. If not for honeybees the product section at the grocery store would be about 75% smaller! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture these under-appreciated workers pollinate 80% of our flowering crops. Apples, almonds, watermelons, broccoli, cucumbers, cherries, oranges, peaches, and cranberries are just a few of the many crops that bees pollinate.

What is the difference between Africanized honeybees and European honeybees?

European honey bees have a more calm demeanors than their Africanized sisters. Although you still want to avoid disturbing a hive, European bees tend to cause less damage and exhibit less aggression. To contrast, Africanized honey bees are far more defensive of their nests. They breed faster, are harder to find, and are more aggressive than the mild European honey bee. Physically, Africanized honey bees look just like European honey bees. Usually you have no way to tell the two breeds apart without viewing their behavior. Unfortunately, the only way to observe their behavior involves causing aggression, which is not advisable. If you find any bees on your property or in the wild, call a professional to identify and solve the problem.

Are Africanized bees taking over?

Unfortunately, because Africanized honey bees are so aggressive, they often drive the more mild European honey bees from the habitat humans have created for them. Not only that, but they have faster growth rates, they can produce more nests, and they produce more drones per colony than European honey bees do, which means that they produce more potential mates for the queens than European colonies do. On top of that, European honey bee queens prefer to mate with Africanized drones over European drones.Whenever an Africanized bee mates with a European bee, they tend to produce more Africanized bees. The African honey bee genetic traits are more dominant than the European honey bee traits. Since the Africanized bees are more powerful, aggressive, and attractive than their European counterparts, they’ve taken over in some parts of the US.

What causes bees to look for a new home?

Honey bees swarm for one of two reasons. Either the hive has become too crowded so they split into two groups (or more), with one group remaining in the existing hive. Or they abscond. In this case, all bees including the queen abandon the existing hive completely due to lack of food or water, parasite or disease infestation, frequent disturbance by humans or animals, weather changes, poor ventilation, or problems with the queen.

Western honey bees aren’t nearly as likely to abandon their hive as African honey bees, which tend to swarm more and be a bit more aggressive as well. Worker bees are able to detect when it’s time to swarm due to overcrowding of the hive or the lack of pheromone production from the queen. In preparation for the swarm, the workers will deprive the queen of food in order to slim her down so she can fly. They will also agitate and run her around in order to prevent her from laying many eggs. If they are going to swarm, they will create new queen cells and allow the queen to lay eggs so a new queen can emerge and take over the hive.

How do bees make honey?

Honeybees use nectar to make honey. Nectar is almost 80% water with some complex sugars. In North America, bees get nectar from flowers like clovers, dandelions, berry bushes and fruit tree blossoms. They use their long, tube-like tongues like straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers and they store it in their “honey stomach”. Bees actually have two stomachs, their honey stomach which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey stomach.

The honeybees return to the hive and pass the nectar onto other worker bees. These bees “chew” the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are breaking the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive. The bees then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees make the nectar dry even faster by fanning it with their wings. Once the honey is gooey enough, the bees seal off the cell of the honeycomb with a plug of wax. The honey is stored until it is eaten. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey.

What products do honeybees produce?

The main product produced by honeybees is of course Honey, but there are many other products that they create as well. Beeswax is produced by young worker bees to create the comb where they will store their honey. Propolis is another product from the beehive and is often called “bee glue”. Bees collect sap and other resins from plants to create the substance called Propolis which they then use to seal the hive, fill cracks, and cover foreign objects inside the hive. Propolis has antibiotic properties and and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria inside the hive. Finally, Royal Jelly, a food produced by the bees and fed to queen larvae, is another product from the hive. Royal Jelly is used as a dietary supplement by some people and is found in some beauty products.

What are the different jobs of the honeybees in a hive?

During the summer months a hive will grow to have between 20,000 – 50,000 bees. Most of these bees are called “workers”, infertile females that will spend their entire lives doing several different jobs in the hive. They transition through many different jobs during their lives starting with being a housekeeper and cleaning the hive, caring for baby bees, caring for the queen, collecting nectar and pollen, and guarding the hive. Drone bees are the only males in the hive and they have only one job; to mate with the queen and help her produce offspring. Each hive also has a queen bee. Her job is to keep the hive well stocked with new bees. Her sole job is to lay eggs and during her prime she can lay between 1,500 – 2,000 eggs a day!

I know nothing about bees, but I am interested in beekeeping. How do I get started?

First, contact your local beekeeping association. The most prominent one in this part of North Texas area is the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association. They can be a wealth of knowledge and help in getting started with beekeeping. Next, see if any of the clubs are offering beginning beekeeping classes. The CCHBA group often offers classes for beginners and can help you figure out where to purchase supplies and bees. Finally, find a local beekeeper and spend a day or two with them. Most beekeepers are willing to take on beginners to help them out.

What should I do if I get stung?

First, if the stinger remains on your skin, scrape it off with a finger nail or flat edge like on a credit card. Never use tweezers to remove a stinger, as squeezing it can cause more venom to release into your skin. Second, wash the sting with soap and water. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. However, if the swelling moves to other parts of your body, such as your face or neck, go to the emergency room immediately, as you might be having an allergic reaction. Other signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, nausea, hives, or dizziness.

Why don’t beekeepers remove honeybees for free?

A homeowner is not doing most beekeepers a favor by providing them access to the bees in a building or structure. There are much easier ways for beekeepers to get honey bees. Your situation is a real job that may require several hours of work to remove the bees and return the structure to a functional condition. This is work, and homeowners should be willing to pay for the job. Additionally, most hobby beekeepers who would potentially remove them for free do not have liability insurance. Therefore, many are reluctant to attempt taking apart a structure to remove bees for fear of causing damage to your home or building for which they cannot afford to repair.

I have a swarm of bees hanging on a bush or tree in my yard, what should I do to protect my family?

Generally, you should do nothing! A swarm of bees is a group of bees that are temporarily resting in your yard while they look for a new cavity in which to live. Usually, swarms are most frequent in the spring. They are not prone to sting unless disturbed by physical means (e.g. kids throwing rocks and hitting the swarm). Most swarms will leave within 1-3 days of first landing. However, inclement weather can delay a swarm’s departure. If the bees are in a location that you don’t feel is safe for your family or if they are not leaving on your own we can come and safely remove the swarm and relocate them to our bee farm.

How do honeybees communicate with each other?

If you know anything about honey bees, you know they’re all about their colonies. Every member of a hive—from the youngest worker bees to the queen herself—works to keep the colony healthy, productive, and thriving. Honey bees are excellent team players, which means they need to be great at communication—and they are! Bees use smell and movement to share information about food sources, hive productivity, and more. Honey bees produce various odor cues called pheromones to communicate with one another. Each type of pheromone has a different purpose and conveys a different message. For example, worker bees release a pheromone when they use their stinger. This odor acts as an alarm for any other nearby bees, alerting them to the presence of a threat. This is why beekeepers use smokers when they work around their hives: the smoke covers the scent of any alarm pheromones, preventing the entire colony from getting agitated.

The queen also produces vital pheromones for the hive. Her odor dissuades other females in the hive from mating with drones. It also lets the rest of the colony know that she’s alive and well. The presence of a queen—and her scent—keeps the other members of the hive productive. When her scent disappears, that’s a signal for the worker bees to start raising a new queen bee to take over. The other major part of how honey bees communicate with each other is movement—more specifically, dance. Worker bees use a series of movements known as the waggle dance to help each other find nearby food sources, water, and other points of interest. Whenever a bee comes back from a successful foraging trip, they’ll dance for the others so that everyone can find this vital resource. During this waggle dance, the honey bee will move in circles or a figure-eight pattern, vibrate its wings, and angle its body in relation to the sun. This information communicates in which direction a food source is located as well as how far it is from the hive.

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Honeybees pose a much more complex problem than the average pest when they decide to move into your home. The first problem is the type of hive they create, no other insects store honey and pollen in a wax hive like honeybees do. And second is that rather than arriving in small numbers and multiplying, honeybees arrive in swarms of 5,000 – 15,000 bees. So even if you treat the hive on the very same day they move in, you are still dealing with thousands of bees. While many pest control companies will still offer to come exterminate the hive, oftentimes you are left with a bigger problem than when you started. Extermination means that the honeybee colony is going to be killed with a chemical pesticide or foaming agent. Despite the fact that a pest control company may be licensed for this type of extermination, it doesn’t mean that they are well educated about honeybees, their colonies, or how to properly remove the remnants of the colony itself.

We often are asked to come in to fix problems left behind by failed attempts at exterminating and find a decaying hive full of poisoned honey and decomposing bees. While bee are living in a hive they do a very good job of keeping it a constant temperature so that the wax doesn’t melt. However, when a hive is exterminated and there are no longer bees beating their wings to keep it cool, the wax will start to melt very quickly in the Texas heat. When the wax melts honey will start to drip down walls and can cause staining on interior sheetrock. Also, you now have thousands of dead bees left to decay in your walls. They will over time start to smell very bad and can attract other unwanted pests and rodents. The bottom line is that extermination often causes more problems for your home than it fixes.

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