Questions and Answers from E-Mail:

Beekeeping Trivia

Q. I want to make important people notice me at beekeeper's meetings. What can I say that sounds intelligent? - from CCM, 1/04/97
A. Most folks sound the brightest when they say the least, or as Mark Twain said, "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." However, if you must speak, you might casually mention, within the course of a normal conversation, that the scientist Democritus (one of the brightest of ancient Greece) believed that bees arise spontaneously from rotting bull carcasses. This helps put most of what we scientists have to say today into a proper context.

Q. This might sound like a really stupid question - do beekeepers get stung? Or can you keep them from stinging by thinking happy thoughts? - from MM, 12/11/96
A. Brighter people than I have said - There are no stupid questions, just stupid people. Do cows fly? Do birds bellow? Of course beekeepers get stung - sometimes as often as several hundred times a day! (One beekeeper has written that he's been stung as many as 500 times annaly. Not sure, but that might be a mispell!) By the way, I always think happy thoughts and seldom get stung - there must be some strong correlation that a biologist with some factoral analysis skills could verify!

Q. My husband says I work like a bee, but I say bees never sleep. Do bees ever sleep? - from Sleepy in Portland, 12/16/97
A. OK, we don't know if bees ever sleep, so we asked an expert. Dr. Richard Bonney says, "Bees are much like other creatures in the pattern of their day. They work, sleep, and hang out. Studies have shown that they will work about 8 hours per day (assuming there is work to be done), patrol the hive looking for work to be done for about 8 hours per day, and rest or sleep for the balance of the time." Also, the world-famous German researcher Dr. Kaiser, who has actually studied sleep patterns in insects and even published a scientific paper called Sleep in Insects, says that apparently there are always some bees awake and active, on the brood comb for instance. Others go to the edge of the comb or into empty cells, or sometimes to the hive floor, and take up resting postures including lying on their sides. They remain motionless for long periods during the night, though like any sleeping animals there is occasional stirring - respiratory movement, leg jerks, and antenna movement, for instance. My take on this is that the bees are dreaming.

Q. My six year old wants to know, do bees have bones? - from HR, 9/9/96
A. I suspect you and your six year old would like to know if bees have bones, otherwise you would have made up an answer and saved the trouble of e-mailing me. The innards of the bee sort of slosh around within a package covered in something called an exo-skeleton which is somehow similar to toe nails in humans. Next time you (or the youngster) feel like chewing a nail, you might consider munching a bug.

Q. I have heard that bees are sold by the pound? How many bees are in the pound? How many bees could I buy for a penny? - from ST, 1/16/96
A. This is correct, masses of bees are often dumped into cages and weighed, then sold. People who want to buy bees usually purchase a queen bee plus two or three pounds of bees. This amounts to 6,000 or 9,000 worker bees which help start the new colony. Very crooked bee-sellers have been known to drop a few male, or drone, bees into the mass - these bulky boy bees add weight to the package but produce no honey! Now, to get to the heart of your question, how many bees can you buy for a penny? Bees in Canada this spring are selling for about $100 for a queen plus two pounds of workers (plus a few dead-weight drones), which means about $40 per pound for the workers, or you could get about three-quarters of one bee for a penny. I'd personally opt for the front 3/4's which includes a really neat royal jelly factory in the bee's head and omits the lancet end.

Q. Can a swarm be made to land in a tree by beating a drum? - from SD, 5/14/96
A. My guess is that the bees will not be interested in your music. Limited scientific research has not been able to indicate which type of music bees respond most favourably to - should the beat be loud and steady, staccato, or perhaps rhomboidal? For hundreds of years people would beat drums when swarms appeared. This was not so much to frighten the bees into landing as to alert the sleeping men of the house to put their boots on and go fetch the net. Some consider that since bees seem to know when a thunderstorm is approaching and therefore land their swarm before getting wet, making thunder noises (beating the drum) would trick the bees into landing. Now that we realize bees are pretty much deaf in the conventional sense (they can feel some vibrations, but not really any normal sounds) the theory is that perhaps the bees can sense a change in electromagnetic intensity. There is probably a great cottage industry to be had in building millions of tiny little static generators and selling them to beekeepers as swarm preventers...

Q. I am doing a Grade 7 science report. Where can I get some bee mites? - from JMM, 11/21/96
A. You can probably find some mites in each and every colony of bees in North America. The little critters are pretty small and anyone who thinks his or her hives are 'mite-free' is unfortunately still uneducated. For a number of years, government inspectors would remove a few bees from a few hives and declare that such-and-such an apiary (or county or state) was 'mite-free' while perhaps another had mites. The hives with the mites were stacked into a big pile and burned. If the inspectors had studied their Grade 7 mathematics, they would have known a bit about statistics and probability. They would have known that half the colonies which were found 'mite-free' were actually infested and the poor folks who had their bees and businesses destroyed had basically bought the wrong lottery ticket. In the end, thousands of hives were destroyed all over North America, the mite spread anyway (in at least one case, inspectors doing experiments accidentally moved new mites into one country!) and voila! mites everywhere. If you want to grow up to be a scientist, please don't forget to study some math! By the way, this probably doesn't answer your question, does it? Exactly why do you want those bee mites, anyway?

Q. I am writing from the U.K. We have an office bet - How do bees mate?... What's the story? - from RSM, 7/28/96
A. Here in Canada, every small child learns about the birds and the bees. Unfortunately, that's about as far as their education in such matters goes. Apparently, you are not so lucky on the other side...
So, you need bee repro info to win a bet! Perhaps you should tell me how you voted and I can adjust my answer to suit your needs! Well, anyway... The details vary from species to species but the honey bee actually has three basic types in a hive: the queen is definitely a lady; the several hundred males living in the colony are called drones; whilst the tens of thousands of workers are undeveloped females. Undeveloped means they have part of the female bee anatomy, but only undeveloped ovarioles and they can not mate.
It is left to the queen to produce all the eggs which will eventually develop into new bees for the colony. A new queen (under two weeks old) will mate, in the air, with several (5-15) drones. The drone then dies, having given up an important part of his body in the process. The mating takes place when the queen leaves her hive, flies about 50 to 100 metres high and several kilometres from her home. She has an odour which the boys apparently find attractive because they follow her in great number, in competition for the opportunity to die for the queen, as it were. The fact that this act occurs with multiple donors and far afield has made it difficult for bee breeders to maintain pure or specialized stock. (In the past few years artificial insemination has been used to develop special lines and hybrids. I'll omit the details, but it involves a syringe and a very tiny anesthetizing unit.)
The naturally mated queen returns to the hive and will produce hundreds of thousands of off-spring without ever mating again. The queen can lay eggs which are fertile (using the stuff gathered earlier in her life from the donors) or unfertile. Unfertile eggs develop into healthy baby boys (drone bees) which contain Mom's DNA only, because the guys are haploids (half set of chromosomes). Therefore, drones have no father. But they do have a grandfather, on the Mom's side, because Mom, the queen, developed from a fertilized egg, which means there was a guy involved, even though he was long dead by the time the new queen was born. You can see why nature forces the queen to multiple mate once, far from her home colony. If she stayed home or mated over several months or years, she might be mating with drones which contained DNA identical to her own - in effect, she'd be mating with herself.
For the exceptionally curious, we need to resolve the problem of the other females, those thousands of workers in the colony. These poor gals also come from fully fertile eggs. But during those important formative days that we all go through, between larva and pupa stage, the worker bee is denied royal jelly. Without royal jelly in the early diet, the female does not get to be fully functional- she gets a sharper stinger, instead. She also only lives a few weeks while her royally fed sister gets to live for three or four years. Hence, the conclusion that if we all ate royal jelly we could live to be three thousand years old, or at least we could all lay eggs.
Now, aren't you sorry you asked?

Q. I was reading your web pages trivia page and didn't see the trivia I wanted. Where is it? - from ABT, 7/11/96
A. Well, if you had read the following answer, you would not have had to ask your question...
Honey bees eat about 20 pounds of honey to be able to produce one pound of beeswax.
Honey bees may fly 15 kilometers in search of food. They normally only go about 150 metres (1/100 as far) in pursuit of enemies!
Honey bees are almost entirely vegetarian - though, of course, they may eat their young if tempted.
Worker honey bees live for about 6 weeks but royal jelly inspired queens may live 4 years. The queen bee occupies her time by laying her weight in eggs - daily!
Being a bee-brain is quite flattering - the bee has the densest neuro-tissue of any creature.
Honey bees rarely fly backwards.

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