Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Little Things: Pollination at its Finest

honeybee by Jackie Woodcock

Here in the Adirondacks the stars are our night light, the crickets and bull frogs our bedtime lullaby.

This is a place where the simple things are seen and not overlooked. Mountain life affords us an advantage, serene surroundings to ponder about the little things and the opportunity to witness nature at work up close and personal.

With acres and sometimes miles of blooming trees and wildflowers, summertime affords us a bird’s eye view of pollination at its finest. We are witness to natures symphony as bees of all breeds buzz through the air, dancing from flower to flower sipping nectar in the wild. We see the art of creation, butterfly wings painted like miniature stained glass murals. Small they are but grand in design, these flying wonders are life keepers.

Every visit from a butterfly or bee, guarantees the continuation of that plant on farms, gardens and forest meadows. Bees are the leaders above all pollinators. These miniature creatures are responsible for ninety percent of the pollination of the world’s flowering plants. Without pollinators there is no fruit and therefore no seeds. One out of every three bites of food you eat, has a bee’s name on it. Life without them would be grim for man and animal alike.

Honeybees are equipped and ready to work the day they climb from their capped cell. Worker bees collect nectar and pollen from dawn till dusk for the survival of the colony. Honeybees were built to be busy not angry and only sting as a survival instinct. Every member of the hive has a purpose whether it be a nurse, forager, guard, Queen or drone who are strictly present for reproduction.

Worker bees at twenty-one days old are chosen as guards to protect the hive from intruders and danger. At this age, the honeybee’s venom is at maximum potency and serves as their weapon. Guard bees are alert at the entrance of the hive, positioned on their back four legs with their front two legs raised. Every bee entering the hive is examined by the guard’s front two legs and antennae. The guards can detect if an incoming bee belongs to its colony by the odor, each hive having its own particular odor. There is an exception to some bee strangers entering the hive.

Almost all drones, known or unknown, are allowed to enter the hive. Drones are male bees with no stingers and allow a larger gene pool to become available to mating Queens. Any honeybee who approaches the hive with a load of nectar or pollen is allowed entrance. The colony kindly accepts a free gift of food from another honeybee entering their hive.

Guards will sting and remove bumble bees and wasps and will attack skunks, raccoons and beekeepers. Beekeepers have the advantage, in that we can use smoke to mask the attack pheromones given off by members of the colony when their hive is disturbed for inspection or honey harvesting.

When a honeybee is away collecting food and not in protection mode for their family’s sake, they are some of the most amazing and docile creatures. Intricately designed, miniature miracles that bring life to the world. As an apiarist, on several occasions I have had the pleasure of holding one of these tiny miracles. It is in these times; you realize they are just working nine to five to take care of their families. Loyal to the death, faithful ’til the end.

Photo of honeybee by Jackie Woodcock.

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Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.

4 Responses

  1. Kirk says:

    I have a couple of 4 year old twins that are fascinated by the bees who come to visit the flowers around our house. I’m trying to figure out how to teach them that bees are little awesome friends. So far, it’s going pretty well but they seem to really struggle with not wanting to pet them and hold them. Any tips on the best way to help small kids understand how awesome bees are without them making bad choices due to thinking bees are awesome?

    • Jackie Woodcock says:

      Hi Kirk. It is so nice to hear you are teaching your little ones about bees! The approach that we have taken when teaching little ones about bees, is to explain that they are wild creatures that have a fear of humans. Perhaps you could explain to your twins that although they are small in comparison to you, that to a honeybee they are giants and can scare a honeybee causing them to sting. If that seems to abrupt, we have also simply explained that wild things are strictly meant to be observed such as bird, turtles, snakes and butterflies to list a few along with bees. I am hoping this helped a little.

  2. ADKBfly says:

    Honeybees are an introduced species….Most native bees, actually 70% here in the ADKs, are solitary.

    • Hello, thank you for reading my article and commenting. You are completely right, honeybees were introduced to the United States in 1622 by European settlers who owned up to 1000 hives per family and were managed by the children. There are many bees that pollinate in the wild the most widely known and utilized is honeybees and even bumble bees that are reared and cared for by beekeepers.

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