Honey bees are not native to North America, but were brought here from Europe. The most common type of honey bee normally found in the US is the Golden Italian - Apis Mellifera Ligustica. Bees travel from flower to flower gathering nectar which they bring back to the hive to turn into honey. It takes between 1000 to 1500 individual visits to fill just one sac and 60 full sacs to fill just one thimble with honey.
While gathering the nectar the bee gets covered in pollen and by traveling to many different flowers the bee transfers this pollen from one flower to another, a process known as pollination which is important to the reproduction of many plants. Honey bees account for about 80% insect pollination and are critical to agriculture.
Honey is a thick liquid produced by certain types of bees from the nectar of flowers. While many species of insects consume nectar, honeybees refine and concentrate nectar to make honey. Indeed, they make lots of honey so they will have plenty of food for times when flower nectar is unavailable, such as winter. Unlike most insects, honeybees remain active through the winter, consuming and metabolizing honey in order to keep from freezing to death.
Honey bees are highly social and live in large colonies called hives which can contain as many as 80,000 bees. Each hive has 1 queen who is larger than the other bees and lays all the eggs - up to 1500 per day. The queen has a large stinger and can use it multiple times. She can live up to 2 years.
Male bees are known as drones. They have no stinger. Only a small number of males are present in a hive at any time and they only live about 8 weeks. The drones only job is to mate with a new queen.
The remaining bees are known as worker bees and they are all female. When young they work in the hive, when they mature they become foragers and go out searching for nectar. Worker bees have a stinger but when used it gets ripped out of their abdomen, killing the bee.
Bees will sting to protect their hives so it is best to stay away or be very careful and quiet when near their hives. We have large signs at the Penrose Strawbridge House warning people to stay away from the hives.
The number of bee colonies in the US has fallen drastically in recent years and this loss is likely due to a number of factors including increased imports of honey from Asia and natural problems such as mites.
One problem causing issues for bees and beekeepers is a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) . First observed in 2006, the main symptom of CCD is simply no or a low number of adult honey bees present but with a live queen and no dead honey bees in the hive. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present. We saw what was likely CCD at the Penrose Strawrbridge House during the winter of 2011-12 where we found several hives where the bees had just disappeared.
Winter is also a problem for bees and in the cold winter of 2010-11 we also lost a number of hives, but in this case there were a large number of dead bees still present. The bees huddle together for warmth and probably exhausted their food supply where they were gathered. Even though there was plenty of honey just inches away, they were unable to get to it.
The Montgomery County Beekeepers' Association offers a great deal of information for bee keepers and for those interested in becoming a bee keeper.
While here at the Penrose Strawbridge House we have large area and a fairly large number of bees, you can start much smaller. Locally there are bee keepers in Philadelphia, Ambler, Glenside and many other urban and suburban areas. The bees can travel up to 2 miles to gather nectar.
You can also learn about bees here at the Penrose Strawbridge House. Please Contact Us if you would like to know more or get involved with our beekeeping program.