THURSDAY: What is the Eastern Carpenter Bee?

24 April 2014


A native of the eastern United States, the eastern carpenter bee (formally, xylocopa virginica) is one of several species of carpenter bees native to North America.    The “Eastern” carpenter is black except for a furry yellow abdomen.  But the male “Eastern” has a patch of white or yellow on his face.  Both males and females have a shiny black abdomen, which clearly distinguishes “Eastern’s” from the furry bumble bee.

Although all bees are social, the carpenter, like the bumble bee, is the nearest thing to a “loner” bee.  These bees don’t fly in groups when they’re searching for flowers.  A lone carpenter flies alone wandering (“foraging”) from flower to flower gathering pollen and eating nectar.

Like most other types of carpenters, the Eastern is an important pollinator of open face flowers.  Most bees draw nectar up and out of the blossom, but  the Eastern can be a “nectar robber.”   These bees “rob nectar” by tunneling into the sides of flowers in the same way they tunnel into wood to build their nests.

And it’s this tunneling behavior that earns these bees the name “carpenter.”  Easterns, like all carpenters, build their nests in the hollow areas they create in soft wood.  They have a reputation for damaging wooden structures that is not completely deserved.  Woodpeckers seek out carpenter bee larvae for food and frequently “do most of the damage” when they peck on the wood near the carpenter bees’ nest.


THURSDAY: What is the Valley Carpenter Bee?

24 April 2014


A native of the Pacific Coast of the United States and Mexico, the Valley Carpenter Bee (formally, xylocopa varipuncta) is one of several species of Carpenter bees native to North America.  The “valley” female is black, but the male stands out with his yellow color and green eyes.  Like all carpenter bees, the “valley” looks furry like a bumblebee.   But, unlike a bumble bee, the “valley” has a bare, shiny spot on its upper stomach.

Although all bees are social, the carpenter, like the bumble bee, is the nearest thing to a “loner” bee.  When searching for flowers, these bees don’t fly in groups.  A single bee will fly alone wandering (“foraging”) from flower to flower gathering pollen and eating nectar.  The “valley” likes “yellow composite flowers” such as the Aster, Daisy or Sunflower (members of the Asteraceae family).

These bees are called “carpenters” because they hollow out spaces in wood to build their nests.  “Valley’s” like to locate their nests in old agave stalks or any rotting limb (soft wood).  They’ve been known to build nests in telephone poles.  But they avoid painted or stained wood.

Valley’s share North America with several other species of carpenter bees.  They are easy to confuse with the bumble bee, but carpenters stand out as much larger than the small honey bees that live in hives.

THURSDAY: What is a Drone Bee?

17 April 2014


Drones are male honey bees found in small numbers in the typical hive of female worker bees and a single female queen.   The term drone originally meant “male honey bee” but, later, came to mean ‘lazy worker’ or a person who contributes nothing to an enterprise. This is because male bees make no honey and participate in none of the regular activates of the hive.  A drone only mates with a queen.

Drone bees have larger eyes than the workers or queen, and a larger body than the workers, though not larger than the queen. They cannot sting. The drones fly regularly in the early afternoons and gather together in specific areas some distance from the hive. These areas, where the drones gather, are the source of a mystery.

About 30 to 100 feet above the ground, the drones’ gathering or “congregation” area can be vary from 90 to 600 feet in width. All of the hive’s drones die long before the birth of the next generation of drones.   But, mysteriously, the young drones will seek out the same congregation area used by their unknown fathers. These areas can remain in the same place for as long as 12 years. It is believed that some characteristic of the area must explain the ability of each generation to find their way to the same spot.  Although often found above open ground in areas sheltered from the wind, some congregation areas are above water or above dense tree growth.

If the hive is located in a place with cold winters, the drones will be forced out of the hive in autumn. A new generation of drones will be born and raised in the spring.  Drones live for about 90 days.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

THURSDAY: What is a Honeycomb?

17 April 2014


A honeycomb is a structure produced by honey bees inside their hive. The honeycomb is made of a wax produced by the bees (logically) called “beeswax.” The honeycomb is a mass of six-sided (hexagonal) cells or compartments.

For the honeybees, the comb’s compartments have two uses. First, the bees raise the queen’s young in individual cells. Second, the bees store food, honey, and pollen in the cells.

The combs used to raise young bees are called brood combs.  These combs can become dark and soiled (“travel stained”).   But other honeycombs are used to store honey.

Beekeepers provide their bees with hives constructed with sliding drawers.  Each drawer holds a single honeycomb. The honeycomb slides out and is uncapped. “Uncapping” is the removal of wax seals placed over the cells in which honey is stored.   After uncapping, the beekeeper will often use a honey extractor, which rapidly spins the comb to force all the honey out of the cells.

Beekeepers often return the empty honeycombs to the hive because the bees use a lot of time and energy building new combs. And the beekeeper would rather the bees use their time and energy to gather more honey instead.

With age, combs wear out. Then, beekeepers may process the comb for beeswax – a commercially valuable product.  But, often, beekeepers cut the comb into thin sheets and reinsert the sheets into hives. The thin sheet of comb with its pattern of six-sided cells works as a kind of “foundation” for the bees building a new honeycomb. With this “starter sheet” the bees will build a new comb much more quickly.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

Thursday 17 April 2014

THURSDAY: What is a Worker Bee?

17 April 2014


The best known “worker bee” is the worker (honey) bee. Unlike the queen bee, these female “workers” are unable to reproduce themselves. Their labor and activity is directed toward feeding and caring a single queen and her many young.   Among honey bees, a single queen, her young, and the workers bees are members of a community living in a single bee hive.

The worker bee begins her life, like all other honey bees, as an egg laid by the queen. A worker bee hatches in 3 days and is fed by mature worker bee “nurses” for another 6 days. Then, the young worker bee goes through her “pupa” stage. As a “pupa,” she becomes inactive and is sealed in a capped cell in the honey comb. She emerges 24 days later as a full grown worker bee.

Added to the job of caring directly for the young bees, (including workers, queens, and drones), the worker bees keep the hive at an even temperature, again, for the benefit of the eggs and young bees. If the hive gets too hot, the workers collect water and spread it around the hive. Then, they use their wings to fan air over the water and into the hive – a form of air conditioning that, when used by people, is called “evaporative cooling.” If the hive gets too cold, the workers crowd together to warm the hive with their body heat.

But this bee isn’t called “worker” for nothing. Her most public job is gathering nectar and pollen. The worker bees can be seen flying from blossom to blossom. First, the bee consumes some sugary nectar from each blossom to keep herself going.   But most of the nectar the worker bee collects is stored and turned into honey. Second, the bee gathers pollen from each blossom and stores it in small sacks on her back legs.

The worker returns to the hive with her load of honey and pollen. Then, with the help of her fellow workers, that honey and pollen is stored in the cells of the hive’s honeycomb. The stored honey will be eaten during the winter months. The stored pollen can be eaten, but is also fed directly to immature bees. The workers also use pollen to produce a super food, royal jelly, which is fed to immature bees and the hive’s queen.

I should mention another job the worker bee performs. This job isn’t about the hive. As the worker bee moves from flower to flower gathering pollen, some of the pollen gathered from one blossom, rubs off as the bee is gathering honey and pollen from another blossom. This “pollination” fertilizes the blossom so that the plant or tree can produce fruit and seeds.

Without this “accidental” pollination by the worker bee, about 80% of the food consumed by human beings and animals wouldn’t exist. Oh, did I say 80%?   The rest of the food consumed by humans, the other 20%, is meat and milk taken from animals.  But those animal wouldn’t exist to produce meat or milk if they hadn’t been able to eat  the seed, grain, and fruit that resulted from worker bee’s accidental pollination.  In other words, 99% of our food supply wouldn’t exist without worker bees.

The really short answer is — the worker bee’s “work” directly supports all civilized life on earth.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

THURSDAY: What is Beeswax?

17 April 2014


As the name suggests, beeswax is a type of wax made by honey bees in their hive.   The “wax” starts out as a glandular secretion of the worker honey bees, which is colorless and clear as glass.   But, after some chewing by the bees, the wax becomes the white color of the familiar honeycomb. Later, as the honeycomb comes into contact with pollen and honey, it can take on a yellow or light brown color.

The honeycomb is composed of “cells” in which the hive’s bees raise young bees and store food in the form of pollen and honey. To remove the honey from the honeycomb, the beekeeper removes the wax caps from the comb’s cells. After the honey is extracted, the empty comb is heated to remove impurities.

Historically, beeswax was used for almost everything from cosmetics to dental filings. In modern times, the wax is still used widely in cosmetics and as a food additive. The traditional use of beeswax for fine candles continues although, in candle-making, beeswax has the drawback of easily catching fire.

Beeswax is separated into three types. “Yellow beeswax” is unprocessed and obtained directly from the honeycomb. “White beeswax” is produced by bleaching yellow beeswax until it has a white color.  And, finally, “beeswax absolute” is produced by treating yellow beeswax with alcohol.

Beeswax is used in the widest variety of modern products including lip balm, lip gloss, eye shadow, eye liner, moustache wax, shoe polish, furniture polish, and surfboard wax — to name just a few.

Click for ReDirect to New Blog: “What is the ‘German Bee’?”

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Grossmann’s Bees: What is a “German Bee”?















































































































17 April 2014


No bee has more names than the German bee including the “Black Bee” and the “European Dark Bee.” All honey bees of are one species, apis mellifera. The differences are often in the subspecies. The German subspecies has the distinction of being named after the species itself. So all honey bees are of the species apis mellifera, but the German subspecies is also called mellifera. This produces a sort of echo when you say the name.  The German bee is formally called, apis mellifera mellifera (or “A. m. mellifera” for short).

Honey bees are not only divided into subspecies, but some subspecies are divided into breeds, like dogs. All varieties, or breeds, of the German bee are quite dark ranging in color from almost black to dark brown. From a distance they all tend to look black.

Oddly, the “German” bee originated in Great Britain and Northern Europe and was only later introduced to Germany. This bee is a good pollinator and honey producer, but particularly short tempered often stinging people and animals for no good reason.

But what it lacks in temperament, it makes up for in good health. This bee remains healthy in places with extremely cold winters.  So. it was “a natural” for Northern Europe with beekeepers so happy with the healthy, productive hives, that they were willing to put up with the stings.

Why was this ill-tempered honey bee the first introduced to North America in the 1600’s? Again, this bee was healthy enough to survive the ocean trip to the New World and, then, thrive in the cold winters of what is now the Northeastern United States. Because honey bees weren’t native to North America, once introduced, the German bee had the whole continent to itself and quickly spread far and wide.

Later, the German bee fell victim to disease in both Great Britain and the United States.   After the successful introduction of the Italian bee to Northern Europe and North America in the 1850’s, the German subspecies became quite rare, but still survives in small numbers on both continents.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri