Why are bees important?

Why are bees important?

by Dorothy Rieke

Cleopatra is an intriguing historical figure, but her story is a sad one. She lived the life of a queen but may have died by her own hand, fearing her future. In reality, Cleopatra succeeded in winning the hearts of the most unapproachable and ruthless men of her time. This attraction may have been partly because Cleopatra took care of her skin. Cleopatra had one thing in common with today’s women. She was concerned with the condition of her skin and her appearance. In fact, ancient sources relate the beauty of her skin and fresh complexion despite Egypt’s sun and sand which had negative effects on the skin. Under these adverse conditions, she succeeded in keeping her skin in good shape.   

Actually, she had access to one of the best skin care products which continues to be available today. Reportedly, she mixed honey with milk to make face masks and for baths. Today, make this same bath mixture by adding two cups of milk and 1/2 cup honey to bathwater. Both of these products exfoliate and moisturize the skin leaving it sweet-smelling and fresh.   

Honey has an interesting history. Flowering plants appeared 130 million years ago. The bees arrived later. The oldest fossilized honeycomb dates back three million years ago. The first record of beekeeping dates to 2400 B.C. in Cairo, Egypt. Some of the oldest honey found was in Egyptian tombs dated back several thousand years. In fact, 3,000-year-old honey, found in an ancient Egyptian tomb, hadn’t spoiled and was still edible. Honey is so acidic that it is difficult for spoiling bacteria to grow. A special enzyme found in a bee’s stomach inhibits the growth of bacteria and other organisms.   

Since that time, cultures around the world, including the Romans, Greeks, and Chinese, have used this substance in a variety of ways. Later, its use moved to England.   

Honeybee and Honeycomb with honey dipper on wooden table. Beekeeping concept.

Many legends concerned bees. An old limerick, very popular years ago in England, mentions honey. “I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on the knife.”   

A superstition concerned the actions of bees. Covering the hives was supposed to keep the bees from leaving when a death took place; having the bees in their hives was supposed to ensure that the dead person would live again.   

Honey is mostly 70 to 80% sugar, and the rest is water, minerals, and protein. Honey has many potential health benefits because it has antibacterial properties. In fact, honey is the only known food that has all the ingredients needed to keep humans alive. It contains water, vitamins, minerals, and necessary enzymes to give the body energy. Pinocembrin is an antioxidant in honey that is effective in improving the functions of the human brain. Today, honey is used in chronic wound management and for combating coughing spells. It may also help heart arteries to dilate, increasing blood flow to the heart. It also is responsible for preventing blood clot formation.   

Some of the oldest honey found was in Egyptian tombs dated back several thousand years. In fact, 3,000-year-old honey, found in an ancient Egyptian tomb, hadn’t spoiled and was still edible.

In addition, honey is used as an alternative medicine for such conditions as wound-healing and even cancer, in some cases. Down through the years, doctors have used this substance to reduce the duration of diarrhea, prevent acid reflux, fight infections, relieve colds and cough symptoms, and replace sugar in diets. Other practitioners suggest using honey for stress, sleep disturbance, bad breath, infant teething pain, asthma, hiccups, stomach ulcers, dysentery, vomiting, high blood pressure, eczema, and dermatitis. These practices may not be part of doctors’ educational knowledge; however, they, in most cases, are worth a try.   

Today, honey is considered as a moisturizer, as an antibacterial, and as a flavoring. It is used in the production of face masks, hair lighteners, and hair conditioners. It also is good for treating acne-prone skin and for all skin types, especially for healing. In fact, honey can be used to treat wounds because it releases hydrogen peroxide.   

Honeybees are all-important pollinators for flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They help other plants grow by transferring pollen between the male and female parts of plants. This allows plants to reproduce using seed and fruit.   

In order to be effective at their jobs, these bees have one hundred seventy odorant receptors used to communicate within the hive and recognize the different types of flowers when searching for food.   

A bee collects honey from a flower in nature.

There are three types of bees in each colony. The queen lays the eggs spawning the hive’s next generation of bees. She also produces chemicals that guide the behavior of other bees. She may live up to five years,   

All female worker bees forage for pollen and nectar from flowers, build and protect the hive, and clean and circulate air by beating their wings. If one sees a bee, it is a female bee.   

The drones are male; they mate with the queen. Several hundred can be found within a hive during the spring and summer months. During winter, drones are forced to leave the hive.   

When the queen bee dies, workers create a new queen by selecting a young larva, a newly hatched baby, and feeding it a special food called “royal jelly.” This food helps the larva to develop into a fertile queen,  

Twenty to sixty thousand bees live in a colony. Nine of those bees care for the young. The queen’s close workers bathe and feed her. Guard bees protect the hive. Construction workers build the beeswax foundation where the queen lays her eggs and where honey is stored. Undertakers remove the dead.   

The bee foragers return with enough pollen and nectar to feed the community. A queen bee lays more than two thousand eggs each day. In fact, she often produces her own body weight in eggs in a single day. Actually, it is possible for the queen bee to lay nearly one million eggs during her lifetime.   

It takes at least eight bees all their lives to make a single teaspoonful of honey.

Unusual but true, it takes at least eight bees all their lives to make a single teaspoonful of honey. In fact, a single jar of honey weighing 454 grams requires about 22,700 trips to the flowers and back. Bees visit two million flowers and fly about 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey.   

There are many varieties of honey. Each flavor and color depends on the source of the nectar bees gather. Popular honeys come from wildflowers, buckwheat, and clover.   

The youngest worker bees make the beeswax from the honeycomb. Eight pairs of glands under the abdomen produce wax drops. The flakes harden when exposed to air. The workers work the wax in their mouths to soften it into pliable construction material.   

Down through the years, honey has been used in many different ways. One rather strange way was when ancients, such as Alexander the Great, were sometimes buried in honey. Later, those “candied” corpses may have been eaten as medicine.   

Today, many of us are concerned because colonies of bees have been disappearing during the past 15 years. No one knows why. This “colony collapse disorder” causes billions of honeybees around the world to leave their hives, never to return. In some areas, over 90% of the bees have disappeared.   

Bees provide an ecosystem that is pollinated, protected, and maintained. In other words, bees pollinate food crops. However, if this small percentage of wild bee species disappears, then 80% of our agricultural system may collapse. 70 of the top 100 food crops rely on pollinators. This is equivalent to 90% of the world’s nutrition. Without bees, humans can say “goodbye” to life as they know it now.   

Originally published in January/February 2022 Countryside and Small Stocky Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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