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Nature Notes: Honeybees perform magic in and out of the hive

This is a tribute to the honeybee, an amazing insect.

For starters, think of all the fruits and veggies that these tiny super stars pollinate. Their impact on the world economy is staggering.

“Between $235 and $577 billion ... worth of annual global food production relies on their contribution,” a recent article from forbes.com said, adding, “Without honeybees, the harvest of blueberries, squash, watermelon, and other fruits would be greatly reduced, driving up prices and disrupting the marketplace.”

And let us not forget honey, that wonderful elixir that these hyperactive insects manufacture. It, too, has incredible benefits.

“Used commercially for food, skin creams, anti-aging lotions, and medical wound dressings, over 160 million pounds of honey are produced each year in the U.S. alone,” forbes.com noted.

Then there’s bees wax, used for lip balm, and propolis, a resinous “bee glue” that honeybees collect from tree buds, mix with their saliva, and use to plug holes in their hives and honeycombs.

Propolis, according to forbes.com, “serves as a varnish for stringed musical instruments, and in some countries serves as toothpaste or mouthwash.”

Inside a bee’s nest, or hive, which is man-made, there are three types of honeybees. They include the queen (there can only be one per colony); workers, which are infertile females, who make up 85 percent of the colony and do all the heavy lifting, like tending to the queen, feeding the larvae, and foraging for pollen and nectar; and drones, who are males and serve one purpose – to wait and fertilize new queens.

It’s interesting to note that foraging females can fly up to five miles from their colony to collect pollen and nectar. Why pollen and nectar?

Pollen is rich in proteins and used by the bees to feed their young, while flower nectar is converted into honey, and used as a high-energy food source to help the colony get through the lean winter months.

When a foraging female finds, say, a nectar-rich flower bed in somebody’s backyard, the little bee will race back to the nest or hive and perform an intricate dance, closely watched by other foragers.

“To share her good news, the forager walks a series of figure eights and straight lines, while shaking her wings,” said the website, perfectbee.com, adding “Every element of the dance holds important information that all the watching foragers understand.”

My final message: Honeybees are welcome in my backyard anytime!

Bill Hobbs lives in Stonington. He can be reached at whobbs246@gmail.com.

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