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Interesting Facts About The Bees And Their Honey (PHOTOS)

Huffington Post     First Posted: 10/04/10 09:29 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 06:55 PM ET

They bring us food, keep our ecosystems functioning, and even provide a fun hobby for those in beekeeping.

Bees are amazing creatures, and we want to celebrate their awesomeness by sharing with you some things you might not know about our buzzing buddies.

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  • They Haven’t Heard Of Feminism

    We’ve long since recognized that women have more value than just having babies. But tell that to bees. The queen bee’s only job is to lay eggs, without which the hive will die. The queen doesn’t get to leave the house either, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/info/bees/" target="_hplink">except for once</a> to mate with several drones. From these encounters she will store the sperm to last her entire lifetime. A hive only has one queen bee at a time. But any young female bee, less than 48 hours old, can become a queen bee once fed a <a href="http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/honeybee.html " target="_hplink">special food</a> called “royal jelly” by the workers. That's a queen bee is pictured in the center.

  • In Some Places, Beekeeping Is Illegal

    Despite the delicious and unique flavors of local honey, in <a href="http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/blogs/bees/illegal-urban-beekeeping-0602" target="_hplink">nearly a hundred cities</a> like Fair Haven, New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia, beekeeping is still illegal. What gives? Well, people are afraid of swarms of angry bees hanging out next door for one. It’s an inaccurate perception, however. The cultivated species of honeybee is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/science/earth/15bees.html " target="_hplink">not aggressive </a>and rarely stings any bystanders. They’re also seen as a sort of exotic pet, instead of a hobby akin to backyard gardening. Bees were only <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/science/earth/15bees.html" target="_hplink">outlawed in New York City</a> in 1999, along with a list of exotic animals like vulture, ferrets, and whales. (Which begs the question, who is trying to keep a whale as a pet?) Luckily for the many honey enthusiasts, in March of this year, beekeeping in New York City was legalized. As for the other cities? Let’s just hope they see the light. Pictured is an anonymous Brooklyn beekeeper flouting the law before beekeeping was legalized.

  • Honey Might Be The New Antibiotic

    Honey has been touted as a remedy for a wide variety of ailments. It hasn’t been proven conclusively, but some say eating local honey can <a href="http://focusorganic.com/local-honey-allergy-remedy/" target="_hplink">help with allergies</a>, kind of like a pollen vaccine. The sweet, sticky stuff has also been recommended for small cuts and abrasions and sore throats. But scientists this summer made a discovery that <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100630111037.htm" target="_hplink">points</a> to honey being a remedy for antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Scientists found the component of honey, called defensin-1, that is responsible for honey’s antibacterial properties. They hope it can someday be used to treat burns and skin infections, or be used to develop new drugs.

  • They Have Been Suffering From A Mysterious Disorder

    It started in October of 2006, and it has no apparent cause. 30 to 90 percent of hives just disappear, leaving behind the queen, honey, and immature bees, but no dead bodies. Where do they go? It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder. Although bees are essential to many crops like almonds and fruit, there isn’t a food crisis. Yet. Hive prices have been rising as demand for pollinators increase and supplies fall. So what is the reason for this? No particular cause has been isolated. According to the <a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572" target="_hplink">USDA</a>, several possibilities have been identified: pesticides, stress, a pathogenic gut microbe called Nosema, high levels of infection by the varroa mite, poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding, pollinating of crops with low nutritional value (<a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572" target="_hplink">GMO corn</a> anyone?), exposure to contaminated water sources, or migratory stress brought about by increased needs for pollination. The USDA thinks it might be a combination of these factors. This isn’t the first widespread bee disappearance. Honeybee disappearances were mentioned in the 1880s, 1920s, and 1960s. There’s no way to know, however, if those are related to the current Colony Collapse Disorder.

  • They Are Incredibly Valuable

    According to the <a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572" target="_hplink">USDA</a>, bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value. They pollinate nut, berry, fruit, and vegetable crops, and the USDA claims that about one third of our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination. The California almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees, which is about half of all the bees in the US. Overall, honeybees are estimated to contribute <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CBwQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fas.org%2Fsgp%2Fcrs%2Fmisc%2FRL33938.pdf&rct=j&q=value%20honey%20bees%202010&ei=V7KkTOm5IcH_lgegrdnlCw&usg=AFQjCNFpHw44hICjuN6CgR1qTV3pHsl9SQ&cad=rja" target="_hplink">$15 to 20 billion</a> annually. That’s not just for crops. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/info/bees/" target="_hplink">We get</a> beeswax from them for cosmetics and candles, inspiration for architecture and design, and of course honey.

  • They Can Live Almost Anywhere

    Bees don’t just flourish in lush, temperate climates. They can be found in the desert, rain forests, and even tundra. <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/11/991118072403.htm" target="_hplink">Desert bees</a>, who are slightly smaller than a housefly, have synced their lifecycle with that of the desert rains. Desert bee larvae wait patiently in the soil for a good opportunity to come out. Triggered by rains, the small bees emerge and flit from blossoming flower to blossoming flower. They don’t produce honey like their cousins and don’t have a queen bee. <a href="http://www.nps.gov/akso/ParkWise/Students/ReferenceLibrary/BELA/ArcticAdaptations.htm" target="_hplink">Tundra bees</a> have a furry coat to trap heat, and “shiver” their flight muscles to generate heat. Some of these bumblebees can keep their body temperatures 68 to 86 degrees above air temperatures, so they can fly around while other insects are hiding out from extreme cold.

  • They Have A Tendency to Annoy New Yorkers

    Maybe this is why New Yorkers are afraid of bees. Twice bees have swarmed in inconvenient places in New York City. In June <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/01/bees-swarm-wall-street-vi_n_595821.html" target="_hplink">they chose</a> Cipriani’s on Wall Street for a temporary home. 15,000 bees swarmed on the high-end restaurant's doors while bee scouts went out looking for a new home. In July of 2009, they <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=6828888" target="_hplink">set up camp</a> outside of the GameStop in Union Square, trapping employees inside until the NYPD bee expert could come to the rescue. It's a regular event for bees to leave the hive and head off to find a new area. It just becomes annoying when, like in New York City, there aren't many natural places to hang their hat, er, their hive. However, experts think it's an overall win for the environment to have them in places like New York, despite these occasional occurrences.

  • They’ve Been Around A While

    Honeybees <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/info/bees/" target="_hplink">appeared</a> on the scene 130 million years ago in Africa, when Africa, India, South America, and Australia were all one continent called Gondwana. Honeybees actually <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211220927.htm" target="_hplink">aren’t native</a> to North America. They migrated here from Europe with humans in the early 17th century. They were also brought to New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania during the same time to complete their trek around the globe. Present-day North American bees are <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211220927.htm" target="_hplink">a mix</a> of several types of European bees. Then there are the aggressive <a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=11059" target="_hplink">Africanized</a> bees making their way up from the south. Watch out for those!

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