The remarkable bee
Bees can be used to detect landmines. Tiny radio plates the size of a rice grain will be attached to honey bees to detect antipersonnel landmines, of which there are about 100 million in 70 war-torn countries.
The tiny radio plates are engraved with serial numbers to keep track of the bees, which are being conditioned to develop a preference in addition to nectar, in this case TNT, or any other material that releases metamphenamine. Special spectrometers that can “smell” TNT are placed in movable beehives to indicate landmines in specific areas. Bees that “smell” of explosives can then be tracked to the landmine. The bees won’t detonate the landmines.
This is just one of many reasons why bees are important to us. Without bees, there will be no flowers or crops. Although birds, other insects and the wind also pollinate plants, bees do most of it.
Between 20 000 and 60 000 bees live in a single hive. The queen bee lays 1 500 eggs a day and lives for up to 2 years. The drone, whose only job it is to mate with the queen bee, has a lifespan of around 24 days – they have no stinger. Worker bees – all sterile females – usually work themselves to death within 40 days in summer, collecting pollen and nectar. Worker bees fly up to 14km (9 miles) to find pollen and nectar, flying at 24km/h (15 mph).
Pollen is the main supply of protein and vitamins for bees, with the 10 amino acids they require. Nectar is up to 80% sugar but less than 0.2% in protein, so nectar is the carbohydrate supply for the hive. Bees place the nectar in honeycomb cells and then evaporate the water from the nectar by rapid wing movement. When the amount of water is less than 18%, the mixture is called honey and the bees cap off the cells. Thus honey is 80% sugars and 20% water. A mixture of honey and pollen is called “bee bread” and is the food for larvae and bees.
A worker bee communicates her floral findings by performing a dance on the honeycomb. The orientation of her movements and the frequency of her vibrations indicate the direction and distance of the flowers.
The worker bees defend the hive. The muscular barbed stinger quickly saw into the skin of the invader and the venom pouch begins to contract rhythmically to pump venom into the intruder.
But the bee species themselves are under severe attack: in recent years thousands of colonies were destroyed by two parasitic mites, acarapis woodi and varroa jacobsoni. Scientist have not discovered a remedy yet, but have noticed a disturbing trend: the highest numbers of infested bees and the highest infestation rates were seen at high stress sites, ie. polluted areas. In addition, as the human population rapidly increases and take down woods and forests the ideal breeding space for bees are destroyed. However, we can make a difference. The challenge to individuals like us is to protect these amazing animals by making our gardens bee-friendly.
The bee is a remarkable animal – flowers are pollinated mostly by bees; up to one third of all plant pollination on earth are by bees. In short, this means that one in every three spoons of food you put in your mouth was a direct result of the work done by bees. And they do it for free.
Bees do not have ears, but they have an excellent sense of smell with chemoreceptors in their antennae. Bees see colors differently than we do. They are insensitive to red but detects ultraviolet light which is invisible to us.
Bee pictures by PO Gustafsson – the Beeman