The Magical Powers of Bees

Bees have long played an integral role in the survival of the human species as a whole. This could not be truer today, as many of our foods that come from trees, shrubs, flowers and root crops that depend on seasonal pollination from millions and millions of worker bees to facilitate a good harvest, thus playing a key role in food and national security. In fact, bees alone add $14 billion to the value of our nation’s crop production each and every year. Albert Einstein was rumored to have predicted that without the existence of these amazing creatures (animals, technically) the human population would cease to exist within four to five years. But did you know that bees, with a brain no bigger than the size of a grass seed, solve complex mathematical equations in minutes that stump current supercomputers for days? In this blog, I look to uncover both interesting facts about our dependence on bees, as well as beekeeping organizations within New Mexico.

Local beekeepers have long played the vital role as caretakers to these agile yet fragile insects. Summer is the height of beekeeping season, with the average worker bee living only six weeks (and working almost constantly). Winter is their ‘dormant’ season, and worker bees can live up to 4-6 months, surviving on the fruits of their summer labors. A single female called the ‘queen’ can produce up to 2000 soon-to-be bees per day in the height of summer. A large hive can easily contain over 70,000 individual worker bees, whose sole responsibility is to collect food for, first and foremost, the queen bee. New Mexico, with its numerous ecological zones, is host to a wide array of trees and plants that produce pollen and nectar that attract bees. In 2005, researchers at the University of Royal Holloway, London, discovered that bees have perfected a flight pattern that allows them to reach the greatest number of flowers in the least amount of time, solving what they call the ‘traveling salesmen problem.’ This is one reason why bees are so important to humans.

Pollination isn’t the only fascinating mathematical decision that honey bees do every day, either. They also use math when it comes to the building of their hives, their homes. Understandably, the living quarters are quite cramped in any hive, so bees have found the perfect shape to accommodate the largest amount of space possible in the least amount of area: hexagons. Because of their equal-sided shape, hexagons do not overlap and they can be constructed side by side leaving no gaps, thus saving space. Beeswax, which takes approximately eight pounds of honey to produce, is obviously a valuable commodity, and hexagons save as much of this resource as possible. These hexagons create ‘cells’, i.e. honeycombs, that facilitate food storage and nourishment, as well as the most vital characteristic, the protection and feeding of the queen bee, the sole mother and ruler of the hive.

As of recently, bees have also been discovered to interact with flowers based upon the electrical signals that the flowers are putting off. Scientists have speculated that the flowers, needing the pollination help from the bees, put off signals to stimulate a two way relationship: life for the plant and food for the bee.

There are a number of talented beekeepers that practice this form of animal husbandry here in New Mexico. For those looking into beekeeping for themselves, or simply just wanting more information or looking for like-minded people to connect with, The New Mexico Beekeepers’ Association is a great place to start. For a great read by someone who truly knows what he is doing, check out local author Les Crowder and his book, Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, which focuses on, among other things, the proper handling and treatment of these vital insects.

-Posted by Russell

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