Egyptians used honey a lot. We know that because honey is listed as an ingredient in around 900 Egyptian medical recipes. Many Egyptian medicines contained a mix of honey, wine and milk. Egyptians also offered honey as a sacrifice to the gods. In addition, honey played a major role in embalming the dead.
Everybody knows Gregor Mendel for his studies on the rules of heredity. We cannot say the same about his work as a beekeeper. Unfortunately, there is not much left of his research in this field. What we do know is that the bees of his hives were of a particularly aggressive kind. Eventually, monks of the monastery he lived in asked him to deal with them permanently.
The lifespan of a worker bee depends on many variables – temperature, species, nutrition, etc. – the most important being the time of the year. The majority of the workload of a worker bee happens during the summer. That is why in this season a worker bee will not last more than two months, whereas a worker bee born in September or October will make it to the end of the winter. Queen bees, on the contrary, can live up to 5 years.
Once the queen bee grows old, the same worker bees she brought to the world – the very same bees that provided her with food for all her life – kill her. They accomplish this task by clustering around her so tightly that her body temperature raises. Finally, she dies for lack of air and a new queen takes her place.
There was a time when most believed the queen bee to be a king. Fortunately, research work by XVII-century Dutch biologist and entomologist Jam Swammerdam proved such belief to be wrong. He explained this through a series of anatomical descriptions. The king had ovaries, and he was the only one in the colony laying eggs too.
Many cultures in different time periods share the concept of “honeymoon”. For example, Nordic people celebrating weddings, among other things, used to perform the sumbel, a rite during which guests made speeches and drank ale and mead. After the wedding, husband and wife would spend the next month alone together drinking mead every day. Mead would be part of wedding celebrations in ancient Rome and in the Middle Ages too. In such times people would give it to the newlyweds as a present.
High sugar content in honey prevents it from spoiling in a natural way, so it takes a very long time for it not to be good to eat anymore.
It is not just honeybees eating pollen and nectar. In fact, there are around 20,000 species doing so and they constitute the superfamily apoidea. Insects’ classification changed considerably over time and there is still a degree of uncertainty regarding links among families.
A colony usually has between 50,000 and 60,000 bees. We must take into account this number varies a lot from one season to the next though. The queen bee stops laying eggs in winter, so during this season bees’ number drops, whereas a colony can surpass 100,000 units between spring and summer.
Bees have an extraordinary sense of smell. Los Alamos National Laboratory’s scientists know this all too well. That is why they trained bees to recognize the smell of a number of explosives used recently in terroristic attacks. Training bees to perform this task takes only a couple of hours. Scientists got bees accustomed to extend their proboscis whenever they smell the given substance, which is first introduced to them in a mixture with sugary water.