The Savannah Bee Company is known across the nation for the production of some of the worlds best honey and incredible body care products, but did you know that’s only part of what we do?
Savannah Bee has been educating children and adults alike about the important role honeybees play in all temperate, terrestrial ecosystems. We understand that honeybees are key players in the ecosystems they inhabit. A healthy honeybee populationis a primary indicator of a healthy ecosystem. In addition to our educational outreach, Savannah Bee has enjoyed great partnerships with organizations like Heifer International , The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and The Georgia Conservancy .
As we begin our exploration of honeybees, it is helpful to understand some basic ecological principles. Please take a minute and look over these basic concepts of ecology.
Honeybees are a classic keystone species. The overall vigor of the honeybee population will determine the vigor of the local ecosystem. The honeybees activity ripples across its entire habitats community. The connection between plants and honeybees is clear as we all know bees to be the worlds most famous pollinators. In fact all crop foods humans rely on are pollinated by insects, including honeybees. Now, can we connect honeybees to squirrels? Did you know that seeds, fruits, and veggies produced by plants as the result of pollination make up almost 100% of a squirrels diet? This fact is true for many small terrestrial mammals!
In order to understand any living organism we must look and see “who” this critter really is. The term taxonomy refers to the scientific study of classification. 18th century, Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus developed the classification system binomial nomenclature which is still practiced universally today. His taxonomic system uses two names to identify every organism, genus and species. For example, humans are known as Homo sapiens where Homo is our genus and sapiens is our species.
The honeybee is scientifically classified as Apis mellifera. The root of the word Apis isrelated to social insects or bees and mellifera is associated with a flower type yielding copious amounts of nectar (i.e. honey). Let’s explore the taxonomy of the honeybee a bit more. Click here for complete honeybee taxonomy.
So, by looking at the honeybee classification we now know that honeybees are animals with jointed legs, exoskeletons, segmented bodies, antennae, compound eyes, and a membrane-like set of wings. We also know that they are related to wasps and ants, they are social and associated with nectar and honey production. Isn’t taxonomy fantastic!
Now that you have been properly introduced to the honeybee, let’s explore a little more!
Life Cycle – the term biological life cycle refers to the specific stages or “life events” of a single generation of a living species. For example, infancy and adolescence are both stages of human development. Like humans, honeybees have very distinct and predictable life stages. To explore the stages of the honeybee life cycle please click the link below.
We all know that honeybees spend most of there time making delicious honey and honeycomb. Further, most people know honeybees (and other insects) to be fantastic plant pollinators. Research indicated that over 15% of all angiosperms (flowering plants) rely on honeybee mediated pollination!
Let’s take a deeper look at the role of the honeybee within the ecosystem. Honeybees are keystone species. A keystone species is a species that when removed from the greater system, the system may experience catastrophic decline. Flowering species like the ones pollinated by honeybees include many kinds of trees, shrubs, and perennial flowering species. Such plants provide abundant and secure niche habitat across most ecosystems. Take a moment and consider all the populations of organisms that rely on trees for homes. Often these populations life strategy or niche has evolved around these habitats. Pollination that eventually leads to plant fertilization is necessary for the reproduction of many plant species. So, one can easily see how honeybees as pollinators are necessary for the continuation of many types of habitat.
Other important pollinators include; butterflies and other insects, birds, bats, and the wind. It is very important to note the National Academy of Sciences recently reported that disruptions and decline of living pollinators have been observed on nearly every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
Explore honeybee pollination more deeply by reading this short paper written by the University of Arizona. Honeybees are Important Pollinators
Insects Living as Communities (social insects)
Social insects include all species of ants, termites and include some species of wasps and bees. These groups of social insects make up nearly 75% of the Earth’s total insect biomass. In addition they are critically important keystone species in nearly all ecosystems.
Is there an evolutionary advantage to living as functional communities? In most systems, it is safe to say that there is strength in numbers. These species can defend resources and territory very effectively. In addition they can communicate the location of resources such as food or water quickly throughout many members. This communication leads to quick and effective mobilization and acquisition of said resources.
Social insects are also very effective at dividing jobs or chores facing colonies so that great feats can be accomplished rapidly. Generally, specific morphotypes are exclusively responsible for specific tasks.
Exploration of the Beehive - Very simply, a beehive is the home of the honey bee colony. Technically speaking the term beehive refers to a man made structure designed to house domesticated honey bee colonies. Artificial beehives serve two basic functions as far as humans are concerned. They are designed to produce honey of course, but they are also commonly moved around in order to assist in the pollination of crops. An apiary is an area where beekeepers keep their hives. Many farmers will grant beekeepers free use of small pieces of land to raise bees as they view these insects as very valuable pollinators.
Natural beehives or colonies are very different from the homes of their domesticated peers. A natural beehive is similar to a birds nest, designed for protection of the colony. Often these colonies are established in tree hollows or cavities in rock outcroppings.
An ideal nesting site will have only one opening making the colony easier to protect. Worker bees collect various plant resins to produce propolis. They use this resin based substance to smooth the entrance of the hive and seal any small cracks and crevices that may exist within the nesting area.
The inside of the hive is filled with honeycomb made from beeswax. Honeycomb is made up of many densely packed hexagonal cells. These cells are designed to store food, pollen, and to house developing brood. The term “brood” is general in nature and relates to eggs, larvae, and pupae. The purpose for creating beehives is to raise young bees, to produce honey, and to serve as a base camp for the community.
In natural settings, the internal structure of the hive is relatively consistent. Upper part of the comb stores honey, below there are rows of cells that store pollen, worker brood cells, and drone brood cells. On the very bottom there are queen cells of the peanut shape.
What is Honey? - Now that we have a background on the honeybee, let’s talk about honey. We all know that bees make honey. In fact, humans have been collecting honey from beehives for at least 8,000 years. We refer to this time period as the post-Pleistocene. During this time in human history, humans were primarily hunter/gatherers. If the concept of agriculture was active it was most certainly in its infancy. Evidence of honey collecting is demonstrated in ancient paintings on the walls of the Arana Caves in Valencia Spain.
Honey was used in ancient Egypt as a sweetening agent and widely across the Middle East in the embalming process. Evidence of beekeeping also exists in ancient China and in Mesoamerican Mayan cultures. The documentation of honey collection is solid, but what is this substance that has captivated human fascination for so many centuries?
Okay, now we know a bit about honey as a “bee product”. Let’s now ask the question of what we as honey consumers receive when we purchase honey. You may think that this incredible “bee product” is delivered to you by way of your local super-market. There are several different ways honey can be manipulated before it actually reaches your kitchen.
It is so important to understand the pre-consumer processing of all products we put into our bodies, especially honey. Processes like pasteurization virtually eliminate all of the vital and health promoting elements of raw honey. For example, this process destroys all enzymes, tree and flower pollen, antioxidants, and vitamins.
One way to be absolutely sure you are receiving high quality raw honey is to purchase pure honeycomb. We all know that honey comb is the internal structure of a bee hive and that it is typically full of honey, but did you know that raw honeycomb is a super-food!
Now that we have taken a closer look at honey and honeycomb, we should explore some other hive created products of incredible importance. We all know that honey is delicious and nutritious. However, honeybees offer several valuable and health-promoting gifts. Such gifts include beeswax, bee pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. Click here to further explore these incredible gifts!