Ambrosia honey – materialized industriousness of the bees The smallest domestic animals and their great benefit

Ambrosia honey – materialized industriousness of the bees

The smallest domestic animals and their great benefit

by Heini Hofmann

As a symbol of diligence and donor of the sweet gold the honey bee bears a close relation to our cultural history. But since the sting is not far from the honey, the smallest of all livestock has always kept some distance, in its own small hut and away from house and yard.
Let us pay a visit there and look over the bees’ wings to watch the honey production. Let us experience wonders and more wonders! We are fascinated by the organisation in the hive because we perceive it as a state and the bees as its citizens. The comparison, however, is misleading. The rules of the game in the bee state are relentlessly hard. The individual means little, the community is everything.

Royal jelly and bee bread

In the bee state there are three very different bee species comparable to three castes: the oversized queen, the only female sex animal, the pudgy male drones, which account for only one to three percent of the total population and, finally, the main body with the industrious workers, which are granted only a short life, namely three to four weeks for the generation of early summer and a few months for the winter generation.
The workers spend their first days after hatching from the hexagonal waxen cradle with cell cleaning like a cleaning woman and then advance to Jack of all trades, starting as babysitters. From their salivary glands they produce the royal jelly that is used as food for the Queen and serves as a nurse milk for the brood. If a larva is fed only royal jelly, it becomes a queen. But if it also receives pollen mixed with nectar, the so-called bee bread, it will become a worker.

Nectar and honeydew

But as soon as the former cleaning lady has taken on her duties as a nurse, she accepts yet another new job as a construction worker. Now the wax glands between the Chitin rings on the bottom side of the abdomen have become functional. From these, fine wax platelets are sweated out, the building material for the honeycomb.
An apprenticeship is not required. The expertise of the hexagonal honeycomb structure is pre-programmed.
After about three weeks of life, if not earlier, old age begins for the worker bee. Again it has to change, from the hive bee to the collector bee, from indoor to outdoor service. Now it gets into the strenuous and dangerous life outside the protection-offering hive. As collecting bee it is responsible for the procurement of food, nectar, honeydew, pollen and water.
To prepare their delicious food named honey the bees use two liquid raw materials: For flower honey the sugary juice of nectar flowers, a secretion of nectarines (nectar glands of the flowers), and for forest honey the honeydew. This is produced in forests and reed beds and on many herbaceous plants by sucking insects (leaf, bark and scale insects), which feed on the seven-tube juice of the plants while excreting the excess, sugary proportion of their digestive system and splashing it in form of shiny, dew-like droplets on needles and leaves.

Predigested and chewed

Nectar and honeydew are absorbed by the foragers with their trunks and transported in a special organ, the crop or honey stomach. This is so to say the public stomach. If the bee wants to consume thereof for itself, it opens a valve, whereupon a portion passes into its colon. Up to 1,500 clover flowers a little bee has to fly to in order to fill this honey stomach (it almost equals the weight of the “empty” bee), and five dozens of such stomach fillings merely give a thimbleful of honey – a Sisyphean task!
Back in the hive the honey stomach is emptied into a cell by regurgitation. Then the younger workers in the hive see to the thickening of the nectar by ... and moving it ... on their tongues, so that water evaporates from it. The delicious honey is so to speak lovingly predigested, regurgitated and chewed by the bees – totally biologically ...
During the oral manipulation of the food juice and salivary glands antibiotic-like substances (inhibins) and enzymes are added. Honey, therefore, is much more than an ordinary sugar water solution. When the water content of the honey drops to eighteen percent, the cells of the hive are closed, but only – other than the brood combs – with an airtight lid.

Phenomenon pollen loads

Pollen foragers have a more sophisticated technology than work nectar bees. The flour-like powder formed in the stamens of the flowers, which is used as food for breeding is transformed into pellets while collecting. The similar color of the pollen loads, which can vary depending on the visited plants from lemon yellow (rape), then orange, red, blue and green to grayish black (poppy pollen), shows that the bee is flower-constant. Bees are not easy-going moths!
With a brush on the heel of the hind legs the stuck pollen is brushed out of the hair dress of the body. Then, by rubbing the hind legs together, the granula caught in the brush grains are removed with a comb at the lower leg and mixed with nectar as an adhesive. The pollen accumulated in the comb on the outer side of the leg is eventually moved to the lower leg cup by means of lever movements of the heel which has been converted to a slider. The pollen is fixed in this cup by long edge hair.
In this way, the pollen from the right comb is collected in the left cup and vice versa. A spur pushing the pollen load out of the cups is situated on the middle pair of legs and is used to empty the yield into the storage cells. So much for the anatomy of an ingenious function or, in other words, one of those little wonders that escape our glances.

Propolis and cooling water

In addition to nectar and pollen flying bees also carry other things, for example propolis, i.e. tree sap, that serves to embalm intruders like skull moths and shrews which have been stabbed to death and are too heavy for transporting. It also serves to amplify cell edges or to tighten the flight hole.
To maintain the life processes in the colony and to cool the hive in summer, water is required as well. To provide cooling, the bees initially try ventilation produced by cirrus fanning of the wings, called “Sterzeln”. Failing that, water for evaporation must be flown to in the stock. Honey production therefore is a complex process carried out by tiny creatures with a brain merely the size of a pinhead!

From honey robber to beekeeper

The first honey lovers among men used to rob the wild bee colonies in hollow tree trunks or crevices. Only with increasing culture the master animal man realized that one can benefit only from the bees in leaving to them the necessities for survival. This is how the practice of cultivation arose, whereby bees were initially kept in straw baskets.
For a long time, beekeeping then belonged to agriculture. The bee house was part of the farm, such as the storage and “Stöckli”. Beekeeping was a modest sideline with multiple benefits, pollination, honey and wax. However, a sedate occupation like beekeeping has no place in modern agriculture. And moreover, the peak of fieldwork coincides with the urgent beekeeping care measures.
Therefore, beekeeping has increasingly shifted from agriculture to amateur beekeepers. Today, Switzerland has about 20,000 beekeepers with an average of 10 colonies. However, both agriculture and beekeeping remain dependent on each other: Agriculture provides the bees’ yield,  and the bees reciprocate with the pollination service. Apart from the honey as direct income there is the infinitely greater economic benefit from the pollination in the vegetable and fruit production. Since without bees there would be neither fruits nor vegetables!     •
(Translation Current Concerns)

[Translate to en:] Honig ist Natur pur!

[] Hauptbestandteil des Honigs ist Invertzucker, das heisst ein Gemisch aus Glukose, Fruktose, Rohr-, Malz- und anderen Zuckern. Ungefähr 95 Prozent der Honigtrockensubstanz bestehen also aus Kohlehydraten. Die restlichen 5 Prozent enthalten organische Säuren, Proteine, Aminosäuren, Aromastoffe, Mineralstoffe, Lipide und Vitamine.
Ob und wann Honig kristallisiert, hat – entgegen weit verbreiteter Meinung – nichts mit seiner Echtheit zu tun. Je grösser der Glukose- und je kleiner der Fruktoseanteil, desto schneller kristallisiert der Honig; Rapshonig zum Beispiel schon nach der Ernte, Akazienhonig dagegen erst nach Jahren. Honig wird am besten an kühlem, trockenem und dunklem Ort aufbewahrt. Wärme über 40 °C und Mikrowellen zerstören wertvolle Inhaltsstoffe.
Honig ist aber nicht nur Nahrungs-, sondern auch Heilmittel. Niedriger Wasser- und hoher Zuckergehalt sowie Wasserstoffperoxid («Honig-Inhibin») und andere antibakterielle Stoffe verhindern mikrobielles Wachstum. Honig wird daher bei vielen Indikationen eingesetzt, von kindlichem Asthma bis zu schwerheilenden Wunden. In der Apitherapie kommen ausser Honig auch noch andere Bienenprodukte wie Bienengift, Propolis, Bienenwachs und Pollen zum Einsatz.

[Translate to en:] Die Ausstellung zum Thema

[] Das Bündner Naturmuseum an der Masanserstrasse 31 in Chur zeigt vom 29. April bis 20. September 2015 die Sonderausstellung «Wunderwelt der Bienen», die sowohl den Honig­immen als auch den über 600 in der Schweiz vorkommenden Wildbienenarten gewidmet ist.
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