The Hive is one of those books that mine two thousand years, give or take a millennium, of written scholarship to show the utter centrality to our wellbeing of some thing, some fish or insect or chemical or system of measurement, whose easy availability we carelessly take for granted. Such books are to be recognised by their dainty size in hardback, the especially tactile cream paper on which they are printed, and the collage of historical images adorning the cover The Hive has some particularly pretty bees picked out in gold.
None of this is necessarily bad. It provides an alternative to the wars-and-leaders or the clash-of-interest-groups version of history, and is seldom dull. Sometimes the writers have to stretch their subject over the frame too tightly, and it breaks. Is that a rhetorical question? Because if not, I have my hand up. I hoped for tips on how to get a spoonful of honey out of the jar without it dribbling.
I was disappointed. One guide instructed beemakers to beat the ox to death, lay it on a heap of thyme in an enclosed space, stop the openings with mud, and leave the ox to rot for a month. Bees would then appear.
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Wilson recounts the breakthroughs of the obsessed individuals who have studied bees at work over the centuries, to the point that few mysteries remain inside the hive. Each colony, we now know, has one long-lived queen bee, the only fully female insect among them. The 50, workers, who live for six weeks, are virtually sterile females; the drones are male.
Just once, in her life of up to six years, the queen will leave the hive to mate in flight. About a dozen drones will impregnate her, dying as a result the rest die soon afterwards , and the queen returns to the colony carrying the broken-off genitals of her lovers and enough sperm to last her for the rest of her life. It is, we assume, most unlike the home life of our own dear queen. They start out as cleaners and guards; move on to being nannies and personal servants to the queen; then, in succession, waxmakers and honeycomb builders, pollen warehousers, honeymakers, honey reducers the honey is thickened by the bees flapping their wings over it to evaporate water , and finally foragers for nectar, pollen and resin, which bees use for glue.
In a single day, a worker might visit ten thousand flowers.
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When she finds a new source of nectar, she performs an extraordinarily precise dance on her return to the hive to tell the other bees how to find it. The effort is enormous, yet one worker bee, in her lifetime, will produce just one spoonful of honey. Or, to break it down into its constituent parts, a spoonful of nectar and bee spit.
There is a third strand that occasionally promises to break out through the fabric of the book, but never quite does so. The third strand is about what has displaced honey: sugar. Rousseau apparently argued that honey-eating nations were natural democracies, while sugar-eating nations were disposed to tyranny.
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Wilson admits that honey which is 70 per cent sugar, 20 per cent water and 10 per cent two hundred other substances is tougher to cook with than sugar; it is a sweet in itself, rather than good for making sweets. But the statistics are sobering.
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It is estimated that in the 12th century, the peak of honey consumption in England, people were eating two kilogrammes a year each, and negligible amounts of sugar from the Mediterranean. Today, the average annual honey consumption in Britain is g per person, against 53 kg of sugar. It is fascinating to learn from Wilson that most British honey is currently made from nectar gathered by bees from fields of rape and borage.
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Log In Register for Online Access. As you might already know, bees are really interesting in the way they work and also in the way they interact with each other. Queen bees are the most important bees in the colony and sometimes the fate of the whole bee colony depends on it. Most of the time, one hive has one queen bee. But there are cases when a few queens live in one beehive. Also, as kings, queens, and presidents in our countries change from time to time, so do the queen bees in their hives.
Alright, so we know that it is possible for two queen bees to live in the beehive. But who controls how many of them are born? Well, the control is performed by both — the reigning queen bee and the worker bees. The worker bees are the ones that decide whether a new queen bee is going to be raised or not. But the current queen bee can easily eliminate them while they are still growing in their queen bee cell.
This is usually done because every new queen bee can be a threat to the existing one. There are some cases when you are going to have a few queens in your hive. Because of how the bee colony grows, worker bees decide whether a new queen is needed. For example, when a bee colony becomes really large and strong, worker bees can decide that a second queen is needed. In such case, the old queen usually leaves the beehive with the bees which are loyal to her. This is called swarming. When you see a ball of bees see image to the left close to the beehives, that is a sign of swarming — part of the colony most likely has left the beehive.
If the colony is not growing strong or if the current queen is weak or cannot lay eggs, she might get replaced.
What happens next is that they will feed the unhatched queen with royal jelly. In about 16 days the queen bee is ready to hatch. Hatching basically means that the queen bee has to get out of her wax cell. She has to do it by eating through the wax cell. As she is about to hatch, she starts pipping. Pipping is a really interesting sound that alerts the worker bees that they need to help the new queen to get out of the cell.
But the problem is that it also alerts the existing queen! As the existing queen hears the sound, she starts pipping too.
The Hive Loyal Bee
What this does is stops the worker bees from helping the new queen. So the worker bees are kind of caught between two leaders fighting for power here. There are three ways this usually plays out:. This is a pretty common situation in strong colonies. What happens is that the bee colony basically splits into two colonies. One part that is following the old queen and the second part which follows the lead of the new queen. Usually, the old queen takes half of the bee colony and leaves to a new home.
A new home is found by bee scouts which are sent by the old queen. While the scouts look for the new home, both queens stay in the same beehive.