Honeybees
 

Few insects have been so richly endowed by the Creator as the honeybee. Honeybees are the only insects that provide an important food for man. Moreover, they are useful in helping more than 100,000 kinds of plants to exist and multiply, since the honeybees carry pollen from one flower to another, enabling them to form seeds and reproduce themselves.

Honeybees are social creatures. They live and work together in large groups. They are skillful builders and good housekeepers. They are a model of diligence, and waste no time. “Busy as a bee”—is a well known saying.

Apart from the three major sections of its body, the head, the chest part (or thorax), and the belly (or abdomen), a honeybee has many less-visible "working tools." A special kind of stomach, called a honey sac, is used to store the nectar it extracts from flowers. The bee’s legs are provided with bristles or hairs, known as combs. These are used by the bee for scraping pollen from its antennae and legs and packing it into the pollen baskets—these are openings in its hind legs. Bees build cells in their hives with wax produced by their own bodies. Special wax glands secrete liquid wax onto wax plates located on the underside of the abdomen where it hardens.

A very important part of the bee’s body is its stinger. It is located at the rear of the bee’s abdomen. It is one third as long as its entire body. The sting is the weapon of the worker bee used to protect its honey and hive. [Click here for more about the honeybee's lifecycle]

 

Bee Happy: When a worker bee returns to the hive with a load of nectar or pollen, it begins to dance in interesting patterns. Scientists found that the speed, duration, and pattern of this “joy dance” tell her fellow workers the location of the new source of nectar which the dancer had discovered. Then they fly out to gather the nectar or pollen from the same place and have no difficulty in finding it. Trained scientists watching the bees in specially designed glass hives are able to understand the directions!

We don’t know what mood the bees have when they dance. But the bees’ dance-like communication system can inspire us to communicate with others in a way that will make them happy. Happiness is contagious!

Spread Sweetness: Torah is like honey, “The Torah is sweeter than honey to my mouth,” sang King David. So just like a honeybee spreads the news of the sweet nectar it found to the rest of the colony, so too should we spread the word of Torah to those who are still unfamiliar with it.

A bee knows that spreading her knowledge is important for her entire colony to prosper. By spreading the sweetness of Torah and mitzvahs to others, you can enhance the capability of the Jewish people to fulfill its purpose, and to be a “light unto the nations.”

Don’t waste honey: Even though honey is produced by bees to serve as food for themselves, centuries of selective breeding by humans has created honeybees that produce far more honey than the colony needs. But consider how much a bee needs to work to make just a bit of honey. To make just one teaspoon of honey bees need to travel about 778 miles (1252km) and visit more than 40,000 flowers!

If the teaspoon of honey ends up in your mouth, it means that in truth G-d sent them to do all this work just for you, so that you have additional energy to serve G-d. When you do a mitzvah with this energy, the bees and the thousands of flowers become partners in your mitzvah, and their purpose of creation is achieved.

 
 

 

Listen to this busy swarm of honeybees

Watch a video of Honeybees

 



Colonies will produce a new queen if the old queen is sick or stops laying eggs. This is done by producing a special wax peanut-shaped cell around 7-8 fertilized eggs, and the cell is filled with royal jelly (see article to the left for definitions). When the eggs hatch, the grubs are fed royal jelly during their entire larva stage. This diet causes the grubs to develop into adult queens when they enter the pupa stage. The first new queen to emerge stings to death the other potential queens in her cell, and may even kill the old queen.

A honeybee has five eyes. Three eyes are located on the top of the bee’s head in the form of a triangle. These eyes are very small. The two larger eyes are located on each side of the head. These are “compound” eyes, being made up of thousands of tiny lenses.

The two “feelers,” or antennae, give the honeybee a keen sense of smell, which is very important for the bee in locating its food. They can detect the smell of a flower a mile away.

The bee has four very thin wings. These move very fast in flight, about 13,800 times a minute or 230 beats per second. The bee can fly as well as hover over flowers, and can carry a load of nectar which is heavier than itself. The bee has six legs. Each leg has a sticky pad, and this enables bees to walk upside down across the ceiling of the hive, and to cling to flower petals.

To make one pound of honey, bees need to visit 2.6 million flower and travel 50,000 miles (80,000 km). This is more than twice the distance around the earth!

Parent's Tip: Have your children compete in a "clapping race," to see how many times they can flap their hands in a minute. Explain that a bee flaps its wings at an amazing 230 times a second!

 

Strange as it may seem, bee honey is a kosher food. We say it is “strange,” because the general rule is that “what comes out of an unclean (tameh) thing is unclean.” In other words, according to Jewish law, if an animal is itself not kosher, then anything it produces is not kosher. For this reason milk from a mare, or camel, is not kosher, because the horse and camel are non-kosher animals. Now, the bee is a non-kosher insect, yet its honey is kosher.

The reason is that a bee does not really produce honey from its body. It merely collects the nectar from blossoms and stores it in the honey comb. The Creator has given the honeybee two stomachs. One is its personal stomach where it digests its own food. The other is really a honey sac. It is a “tank” where it collects the nectar as it sips it from the blossoms to carry it to the hive. When it has a full load, it regurgitates (“throws up”) the nectar, eats a bit of honey, and stores the rest in the honeycomb. This is why bee honey is kosher.

Honey is used on Rosh Hashanah in a symbolic way. We take a piece of sweet apple, dip it in honey and say a short prayer (in addition to the usual blessing), praying that G-d should renew for us a “good and sweet year.” It is not only good and sweet year in material blessings that we have in mind, but also a good and sweet year in our spiritual life of Torah and mitzvahs, which are “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb” (Psalms).


The bee’s legs, like the rest of its body, are covered with fine hairs. When a bee visits a flower, some of the flower dust (pollen) clings to the hairs. A small amount of the pollen is later brushed off onto other flowers which the bee visits. This makes it possible for the flowers to ripen their seeds, and thus the flowers reproduce themselves. Most of the pollen remains on the bee, and is carried home to the hive for food.

Today honeybees are the main pollinators for one-fourth of all crops produced in countries like the US, so we owe many everyday fruits and vegetables to our honeybee friends. The value of the crops pollinated by honeybees in the United States is estimated at $10 billion a year. This is more significant than the honey and beeswax they produce which is valuable too.