Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bees: Pollinators and Master Communicators

by Scott Hynek

Carol Cottrill, master beekeeper, president of the Maine State Beekeepers' Association and the guiding light behind the highly successful school for beekeepers given annually by the Western Maine Beekeepers' Association, spoke to the WMSC on Tuesday, April 23 at the Mahoosuc Mountain Lodge. She related a few of the many interesting things about bees, but focused on their importance as pollinators.

Renting bees to farmers as pollinators is how professional beekeepers make most of their income. Indeed, were honey bees to vanish (unfortunately, not impossible) most of the plants we eat would either cease to exist or become both limited in number and stunted.

Carol touched lightly on what beekeepers must know about bees, demonstrated how modern beehives are put together, and discussed how it is that bees can effect mass communication in dark, noisy hives: namely, with odors known as pheromones. 

One of these odors is given off naturally by larvae, and its strength indicates to the older, foraging bees the need to stress the gathering of pollen, on which the larvae but not the adult bees feed. Another odor is given off intentionally, to sound the alarm of impending danger to the hive. Still another is given off as a result of stinging, which act destroys the bee that stung, but which odor directs the attention of other suicide stingers. 

Carol also told us what to do if stung (scrape away the embedded stinger with a thumbnail or a credit card, do NOT pinch the stinger to remove it) and how to distinguish honey bees from hornets and the like (honey bees are fuzzy, the others are glossy).

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