Honey bees all over the globe pollinate flowering plants and trees, including many fruits and crops that humans depend on for food. Bee pollination is essential to the agricultural economy, valued at billions of dollars, in the state of California, the United States, and the world.
Bees use pollen to feed the hive community and nectar for energy to fuel their flights and keep them alive over the long winter months. They locate and probe for nectar and easily suck it from the flowers with specialized mouth parts. Pollen rubs off of the flowers onto pollen sacs on a bee’s legs. When full, these yellow sacs are readily visible with the naked eye. The bee then deposits this pollen on other flowers as it searches for more nectar, cross-pollinating the plant, a process necessary for the plant to produce seeds.
Bees have their own secret signals or code — bee dance moves — that tell other bees in the colony where to find nectar and how to get back to the hive. Their honey is a tasty treat for other animals including bears, raccoons, and humans.
In recent years, honey bees have been under serious pressure from a mystery problem: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is a syndrome defined as a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies but with a live queen; usually honey and immature bees are still present. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572.) Some experts believe that a combination of factors could be making bees sick, including pesticide exposure, invasive parasitic mites, an inadequate food supply, and a new virus that targets bees’ immune systems. More research is essential to determine the exact cause of the bees’ distress. (Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/animals/bees.asp.)
Our “Hive Alive!” observational hive was specially designed and constructed for Lindsay Wildlife Experience by the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association, which cares for the bees and their hive. The bees come and go via the exhibit’s Plexiglas corridor to the outside world where they pollinate flowers and trees in adjacent Larkey Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. We do not collect the hive’s honey but leave all of it for our very busy — and valuable — bees!