A flurry of wings and buzzing activity, just what are those little bees doing with all their time?

A bee alights on a flower. (C. CARL SANDERS/RRHS junior)

My father, Charles Sanders, is a beekeeper and has spent the last few years caring for hives and making time to watch his bees grow. With spring approaching once more, I have found myself eyeing every tactic he has done with his hives in great intrigue.

It was only recently that I questioned him, and his answers may just surprise you!

Bee pollen can relieve inflammation, work as an antioxidant, boost liver health, strengthen the immune system, work as a dietary supplement, ease symptoms of menopause, reduce stress and speed up healing. (Healthline.com)

Bees build their honey comb at an angle. It may not sound impressive, but these little bees have discovered that their honey will remain at the bottom of a cell if they build at a slight angle.

They didn’t need an Isaac Newton to tell them about gravity for them to figure it out! Not only do they understand gravity, they also understand storage space.

As my father put it, “They build with a hexagon because it gives you the most bang for your buck. You can pack a lot in a hexagon and also stack it easily, unlike, say, a square on square.”

Bees can fly up to six miles while foraging. They tend to want to stay close to the hive, but as winter approaches, the bees will have to go farther to collect more pollen. It is tiring but they still get it done for the hive. (Talk about teamwork!)

As my father said, “They very rarely need to fly that far, but if they were in the middle of the salt flats, they could fly up to six miles to find a nectar source. It is mostly the worst-case scenario.”

Bees can recognize faces. Now that may sound terrifying, more than a thousand bees knowing who you are, but the truth is, knowing who you are helps more than it hinders. They will learn to recognize patterns, like if you walk by at a certain time every day, and will soon accept you aren’t a threat.

If a hive is unhappy with the beekeeper or home, it can leave with free will. This is called swarming, and sometimes beekeepers will set up bee traps in remote locations to retrieve these swarming bees.

Bees will swarm for a variety of reasons, but the most common is the size of the colony simply becomes far too big. My father further instilled understanding with, “Now, technically if they don’t like a home, they will abscond it; this means they simply leave. Swarming normally happens when the hive cannot grow, but absconding happens when the bees are just unhappy.”

Smoking bees is the process of misting the hive with a layer of smoke. This smoke does not harm the bees; beekeepers smoke them to calm them. It is so the keeper can avoid unnecessary stings from the bees while they work in the hive.

“Bees communicate with pheromones because it is fast and effective, but they have a lot of pheromone smells,” Mr. Sanders says. “So when you use smoke, you are masking those pheromones and preventing them from communicating with one another. It also keeps the bees busy, so the keeper can get in and out of the hive.”

When bees sting, they release a pheromone that smells slightly of bananas. This will attract the other bees to the same spot, all ready to defend their hive. Spraying smoke over the area after being stung will cover the smell and keep the beekeeper sting-free.

Bees can dance! Granted, their dancing is no Michael Jackson style, but they dance to reveal locations of nectar sources to other hive members. They will flip to the right, to the left and all around to give directions to the spot so that more food will flood in from the area they discovered.

Mr. Sanders says, “The length of the dance translates to the distance away from the hive, because distance is measured by energy that that bee took to get there. The direction of the dance is relative to the position of the sun and gravity. And yes, even on cloudy days they know where the sun is.”

Bees are very fascinating to watch; they are smart and brave, the ideal example of teamwork and dedication. Unfortunately, they are slowly dying out, but beekeepers and animal conservationists are focusing on keeping these little friends up and moving.

It is quite the task, but one that many people are willing to take on. With spring here, we are again reminded of what bees do for us, take time to thank the local beekeepers.