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Lessons from the bees

There are countless lessons we can learn from these tiny insects about working together and self-sacrifice for the good of the whole.

As we enter a new year, our EarthCARE committee invites all of us to continue our care for creation and to deepen our curiosity about those who share Earth, our Common Home, with us.

We start with a wondering: what do bees do in winter in the Northern hemisphere? When we no longer see them pausing to mine wildflowers or lavender and black-eyed Susan in our gardens, just what do they do in cold climates when winter is upon us?

Our thanks to our IHM Associate, beekeeper extraordinaire, and EarthCARE committee member Carolyn Flannery for sharing this information with us:

The western hemisphere honeybees (Apis Mellifera) are well adapted to cool climates and can survive the cold due to their ability to store honey and pollen and cluster together for warmth. They are fascinating insects, and necessary to our survival as a human race.

They live a brief but productive life among us. The life expectancy of a female worker bee is 4-6 weeks in busy summer months. The bees that are born in late summer and fall are made differently and have more fat stores. They are the ones who can survive in the hive for the entire winter. In the winter no foraging or brooding of new bees takes place. The bees cluster around the queen bee at the center of the hive. They shiver their wing muscles rapidly without moving their wings, thus generating heat and keeping hive temperature at around 95 degrees! And they take turns in the warmest spots of the hives. The bees from the outside of the cluster move to inside to get warm and the bees on the inside move to outer edges to eat.

They slowly move together as one unit to reach the honey stores. Sixty to one hundred pounds of honey must be left in the hive after honey is extracted to ensure survival. As a precautionary measure, a beekeeper will make sugar candy boards to place in the hive in case honey runs out, but of course the bees prefer their own honey.

The Queen bee cannot do anything for herself. Her job is to lay eggs and she lays about twelve hundred eggs a day during the summer. The workers feed and care for all her needs and do everything else in the hive, including feeding new babies, making wax, storing honey, pollen and nectar. Their first job after they are born is to clean out their own cell to ready it for new eggs. They work from the minute they are born until they die. The only job of the male bees, called Drones, is to mate with a queen from another colony, so in the winter they are not needed, and are kicked out of the hive. 

There are countless lessons we can learn from these tiny insects about working together and self-sacrifice for the good of the whole. May we continue to honor their hidden lives during the winter months and treasure their

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