10 Cool things about the South African honeybee

The South Africa honey bee is an interesting insect who has in important role to fulfill. He might be small, but can have a huge impact on nature – let’s find out what is so cool about this creature.

  1. Ancestral meaning

Both in the Xhosa and Pedi culture, honeybees play an important role. For instance, in the Xhosa culture, bees are seen as sent from the ancestors. The family then needs to give the ancestors something such as brewed traditional African beer (called Umgombothi) or slaughter a goat. In the Pedi culture, bees who live in the yard is seen as good luck sent from the ancestors. The Pedi culture also brews an African beer (called Mashifa) for their ancestors.

2. They get around fast

Honeybees have two sets of wings that they use for flight. The wings have little hooks which they are able to hook onto each other when maximum efficiency is needed. The honeybee’s wings beat up to 11,400 times per minute, which in turn contributes to the vibrating sound he makes in flight.

3. Honeybee specs

In the hive there are three kinds of honeybees: the queen, the workers and the drones. The queen lays 600 to 800 eggs per day during her three- to four-year lifespan – you do the math. The worker bees (females) can fly at a speed of 24km/h and they usually travel up to 5km from the hive. The honeybee has five eyes, of which three small ones are on top of the head and two big ones in front, consisting of 7,000 lenses each. They also have hair on their eyes … weird? They are characterised by the iconic black abdomen with yellow stripes.

4. Honey!

Honey consists of 80% sugars and 20% water. To make 500g of honey, the honeybees have to visit two million flowers, and this will take 768 bees their lifetime to complete this mission. A single bee would only be able to produce a 12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. Each bee visits about 50 to 100 flowers in one trip out of the hive. A standard beehive will be able to produce 180kg of honey per year. Best of all? Honey never spoils.

5. How pollination works

Bees collect nectar and pollen from the flowers of a plant. The male reproductive organ of a flower is called the stamens. Some of this organ’s pollen sticks to the hair of the bees’ bodies. When they visit other plants, the pollen gets rubbed off on the female reproductive organ called the pistil, which contains the stigma (the tip of the pistil). This allows the seeds of the plant to develop and turn into fruits or flowers.

6. Don’t let them die

Bees are responsible for pollinating most of South Africa’s flora, such as flowering plants and some trees, like thorn trees. They pollinate over 50 types of crops across South Africa, such as fruits in the northern region, sunflowers and onions. This means that if the honeybee goes extinct, most of the crops won’t be pollinated, making us unable to produce food.

7. They don’t hibernate

The honeybee never sleeps, even in winter. Though it was thought that they hibernate in winter, it was recently discovered that they create a winter ecosystem. Honeybees stay within the hive. They are able to live off stored honey and they create warmth by vibrating their wings really fast.

8. What do they eat?

Well … pollen and nectar. Bees need a variety of nectar and pollen from different plants to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Bees are unable to function correctly when they only have access to one type of plant. The nectar contributes to the carbohydrates part of their diet and the pollen contributes towards the protein part.

9. Where do they live?

Honeybees can be found in most parts of South Africa, excluding the Western Cape and some parts of the Eastern Cape (where other types of bees are found). They usually live in natural veld and near crops of fruit or sunflowers. They are especially fond of tropical fruits such mangoes and bananas. To farmers in South Africa, they are welcome visitors.

10. They dance to communicate

Bees dance in front of co-workers to communicate. By performing a special dance in front of other honeybees they can communicate a variety of things. They have different turns and dance moves. Each turn and the duration thereof can communicate to fellow workers how far the food is and the direction of the food in relation to the sun.

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