Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

October 28, 2007


The presence of honeybees is evidence that a beneficent Creator exists


          I learned as a child to fear yellow jackets, wasps, and bees of all kinds. My cousins and I were not very smart. We thought we could outrun wasps and bees. So while the old folks were talking and preparing lunch for our family reunions, we declared war on some wasps and bees. We lost every time but proudly displayed the swollen signs of our courage. 

          Once we were severely reprimanded because one of our smaller cousins got stung about ten times. He danced around slapping at the wasps instead of running. That was the day we learned that some people are allergic to bee stings and can even die from repeated stings. We were stunned to discover that our fun could be so dangerous.

          Though I consider myself rather adventurous, I have never had the slightest desire to harvest honey from a bee hive. There is no way I could be persuaded to put on a net and protective gear and retrieve honey while a thousand bees were crawling all over me.

          My neighbor Jerry, however, is one of the brave souls who do not fear the bees. He has several hives in his backyard and sells honey to friends and neighbors. I love the honey he sells with the label “Vines and Hives.” Somewhere I heard that honey produced within 25 miles of your home is more beneficial for you than honey from distant places. I like to think it is good medicine for my allergies.

          Honeybees get their name from the honey they produce. I had no idea there were so many different species of bees – about 20 thousand actually. I am amazed that someone took the time to count them. And I am even more amazed to learn that honeybees are the only living members of a certain tribe, the Apini tribe in the genus Apis. All of these bees produce and store liquefied sugar (honey) and build colonial nests out of wax secreted by the worker bees in the colony. The Apis bees are the true honeybees.

          How honeybees make honey is simply marvelous. The life source of flowers and fruit tree blossoms is nectar, a clear liquid that is almost eighty per cent water but contains some sugars. In the Northern Hemisphere bees get nectar from the flowers of berry bushes, fruit trees, clovers, and dandelions. Honeybees use their long, tubular tongues to suck nectar out of the flowers, storing it temporarily in their “honey stomachs.” The bees have two stomachs. One is their main stomach. The other is what some call a “nectar backpack” in which the bees store the nectar as they collect it.

          What is amazing is that the honey stomach of a normal honeybee can hold about 70 milligrams of nectar. When this “backpack” is full it weighs almost as much as the bee does. So how many flowers or blossoms must a bee visit in order to fill its honey stomach? The answer the experts give makes me tired just to think about it: from 100 to as many as 1500 flowers!

          The process is complicated. When the loaded honeybees fly back to the hive, they are greeted by worker bees that suck the nectar from the honeybee’s stomach through their mouths. The worker bees chew the nectar for awhile as enzymes are reducing the sugars into a more simple sugar that is digestible for the bees.  Somehow this process makes the sugar less vulnerable to bacteria while it is stored in the hive.

          The worker bees spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs. This allows some of the water to evaporate, resulting in a thicker syrup or raw honey. While the water is evaporating the bees speed up the drying of the nectar by fanning it with their wings. That helps to explain why the bees always seem so busy. At some point the shift foreman of the worker bees decides the honey has just the right texture and calls for enough wax to seal off each cell. There the honey is stored until the bees choose to eat it. In a year a colony of these busy little creatures can eat up to 200 pounds of honey.  Of course the average colony will have about fifty thousand honeybees!

          But wait a minute! Honeybees eat honey? That’s right. They make it for themselves, storing it so they will have food during the winter when the nectar in flowers is in scarce supply. That explains why the bees never seem happy when their honey is being taken away.

          Bees are amazing. These flying insects live everywhere – except in Antarctica. Even though we steal their honey, honeybees do much good for us. They are pollinators. They help us grow the fruits and vegetables we eat. They provide us with honey. Honey is sweeter than sugar, does not spoil, and we eat it raw or cook with it.

          Honeybees make propolis, a waxy substance that has some believe has medicinal value as an antibiotic, treatment for burns, and as an anti-fungal treatment. Propolis may also be used as a varnish for musical instruments made of wood; violins for example. It is used in some mouth-washes and sore throat lozenges. Beeswax is used in making candles, lubricants, cosmetics, and some pharmaceuticals.

          Believe it or not, honey is an antibacterial agent and helps relieve some of our pollen allergies. Honey contains vitamin B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and minerals that are beneficial to our health.

          Why do these flying insects exist? I have no doubt about the answer. Bees exist to give us a clue that there also exists a beneficent Creator who designed such things for our good. I am content to call this Creator our loving Father. The next time you enjoy a bit of honey on your toast, you might want to give thanks to the One whose love makes the honeybees possible. + + +