Unlike common wasps, honey bees (Apis mellifera) don’t die at the end of the summer. The hive stores enough food for the queen and the workers to survive through the winter.
Here is a honey bee collecting nectar from white clover, seen and photographed in Village Green. A clover flower is made up of many separate florets and the bee visits each floret, collecting nectar and pollen as it does so. It sucks in the nectar through its proboscis into a crop; there it mixes with saliva which contains enzymes that begin the process of turning it into honey.
The pollen collects on the bee’s fur, which has become charged with static electricity as it flies between flowers. The bee combs the pollen out of its fur, using stiff hairs on its forelegs, into two pollen baskets on its hind legs. You can see the pollen baskets in the pictures and, if you look closely, the pollen-bearing stamens in each floret.
In the hive, the nectar is passed from bee to bee until a certain amount of its water content has evaporated, and then it is stored in hexagonal wax cells. The pollen is mixed with nectar and saliva to make bee bread, and is stored in similar cells. The bees’ saliva in the stored honey and bee bread has an antibacterial and anti-fungal function, keeping the hive’s stores fresh through the winter.
The bees will begin next year’s foraging among the first flowers of the spring.
A version of this post was published in September 2018