Photos Above: Mead and honey sales at Oregon Honey festival, and educational booth at North Carolina Honey Festival.
What happens at honey festivals besides talking to beekeepers and tasting honey? The list is endless, but here's a sampling: speeches by honey bee and pollinator experts, bee beards, mead competitions and tastings, Honey Queen pageants, honey bake offs, hive inspections, foods and beer made with honey, kids bee crafts, photo contests, bee art (made by people, not bees), and live music.
Produced by honey bees that literally gather one flower nectar droplet at a time, transport the nectar to the hive in their honey stomachs, "regurgitate" it to pass it from bee to bee using their proboscises (their "tongues") mixing it with saliva rich in enzymes with each exchange, store it in wax cells, cure it by flapping their wings to reduce its water content, and then seal it with a wax cap. Simple, right? Intact honey has been found in Egyptian pharaohs' tombs! Watch the "The Bee Colony as a Honey Factory" lecture by Dr. Thomas Seeley here. This ability to store food through the winter is what makes them the only "perennial" bees out of the temperate world's 20,000+ species of bees. While individual honey bees live relatively short lives, the colony may live for many years.
Ironically, in North America, honey bees are an introduced bee species from Europe. Before colonists brought them in 1622, there were no honey-making bees here. Now European honey bees are making friends for all of their 4000 native bee cousins (think bumble, blueberry, mining, sweat, carpenter, mason, leaf cutter, squash...).
Of all 20,000 bee species, bumble bees are most like honey bees in that they have a queen and worker bees and live as colonies, albeit much smaller ones. But they die out in late fall leaving only mated queens to hide away somewhere waiting for spring to lay her worker bee eggs and start a new colony. Otherwise, bees of most species live only a few weeks as adults and sustain their species from year to year by surviving winter as larvae or pupae. They are solitary bees; they don't have colonies like honey and bumble bees. They also rarely sting because (excuse the pun) there's no point! If they die while stinging, no other bees will guard their small nests. Each solitary female bee may lay as much as 20 eggs, but she will never see them become adults.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.