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We are in spring! And with spring come bees! In this episode of SciShow Compilation we bring the best episodes of bees and honey!

Hosted by: Hank Green
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What Honeybees Can Teach Us About Democracy - 0:36
Why (and how) Do Bees Make Honey - 3:29
What's Happening to Honey Bees? - 5:42
How a Bee Becomes Queen - 9:39

 Intro (0:00


It's springtime where I am here in the Northern Hemisphere which means the flowers are blooming and very importantly bees are buzzing. We've talked a lot about bees here on SciShow but we still always get more questions about bees and about honey. We're working on a new video about honey that will come out in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I wanted to share some of our favorite bee and honey videos in case you've missed them.

 What honeybees can teach us about democracy (0:30)


This first one is four years old now but it actually is perfectly timed as we head into another election season in the U.S.


So once again it is election season here in the United States of America and watching all this TV and reading all the news, it is hard not to think that there must be a better way of doing this. Well, there is: the honey bee way. A bee hive is actually one of the most awesome examples of true democracy in nature.
 
At the beginning of each Summer, a hive has typically gotten so big that it literally cannot accommodate another bee. So the biggest decision a colony has to make every year is where to relocate, and that decision is made not by the queen, but by the workers - all non-reproductive females - and everybody gets a vote.
 
We think of bee colonies as being monarchies since they have something that we call a "queen", however the queen doesn't actually make many decisions, she mostly just sits around laying eggs and producing pheromones that tell the workers where she is and how she's doing.
 
So when the hive gets too crowded, about half the worker bees along with the queen leave their home in search of new digs - this is called swarming. Thousands of bees just leave all at once and hang out on a tree limb or something, forming a clump about the size of a soccer ball. Now if you ever come across one of these clumps, it's OK they're not in the stinging mood. They have more important stuff on their minds: they need to find a new home - something high off the ground with a narrow opening and a lot of volume inside, and they need to find it quick. 
 
Of the thousands of workers in the swarm, about 300-500 of the oldest, most-experienced ones then leave to scout for nest sites. Each bee in the search committee spends a day checking out tree cavities, abandoned chimneys, that sort of thing, and they take all kinds of measurements of each potential site: its total volume, how much sun it gets, how protected it is from the elements et cetera.
 
But the really cool stuff happens when the scouts come back. To convey all of the specs of the sites that they just visited, each scout does a little special waggle dance (it's actually called a waggle dance) which tells the other bees everything about it. Depending on how awesome the site is the bee might do the dance a bunch of times in a row so that more bees can see it, or maybe just a few times in which case fewer bees will see it. For a really awesome site, she might spend 10 minutes doing her dance over and over and over, sort of like a bee filibuster. 
 
When other scouts see her dance they go and have a look themselves and they come back. If they like it they'll dance for that same site. Say the site's a really great one, they'll dance just as long as the first bee did, which will catch other scouts attention and they'll go look at the site and come back and give their opinion. All the votes start to snowball and after a couple of days one site will come out above the rest.
 
Not only is this extremely cool, but studies of bee colonies over multiple years found that 99% of the time the bees end up choosing the highest-quality nesting site available. The key to their success seems to be that each bee comes to the conclusion about the site on her own. She goes out, takes a look at it, takes her own measurements, and comes back and votes. 
 
So no matter your political persuasion, take a tip from the bees. From now on in politics I wanna see more participation, more thinking for yourself, and more interpretive dancing. 
 
(Hank dances)

 Why (and how) do bees make honey? (3:30)



We all know that bees make honey, that sweet, thick liquid gold prized by tea-drinkers, bears, and honey badgers alike, but not all bees make honey. Insects like bumble bees, sting-less bees, and even honey wasps can produce small amounts of honey, but the stuff you're familiar with is the product of one of the seven species of true honey bees.
 
Simply put, bees make honey as a source of food security, sometimes to eat during times of scarcity, safely stored within the hive, and the responsibility for making this stockpile falls to the female worker, or forager bees. They're the ones that buzz from flower to flower, sucking up sugary nectar with their long, tubular tongues, and they're also the ones who build and defend the hive and take care of the queen. These hard-working ladies do it all while the queen sits back and lays ridiculous amounts of eggs, like, seriously, some scientists estimate that a single queen can lay up to a quarter-million eggs in a single year and more than a million over her lifetime.
 
Male drone bees meanwhile basically only exist to mate with the queen and then die, I digress. So, a worker bee collects nectar and stores it in her crop, which is sort of like an extra holding tank, also called the honey stomach, designed just for this purpose. Once she's back home, she basically pukes her loot up into another processor bee's mouth, who then spits the nectar into a honeycomb cell. Every time that processor bee regurgitates nectar into a storage cell, she adds a special enzyme called invertase. See nectar is pretty much just sugar water, and therefore perishable, but the invertase helps break that sucrose down into simpler sugar molecules, glucose and fructose, eventually transforming it into something that will hold up in long-term storage. At this point, the newly regurgitated nectar is still quite runny; it's got a water content of around 70%, while honey has a water content of less than 19%. So to remove the extra water those ingenious little bees actually start fanning the honeycomb with their wings to get the evaporation process cranking. Once the extra water has been fanned away and the nectar has ripened into honey, the lady-bees seal up those comb cells using a beeswax secretion from their abdomens. When safely sealed away within the comb, honey can basically last forever. Pretty sweet.

 What's happening to honeybees? (5:43)



Assuming you don't live under a rock, you've probably heard about the sudden and mysterious drop in honey bee populations throughout the U.S. and Europe, and maybe even if you do live under a rock, you've noticed that there are fewer bees buzzing around your rock. Beekeepers used to report average losses, or dwindlings, in their worker bees of about 5-10% a year. But starting around 2006, that rate jumped to about 30%. And now, today, the honey has really hit the fan with many big beekeeping operations reporting that up to 40 or 50% of their swarms have mysteriously disappeared. This massive and mysterious die-off of honey bee hives has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder and it is a big, big deal.
 
When you hear people freaking out about how important bees are you, you might think to yourself, "Yeah, you know, like, I like honey too." But I'm here to tell you, honey is just the sticky frosting on the massive cake bees serve us every day for free. We don't just need bees, we really need bees. The US Department of Agriculture reports that honey bee population is responsible for more than $15 billion in crops each year, and that at least a third of the food you're shoveling into your mouth is a direct or indirect result of the pollinating that they do. Bees pollinate over 90 flowering crops in the U.S., including apples, citrus fruits, asparagus, and soybeans, and no crop needs bees more than almonds, which are pretty much totally dependent on them. When it's pollinating time in California, farmers truck in 1.4 million bee colonies, 60% of professional bees in the country, to almond groves, and yes, I said professional bees, there are bees who earn money for people by doing what bees do, so you can imagine the economics that are at stake here. 
 
The way Colony Collapse Disorder goes down is reminiscent of a horror movie. A bee keeper toddles out to a colony and finds only a few, if any, adult bees in the hive, but there are no dead bee bodies, just a lonely live queen and her baby brood. Everyone else has vanished. Sometimes there's still honey, and often, the place is lousy with Varroa mites, vampirish parasites that transmit viruses. You can see how the mites might be prime suspects here, but they're probably only one factor in a combination of stressors, including habitat loss and synthetic chemicals that are joining forces to kill bees. 
 
These days, of course, commercial crops are soaked in all manner of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Analysts have documented 150 different chemical residues in beehives, and while on an individual level, these substances may be certified as non-lethal, there have been few studies on how they may react with each other, and what consequences that might have. 
 
Many critics believe nicotine derived pesticides, neonicotinoids, may be partially to blame. These neonics are systemic pesticides, meaning they are often embedded into the seeds of a plant rather than sprayed on externally. Older pesticides killed bees, too, of course, but they washed away or degraded quickly, whereas these neonics can persist for months, and some beekeepers worry the buildup is contaminating, weakening, and ultimately poisoning the worker bees that collect all the pollen. 
 
A study recently published in the journal Science found that bees given small doses of neonics were 2-3 times more likely to die while away from the hive than control bees, probably because the chemical messed with their homing abilities and they couldn't find their way home. Most other research to date on the neonics indicate they are safe enough, but the sharp increase in their use since 2005 correlates with rising CCD rates so some critics are demanding more research. 
 
In fact, a coalition of beekeepers and consumer and environmental groups is currently suing the EPA, saying they jumped the gun on approving these products, and the European Union just voted to temporarily ban the insecticide until more research can be done. Some farmers and chemical reps are mad about the ban because they feel, at least for now, the science is on their side. The very fact that the issue has become so political is a good indication of how terrified folks are of losing all the bees, because really, we are seriously screwed without them. So, if you're out picnicking this summer and you see a bee taking liberties with your slice of watermelon, for Pete's sakes, don't swat the poor girl, she's earned her taste, so be nice, we need all the bees we can get.

 How a bee becomes a queen (9:39)



Honey bees have a harsh caste system. Of the tens of thousands of bees found in a hive, just about all of them are female workers and they do pretty much everything from cleaning and building the hive to collecting pollen and nectar. Their lives are so intense that while a worker can live from four to nine months during the winter, a worker bee born in the busy summer season will only last about six weeks before dying of exhaustion.
 
It's not a whole lot better for the 300 to 3,000 male drones, who basically hang around waiting to mate with the queen during the summer after which they die or are kicked out of the hive when fall comes and they are of no more use.
 
Then, there's that queen. There's one per hive and she can live to be up to five years old, laying up to 2,000 eggs in a day, and she owes her entire existence to a bitter, protein rich secretion called royal jelly.
 
Given their long life and unique position there's rarely a need for a new queen, but when one dies or leaves the hive along with a swarm, the colony needs to find a replacement, and fast. In both situations, a larval bee is chosen to become the new queen, the science of how and why this happens isn't entirely settled, but one thing is certain: royal jelly plays a large role.
 
Worker bees produce royal jelly from a gland in their heads called the hypopharynx and feed it to newly hatched honey bee larva. The milky, yellowish substance is made of digested pollen and either honey or nectar. Not only is it high in protein but royal jelly also has a combination of vitamins, especially vitamin B, plus lipids, sugars, hormones and minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. This bee super food also contains acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter also found in humans. It's what nerves use to tell muscles to start or stop movement and may also contribute to learning.
 
All those nutrients might explain why royal jelly is often marketed as an expensive dietary supplement cure-all even though studies haven't been able to prove that it does anything too significant for humans, we are after all, not bees. But for bees, it does a lot, and around day 3 of the royal jelly diet is where things get interesting. Worker bees will choose a few of the larvae and continue to feed them royal jelly while every other larva is switched to a less nutrient-intensive diet of honey, pollen and water.
 
As the future queens gorge, the royal jelly triggers other phases of development that workers don't experience, like the formation of ovaries for laying eggs. If one queen emerges first, she will search for and destroy any other queens still developing in their wax cells, and if multiple queens come out simultaneously, they will fight to the death until only one queen remains.
 
Now, we don't know exactly how the worker bees decide which larvae get the royal treatment, but for a long time we thought it was random. That would make sense because basically worker bees and queen bees are genetically identical. But there's some evidence that the selection of a queen might not actually be so random.
 
A 2011 study found that the larvae of future queens have higher levels of proteins that increase some metabolic activities, so there may indeed be a tiny genetic difference in the two that plays a huge role.
 
Scientists are also still trying to figure out what it is about the royal jelly that lets it change a larva's whole life. For a while we thought it might be a hormone in the jelly, or the way it affected insulin signals in the larvae. Then another 2011 study zeroed in on a protein called royalactin, which when isolated and combined with other nutrients can transform larvae into queens, just like royal jelly.
 
Once they emerge, queens continue eating royal jelly their entire lives, and given that the queen lives a lot longer than the thousands of relatives around her, it sounds like a reasonably dietary choice for a royal bee to make.

 Outro (13:07)


Bees. They are so weird and they are so awesome. We love researching and talking about them so let us know if you have any questions about bees or honey or anything at all in the comments below. Thank you for watching this SciShow Compilation, and thanks especially to all of our patrons on Patreon. You guys rock.

(Outro)

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