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The Western Honeybee: State Insect of Arkansas

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Arkansas's state insect is the western honeybee, also called the European honeybee. Arkansas designated the honeybee as official state insect in 1973, due to its enormous economic presence. The honeybee is a very popular choice for state insect across the country, and is also the official insect of Kansas, South Dakota, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. This article tells you what you need to know about this remarkable insect.

The Basics:

  • Scientific name: Apis mellifera
  • Range: World-wide, especially North America, China, and Europe
  • Status: Secure as a commercial species, but suffering from periodic "colony collapse disorder"
  • Venom: Fairly mild, according to the Schmidt Pain Scale
  • Identification: Familiar to most people; orange and brown, often carrying a yellow pollen basket on the hind legs
  • Predators: "Murder hornets," spiders, ambush bugs, robber flies, birds, and some lizards

The Western Honeybee's Scientific Name

The state insect of Arkansas is of course a kind of bee, which means it is placed in the family Hymenoptera along with all other bees, wasps, and ants. This group of insects share some very distinctive characteristics that indicate their shared evolutionary lineage. Within the Hymenoptera, the honeybee belongs to the huge family Apidae, which includes bumblebees and many others. The honeybee's full scientific name is Apis mellifera. This means it belongs to the genus Apis, and its species name is mellifera.

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Honeybee Identification

Most people past the age of infancy know what a honeybee looks like. It's good to learn early on how to identify an insect that can give you a painful sting, and if you didn't know how to identify a honeybee before you got stung, you certainly could afterwards.

The orange and black colors of a honeybee, and nearly all bees to some extent, are a very clear warning to back away. Think about the bugs in your garden that are brightly colored, especially some combination of black and yellow (or orange). These insects are all trying to tell you something: "don't touch – we may sting you."

The honeybee's buzz is also, it's thought, meant to serve as a warning to would-be predators.

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Honeybees and the Hive Mind

Of course, it's common to keep honeybees in man-made hives. In nature, however, there are very few neat square shapes. For their nests, honeybees chose sheltered spots, especially inside of dead trees. In these nests the straight lines and 90-degree angles of honeycombs in man-made hives are replaced by curved planes that drape over the natural shapes of the shelter.

Honeybees live in hives of up to 80,000 individuals -- that's a lot of bees! Most of these are sterile female worker bees, but there are also a few males, called "drones," and a queen. The queen spends all of her time depositing fertilized eggs in the six-sided cells that make up the honeycomb. Arkansas's state insect is a truly amazing creature!

Complete Metamorphosis

"Complete metamorphosis" is the term used to describe the life cycle of insects that go through a four-stage sequence of forms. For butterflies, this means egg-larva-cocoon/chrysalis-adult. It helps to take the butterfly as the example, because dragonflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and many other insects also go through complete metamorphosis. Like butterflies, they all have larvae and all of the other developmental stages.

The honeybee Apis mellifera is typical of the social insects that undergo complete metamorphosis. The egg is laid in a honeycomb cell by the queen, and the grub-like larva that hatches out is dependent on the adult bees in the hive to feed it. Once it is full grown, it forms a pupa, within which the grub develops the legs, wings, and all other body parts of the adult bee.

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All About the Honey

Here are some amazing facts about honey, courtesy of Mental Floss:

Honey Never Spoils

If kept airtight, honey keeps literally forever – there are reports of edible honey being found in ancient Egyptian tombs. This is partly because honey is naturally acidic and low in moisture.

Bees Make a Lot of Honey – A LOT

A typical beehive can produce up to 100 pounds of honey a year. This much honey begins with 2 million flowers and a lifetime’s worth of work for hundreds of bees.

Bees Eat Honey in the Winter

During the winter, bees cluster around the queen, shivering their bodies to fill the hive with warmth. Honey makes for the perfect high-energy diet.

Honey Has Been Used as Medicine

This goes back as far as ancient Mesopotamia, where honey was often used as a natural bandage due to its sterile, acidic nature.

Honey Comes in Different Colors and Flavors

Honey’s flavor is determined its the source of nectar. For example, Linden honey is delicate and woodsy, buckwheat honey is strong and spicy, and eucalyptus honey has a subtle menthol flavor.

Not All Bees Make Honey

Only a small fraction of the thousand of bee species on earth actually make honey, and only one species is used for commercial beekeeping -- Apis mellifera.

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Honeybee Mimics

Not too many people are aware of this, but many of the "bees" you see are not bees at all, but flies, or even moths pretending to be bees. One in particular, the drone fly, is a good mimic of the Western honeybee. It can't sting, but it looks just like a bee that can. Predators may be more likely to leave it alone if they think it's a real bee.

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Murder Hornets Attack Honeybees

The invasive giant hornet, sometimes called murder hornets, are huge wasps that have been known to raid honeybee hives, killing all of the inhabitants and stealing the honey. It's a horrifying scene, but fortunately not yet a concern in North America. So far these huge hornets have been found in the Pacific Northwest, but not as far east as Arkansas.

Colony Collapse Disorder

In addition to insect and animal predators, western honeybees are also susceptible to something known as "colony collapse disorder." In this situation, entire nests or colonies mysteriously disappear, leaving only the queen without resources to keep the colony going. The exact cause of CCD is often mysterious, and may in fact involve several different pathologies or even changes in climate.

CCD has received a lot of press in the past several years, but it is in fact a phenomenon that has been occurring to at least some degree throughout the history of apiculture (beekeeping). In fact, through the years CCD has been referred to by a number of names, including disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease.

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Please Keep Honeybees in Mind!

Honeybees are not just the State insect of Arkansas -- they also pollinate nearly every agricultural crop that you and I depend on for our food. Please remember their critical role in life on this planet, and take every opportunity to give them a safe harbor in your yard or garden. Avoid pesticides, cultivate nectar sources, and leave them alone to do their important work.

Resources

The following sources were used for this guide:

State Symbols

Mental Floss – Honey

Honeybee basics

Honeybee Central