The Honey and the Bees

The Honey and the Bees

Michele Berger
Published: 05/05/2011

Image: Susie Wyshak, Flickr Creative Commons

Ever get a hankering for honey? We’ve got you covered in the knowledge department. Take a look at some of Audubon's coverage of the liquid gold during the past year (give or take). You’ll find the writer and issue following each field note.

Liquid Gold
North Carolina beekeepers are purists. Honey, they say, should come from honeybees and nectar and contain no additives. With so many corn syrup imposters advertised as pure honey, who can blame them? Thanks to the beekeepers’ concerns and a newly created state Honey Standards Board—designed with advice from Florida and California beekeepers, whose states have honey-labeling requirements already—anyone in North Carolina who tries to call faux honey the real stuff could get stung with fines. “We hope that just having the standard will stop people from mislabeling their honey,” says Jeanne Price, North Carolina State Beekeepers Association president. “If it doesn’t, we have alternatives now.”—Michele Wilson, Mar-Apr 2011 issue

Honey, I’m Home
“One of Audubon’s goals is to give back to the community,” says T Hanson, nature store director at the Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas. “We try to sell the work of local artisans.” That includes bees. The Texas Honeybee Guild helped relocate seven hives from attics and other inconvenient places to Trinity’s prairies. There the buzzers forage on white sweet clover and saw-leaf daisy. Guild members collect the cinnamon-hued honey and transfer it to eight-ounce jars bearing a label with the busy bees and 75217—the center’s zip code—that go for $8 each. The insects offer visitors more than liquid gold. They teach them about the role of pollinators, and what it really means to be a local eater.—Nick Neely, Mar-Apr 2011 issue (scroll down to the bottom for the story)

Green Guru: Does eating local honey help prevent allergies?
A spoonful of honey is often touted as the best natural medicine to combat the sneezing and itchy eyes brought on by pollen-filled blooms. After all, bees make honey from the nectar collected from plants close to their hives, so it stands to reason that eating the sweet stuff would prompt your body to build up a resistance to the cause of your discomfort. Alas, no scientific studies show that local honey combats allergies. Still, future research may prove otherwise, says Peter Gallmann, head researcher at the Swiss Bee Research Centre. “There are hints in the literature that some relief can be due to the intake of pollen,” he says. “But pollen in honey is only in the range of parts per thousand. So it’s really not very much of an effect.” Until the honey connection is proven, be wary—some people have reported allergic reactions to the honey itself. Even if local honey doesn’t clear your sinuses, it does offer benefits. It’s increasingly easy to buy, thanks to the growing trend of urban beekeeping, and purchasing honey from a farmers’ market means you’re supporting local agriculture and reducing emissions spewed from trucking the golden liquid.—Susan Cosier, Mar-Apr 2010 issue

Shaky Ground
When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re cranky. We crave coffee. We might slur our words, jumble sentences, mumble mumbo-jumbo. We’re not alone in our hazy stupor, it turns out. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, and Cornell University have found that honeybees have similar trouble communicating when they don’t get their 40 winks. The researchers built a magnetic “insominator” to wake up bees whose backs had been fitted with a bit of metal. The sleep-deprived buzzers subsequently performed their waggle dances—used to relay directions and distance to nectar sources—with less precision, indicating the correct distance to food but over a wobbly course. The study suggests that shut-eye is a key to making honey: Sleep-deprived hives may be less productive overall, since misled worker bees presumably arrive at fewer flowers. This research is the first to demonstrate how fewer ZZZs may affect an insect in a colony outside of the lab, and it offers evidence that sloppy communication is a trait all social organisms share.—Nick Neely, Mar-Apr 2011 issue