Beekeeping Basics 1 – Importance of Bees

Importance of Bees

Many studies have shown that insects are declining worldwide.  The importance of the honey bee for sustaining life on Earth cannot be understated.  In 2018, an unprecedented study, integrating data from around the globe, suggests that honey bees are the world’s single most important pollinator species and key contributors to natural ecosystem functions.  Pollination is so important in natural ecosystems – 25% of all mammals on Earth rely on fruits and seeds derived from pollination.  Honey bees certainly play a large role in this ecosystem service.  

Honey bees are one of the hardest working animals on the planet, and we owe a great deal of thanks to these amazing insects.  In the USA, there are more than 100 crops that require the pollination services provided by honey bees.  This service alone is a $15 billion industry in the USA and whopping $200 billion worldwide.  Additionally, the annual crops derived from honey bee pollination contribute another $20 billion – and that’s just in the USA!  Both pollination services and crop agricultural industries continue to grow annually, thanks to honey bees, as we strive to create sustainable agriculture intensification that is required to feed a growing population approaching 8 billion humans.

Why become a beekeeper?

In nature, honey bees provide an invaluable service that leads to a functional ecosystem.  That service is pollination.  Pollination leads to new seeds for future flowers, and fruits to be consumed by animals.  Humans have long benefited from agriculture crops pollinated by honey bees.  Additionally, in an ancient practice going back more than 15,000 years, humans have long benefited from the honey bee by harvesting honey, wax and propolis from wild beehives. 

Beekeeping truly has something for everyone!  Most people enjoy the sweet taste of wildflower honey.  The naturalist will also enjoy observing how honey bees interact with the ecosystem.  The thrill seeker will also enjoy an adrenaline rush while holding thousands of bees at their fingertips.  Many people simply enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill or hobby.  No matter why you decided to become a beekeeper, you are bound to find joy in the nearly endless benefits of beekeeping. 

What is Honey?

Honey is a sugary substance made predominantly by honey bees.  Bees produce honey by collecting nectar from flowers that are found within their environment.  Once collected, foraging bees return to their hive and pass off their nectar to younger bees, adding enzymes to the nectar in the process.  The younger worker bee then puts the nectar into the cells of the honeycomb for storage.  As the hive collects more and more nectar, the colony will evaporate water from the nectar by simultaneously fanning their wings to circulate air within the hive.  Once the moisture level of the nectar is reduced to 17-18%, it has been transformed into honey.  The bees will then cap the honey with wax to prevent it from absorbing or evaporating moisture.

Raw wildflower honey

Human Benefits – Raw (unpasteurized) Honey:

  1. High in antioxidants – Antioxidants help to protect your body from cell damage due to free radicals.
  2. Antibacterial and antifungal properties – Research has shown that raw honey can kill harmful bacteria and fungi, including pathogens.
  3. High in phytonutrients – which lead to immune-boosting and anticancer benefits.
  4. Aids digestion issues – Honey has been proven to be an effective treatment for stomach ulcers.
  5. Nature’s cough syrup (one or two teaspoons) – Research has shown that honey is as effective or better at suppressing coughs than common over-the-counter cough medications.

It is important to point out that all honey is NOT alike – the stuff you typically find in the grocery store shelf is not raw honey, but blended from hives around the world and has been heat pasteurized. This process of heating the honey destroys most of the benefits to human health, and is little different from consuming white table sugar.

What is Beeswax?

Beeswax is formed from eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees.  The hive workers use the wax to form the honeycomb structure.  This honeycomb is the foundation of the colony in terms of both structure and functions – it used for honey/pollen storage and brood rearing.  New beeswax is white in color and considered food-grade.  While older wax ranges from a yellow to black in color based on age because of pollen and other bee related contaminants.  Beeswax is chemically composed of a complex suite of lipids including n-alkanes, n-alkanoic acids and fatty acyl wax esters.

The honeycomb structure of beeswax.

Human Benefits – Beeswax:

  1. Natural moisturizer – locks moisture into the skin.
  2. Helps heal skin from minor burns or abscesses. 
  3. Natural treatments against eczema and psoriasis – can be mixed with honey and/or olive oil to produce lotions.
  4. Leather conditioner
  5. Water proofing
  6. Candles

What is Propolis?

Propolis, also called bee glue, is an important material for honey bees. Propolis is a resinous material that bees use to seal cracks and gaps within the hive.  Wild bees are known to seal the inside walls of tree cavities with propolis.  For the bees, this creates a smooth surface that repels water and pest, while providing an antibacterial and antifungal surface that encapsules the nest.  Bees make this compound by collecting sap from trees and other vegetation, and mix it with small amounts of honey and wax. Like beeswax, propolis has been found to offer numerous health benefits, and researchers are looking into its role for possible therapeutics.

Propolis, also called bee glue.

Human Benefits – Propolis:

  1. Decreases risks of heart disease.
  2. Decreases risks of cancer.
  3. Reduces and alleviates ulcers in the mouth and gut.
  4. Contains anti-inflammatory properties.

Works Cited

Gallai,Salles, Settele, & Vaissière, (2009). Economic  valuation  of  the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecol. Econ., 68, 810-821. 

KLJ Hung, JM Kingston, M Albrecht, DA Holway, JR Kohn (2018) The worldwide importance of honey bees as pollinators in natural habitats, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 285 (1870).

Frantini, Cilia, Turchi, Felicioli, (2016) Beeswax: A minireview of its antimicrobial activity and its application in medicine, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, 9, 9, pg. 839-843.

Visweswara Rao Pasupuleti, Lakhsmi Sammugam, Nagesvari Ramesh, Siew Hua Gan, (2017) .”Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits”, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2017,

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