The bee gathers nectar from a flower by inserting its long proboscis down into the nectary. In the process, its hairy body picks up pollen from the flower’s anthers. The nectar passes through the bee’s esophagus into the honey sac, a storage tank that holds the nectar until the bee returns to the hive. Certain glands secrete enzymes into the sac, and these work to break down starch into smaller chains of sugars and sucrose into its constituent glucose and fructose molecules.
The Advance of the Bee in North America
We’re lucky to have a near-contemporary description of the honey bee’s movement across North America. In 1832, Washington Irving toured what is now the Oklahoma region and published his observations in
A Tour on the Prairies. The ninth chapter describes a “Bee-hunt,” the practice of finding honey in the wild by following bees back to their hive. It is surprising in what countless swarms the bees have overspread the Far West within but a moderate number of years. The Indians consider them the harbinger of the white man, as the buffalo is of the red man; and say that, in proportion as the bee advances, the Indian and buffalo retire. We are always accustomed to associate the hum of the bee-hive with the farm-house and flower-garden, and to consider those industrious little animals as connected with the busy haunts of man, and I am told that the wild bee is seldom to be met with at any great distance from the frontier. They have been the heralds of civilization, steadfastly preceding it as it advanced from the Atlantic borders, and some of the ancient settlers of the West pretend to give the very year when the honey-bee first crossed the Mississippi. The Indians with surprise found the mouldering trees of their forests suddenly teeming with ambrosial sweets, and nothing, I am told, can exceed the greedy relish with which they banquet for the first time upon this unbought luxury of the wilderness.
For those of us who buy our luxury in jars, this initial sense of wonder is worth reimagining.