2015-07-25 / News

Beehive Exhibit Features Docile Italian Honeybees at Butterfly House

By Madeline Ciak


Original Butterfly House and Insect World manager Ruth Adamus fields questions from visitors as they pass by the new beehive exhibit, where 5,000 to 6,000 Italian honeybees make their home. Original Butterfly House and Insect World manager Ruth Adamus fields questions from visitors as they pass by the new beehive exhibit, where 5,000 to 6,000 Italian honeybees make their home. There are now 5,000 to 6,000 Italian honeybees inhabiting the new observatory hive at the Original Butterfly House and Insect World on McGulpin Street, and it is creating quite a buzz.

Italian honeybees are the most docile breed of bee and won’t go out of their way to sting people. The hive, which is encased by panels of glass and a revolving wooden case, gives visitors an opportunity to see what life is like on the inside of the beehive. At first glance, the phrase “busy bee” becomes an understatement. The bees are in a constant state of motion and have several different jobs to perform. They can either work on expanding the hive, producing honey, or taking care of the larvae.

The observatory hive gives bees the opportunity to come and go as they please; the hive is connected to a tube that leads bees through the butterfly garden and out into the open, and from there the bees can forage freely. The Island’s flowers and fruit trees contribute to the bees’ overall livelihood and offer good sources of carbohydrates and proteins, and the bees help by pollinating the plants. After the bees have collected pollen from their food sources, they return to the hive to perform a “waggle” dance, which is how the bees communicate about where the food is located or where to deposit the pollen in the hive.


These Italian honeybees are the newest additions to the Original Butterfly House and Insect World on McGulpin Street. These Italian honeybees are the newest additions to the Original Butterfly House and Insect World on McGulpin Street. There are four rectangular frames inside of the hive, and two of them are where pollen can be stored to produce honey. The two top frames are called the “honey supers,” which is where all of the honey is currently stored. The next frame is the “queen excluder” which allows the worker bees to pass through that portion of the hive, but not the drones or the queen. The bottom frame is a brood chamber, and that is where all of the queen’s eggs are laid. The queen bee lays from 1,000 to 2,000 eggs a day.

The hive’s social hierarchy, pheromones, and a bee’s sex dictate the type of job that they will do in the hive. A bee’s job is dependent upon the pheromones that the queen bee excretes. Female bees act as the hive’s construction crew, take care of the larva, and are the flower pollinators. Male bees, also known as “drones,” have the easiest job, which is to help procreation in the hive. The queen bee has the most important job of all; she can either ramp up production or call for the eviction of the drones of the hive by manipulating her pheromones.

“The bee’s social hierarchy is like a huge business,” said Original Butterfly House and Insect World manager Ruth Adamus. “The entry-level workers are the bees who go out to forage for honey, the workers act like a construction crew, and the queen bee is like a CEO,”

Bees populations are declining because of pesticides and disease, so the exhibit, she said, in addition to educating visitors about honeybees, is also good for the plants on Mackinac Island that depend on insects for pollination.

“Bees are in trouble, and that affects farms and food yield, and it’s worth it to be able to protect the lives of pollinators,” said Ms. Adamus.

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