The honeybee became Missouri's state insect in 1985.
State Insect: The Honeybee
While we usually think of insects as pests, that is not the case with Missouri’s state insect, the honeybee, which is beneficial to humankind. It produces honey and, more importantly, pollinates crops. Pollination is critical to the production of a number of horticultural crops, such as watermelon and cantaloupe. Plants like these have male and female flowers that depend on the transfer of pollen by insects. Honeybees are efficient at carrying out this task, since they constantly forage for nectar. Some growers lease hives from beekeepers during the growing season to increase their crop production.
Honeybees are not native to the United States. As early as the 1600s, European settlers brought them over for honey and beeswax to make candles. American Indians were not fond of honeybees and referred to them as “white man’s flies.” In addition to honey’s use as a sweetener, historically it was used as an antiseptic for wounds.
A typical beehive contains 30,000 to 60,000 bees in the summer. They have a complex social structure with three distinct classes: the queen, drones, and workers. A hive usually contains one queen whose task is to lay eggs and secrete chemicals called pheromones to control the behavior of workers. The drone, which develops from unfertilized eggs, mates with a new queen once and dies. A new queen may mate with several drones over two or three days before returning to the original hive or starting a new one. She stores the sperm, which is used to fertilize eggs as they are laid over her life span of three to four years. New queens develop from fertilized eggs, as do workers. When larvae are fed only royal jelly produced by special glands in workers, they develop into queens. Workers are females, but they have not been fed exclusively royal jelly. They are the only member with the ability to sting. The workers carry out numerous tasks, including feeding the larvae and queen, cleaning and defending the hive, building comb, and foraging for nectar.
Beekeepers have been plagued with serious problems in recent years, including both tracheal and Varroa mites and Colony Collapse Disorder. The latter can result in the destruction of entire hives and is seriously affecting honeybee populations. Recent research points toward a virus newly identified in the United States as the possible cause.
Because of its importance in food production, the honeybee was named our state insect July 3, 1985. Sixteen states have honored this marvelous insect by making it a state emblem.