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Bee Facts – {Getting to Know Honey Bees}

Do you know a lot about bees? They have been the subject of study for thousands of years. Still, they continue to amaze us. Researchers have unraveled many honey bee facts that answer some of our questions about their behavior. However, we will still have some mysteries to solve and and new things to learn. How many of these fun bee facts do you know?

Honey bee feeding on flower image.

Interesting Honey Bee Facts

There are thousands of facts about honey bees to read online and in books. Many of them are correct but some are just a bit off. When an untrue tidbit about our winged pollinators become popular, it can be hard to change people’s opinion.

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Are any of these facts news to you?

  • The honey bee’s scientific name is “Apis Mellifera” this means honey-carrying bee
  • Honey bees are true insects with 3 major body parts
  • Ancient Egypt was an early center of beekeeping, with honey used as payment for taxes
  • Honey bees are not native to North America – early settlers brought them from Europe
  • The Native Americans called them the “White Man’s Fly”
  • A yard of hives is called an apiary -and another word for beekeeper is “apiarist”
  • A honey bee colony is a social organism that lives as a group from year to year
  • Each beehive has 3 different kinds of bees inside : worker, drone and queen
  • Not every type of bee can make honey – only those in the genus Apis
  • They also collect pollen to feed young
  • Fresh pollen would spoil – it is converted into bee bread
  • Only workers have pollen baskets to collect pollen
  • The winter survival strategy of a bee colony is unique to them
  • Bees and Wasps are very different but related
  • Only females have stingers: workers and queens
  • A workers barbed stinger becomes embedded in mammal skin– most die after stinging
  • Each colony has a distinctive scent that allows members to recognize each other
  • Not everyone is allergic to bee stings-some pain is normal
  • They gather nectar from millions of blooming flowers
  • Honey bees do have a nose – her antenna functions like a nose
  • They use their acute sense of smell and sight locate food rich flowers
  • For a long time-researchers didn’t understand bees’ flight
  • They beat their wings 200 times per second – this is what creates the buzzing sound we hear
  • It is normal to see different colors of bees in a hive
  • The home of a honey bee family is called a beehive
  • A summer colony may contain 40,000-60,000 members
  • Babies or larvae develop and emerge from their cells as full-grown adults
  • Honey bee workers live 6 weeks in Summer but up to 6 months during Winter
  • Bees do not eat only honey – the diet is varied.
  • Some colony members die everyday-you can expect that 500 daily deaths of natural causes
  • Honey bees dance to communicate the location of rich food sources
  • Colony members communicate with chemical messengers called pheromones
  • Bees need rest and often sleep inside the hive
  • The hard work of a colony is celebrated in many bee quotes
  • A single worker will make about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime
  • Over Winter, less work is required, and the Winter bees have larger fat bodies
  • Bees can fly up to 15 MPH. On very windy days, they may not leave the hive to forage
  • Some member of the colony serve as scouts that look for new homes
  • They can easily travel up to 2 miles foraging for food.
  • A single bee visits 50-100 flowers during a foraging trip
  • Workers change jobs over the course of their lives
  • They are important to modern agriculture-high value of bee pollination
  • About 13-30% of a colony’s foragers will be collecting pollen on a given day
  • An average colony collects 50-60 pounds of pollen each year
  • Sold by the pound – a 3 pound package is the most popular way to buy bees
  • A starter package holds about 10,000 bees and a queen

Queen Honey Bees

The queen is a vital member of the hive-the only single member that is essential survival. Due to her popularity, we know a lot of queen bee facts but here are a few of the most well-known.

  • Queens do not care for their young but queen bumbles do
  • Queen larva are fed approx. 1600 times before the cell is capped. Worker larva 143 times.
  • A healthy queen can lay thousands of eggs per day during Spring
  • Queens do have a stinger- it is barbed and only used on rival queens
  • Queens mate outside the hive over a few days in their youth
  • Sperm from 12- 20 drones is stored inside the queen bee’s body in her spermatheca
  • The queen honey bee gives off special pheromones to alert members of her presence
  • If the queen dies, the colony knows this within 15 minutes
  • A honey bee colony can make a new queen with a young larva from any fertilized egg
  • A queen can live longer than the other members of the hive – 2-3 years or more

Things to Know About Drone Bees

The “boys of the hive” – drones are male bees. They are often ridiculed because they do none of the work that keeps the colony functioning. However, drones are very important because without them – queens could not be mated.

  • Drone bees are males and can not sting
  • Developed from unfertilized eggs -Drones are haploid – and have half the chromosomes of workers
  • Drones have no stinger because they do not need one. They do not forage or protect the hive
  • The only purpose for drones is to mate with virgin queens
  • Drones do not mate queens inside the hive-instead mating occurs in mid-air
  • In Fall, most colonies will evict drones and leave them to die in the cold
Drone honey bee the males of the colony among workers in hive image.

Basic Bee Facts for Kids

  • Most bees are not honey bees. Honey bees are only a small part of the bee world
  • With over 20,000 species of bees, most are solitary and do not live in large families
  • There are only 7 species of true honey bees in the world
  • Honey Bees are insects – they have 3 main body parts: head, thorax and abdomen
  • 5 eyes are found on the head of a honey bee – 2 large compound eyes for vision and 3 small ocelli (simple eyes) for light detection
  • Honey bees also have small hairs on the surface of their eyes. These hairs help detect wind direction.
  • They can see light, color and motion
  • They develop through metamorphosis. 4 stages : Egg, Larvae, Pupae and Adults
  • Worker bees dance to tell other foragers where to find food
  • Workers construct hexagon cells that provide the most storage space using the least amount of wax.

Products of the Hive

Of course we know that they make honey but wax is also a valuable resource from the hive.

  • Workers (female bees) produce beeswax from special glands on the underside of their abdomen
  • The colony must consume about 8 pounds of honey to produce 1 pound of beeswax
  • Honey never spoils- will be safe to eat for a very long time- if honey is stored properly
  • They do not use pollen to make honey – only plant nectar
  • A colony stores a lot of honey for Winter food
  • Nectar is stored in the honey stomach for the trip back to the hive. Honey is NOT bee vomit
  • Workers visit 2 million individual blooms to collect nectar to make 1 pound of honey
Single honey bee making honey in comb image.

Killer Bees – What You Need to Know

The honey bees known as Africanized or (Killer Bees) were developed on purpose. No, they were not intended to be dangerous. Researchers were trying to create a hybrid honey bee that would perform well in the hot climate of South America.

  • Africanized Bees are now found in most of the Southern States of the US
  • The venom of is not stronger or more toxic than regular honey bee venom
  • Africanized Bees are more defensive than normal colonies. They respond and attack in greater numbers
  • Killer bees are able to chase someone for more than 1/4 of a mile
  • You can not identify them in the field. They look exactly the same as European bees to the untrained eye
  • If you are threatened by Killer Bees, the best thing to do is run, run and run some more

Fascinating Bees

All pollinators have value to our environment and lifestyles and deserve our appreciation. As we learn more about these beneficial insects it is easy to understand their value.There you have it. Some wonderful honey bee facts for you to share and enjoy. Do you have some to add? If so, I would love to hear them!

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