Questions About Bees

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The vast numbers of different bee species, as well as, the variety within each individual type gives rise to some intriguing questions about bees. There are so many fascinating aspects of bee life that we will likely never understand all of them. Who can blame us for our curiosity as we embark on a journey to learn more about the daily lives of these insects?

Inset of various bees on flowers with graphic bees above.

You might think we know all the facts about bees that we need. They have been studied for centuries. Yet, even among the popular insects such as honey bees vs bumble bees – there are still things to learn about their role in our ecosystem.

General Questions about Bees

In the insect world, we find many different bee species. While they share some commonalities, there are also vast differences in things like: diet, nesting habits, lifespan etc.

Herein are some of the most common bee questions that people ask and the answers you need to take your bee knowledge to the next level.

What are Bees?

Bees are winged insects that are found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. They are the most popular insects and are closely related to wasps and ants.

Their role in pollination is well-known, honey bee pollination is responsible for many crop foods that we enjoy. Some, but not all bees produce honey.

How Many Species of Bees are There?

There are more than 20,000 known species of bees found worldwide. Most of them are not honey bees. They range in size from the smallest solitary bees to the large Bumble bees and Carpenter bees we commonly see in the garden.

Where do Bees live and Build their hives?

They live in different types of homes. Honey bees may live in a hollow tree or in a beehive tended by a beekeeper. Other species – such as Bumble bees live underground in abandoned burrows. Some make nests in hollow tubes or other plant materials.

Do all Bees Build Honeycomb Hives?

While honey bees are well-known for their beautifully constructed honeycomb hives – others do not build nests of wax.

The nests of many bees and wasps are constructed of plant materials and other secretions – not beeswax.

What is the Lifespan of a Bee?

In general, they do not live for a long time and lifespan varies according to species. Even among honey bees how long they live varies. Workers live from 6 weeks to 6 months but the queen bee capable of living for several years.

Are all Bees Pollinators?

Bees are widely recognized as important pollinators but not all play a role in plant pollination. Some do not collect nectar or pollen.

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Bees varieties honey bee on flower and bumble bee gathers nectar.

Types of Bees

With at least 20,000 species, you know that we are going to see a lot of variety when we consider any bee questions regarding their lives.

It is remarkable to see insects with so many similarities and yet notable differences too. Understanding some of these-makes it easier to appreciate the diversity of nature and the role of bees in the ecosystem.

What are Honey Bees and how do They Differ from others?

The honey bee is a specific type of eusocial bee that belongs to the genus Apis. They are native to parts of Europe and Asia. A primary difference between them and other bees is their ability to make honey to feed themselves.

Why are Bumble bees Considered Good Pollinators?

Bumble bees are one of the bee families of the genus Bombus. Though related to honey bees, they are larger. Their larger size and the fact that they fly in cooler temperatures (early morning-later in day) makes them better pollinators for some plant types. They also have long tongues to reach way down inside tubular flowers.

How are Solitary Bees Different From Social Bees?

Solitary bees (mason bees, miner bees, leafcutter bees etc.) live alone in nests that they build. They do not live in large families like honey bees or even bumble bees. The solitary bees builds her own nest and provisions it with food for her young – she does not have other nest mates to help.

Do all Bees Make Honey?

Only honey bees produce honey in harvestable quantities. Other species do not produce honey to be collected by humans or stored in the nests over Winter.

Queen bumble bee gathers pollen and honey bee worker in hive with young.

Questions about Bee Life

If you could see through the eyes of a bee, the world would look much different. Yet, these tiny insects have the tools they need to navigate and communicate in this vast world.

Their daily tasks consists of all the things they must do to survive according to the plan mother nature has provided.

How do Bees Communicate With Each Other?

Bees communicate with other members of their family in some of the same ways we do. Body language and eye contact reveals a bit about a bee’s intentions. Worker honey bees dance to share the location of food sources with their sisters.

Another interesting method of communication between bees is pheromones. These chemical cues share information about colony conditions and even the approach of a predator.

What is the Role of the Queen in the Hive?

The primary role of the queen bee in a colony is that of egg layer. She is the only mated member who can lay fertilized eggs that develop into female worker bees. Her special pheromones also promote colony unity.

How do Bees Collect Nectar and Pollen?

Bees use their long tongues like a straw to suck up liquid nectar and store it in a special organ called a honey stomach or crop – for the trip back to the hive. (This is not a digestive stomach – honey is not bee vomit.)

Pollen is collected and mixed with bee salvia before being packed on the pollen baskets on the hind legs. It too is taken to the hive to be prepared for storage as bee bread.

How Far Can Bees Fly in Search of Food?

Many species rely on finding food relatively close to their nest area. However, honey bees can travel 1-2 miles easily to a good food source.

Are Bees in Danger of Extinction?

Some bee species are at risk of extinction due to many factors. Honey bees are not endangered at this time.

However, they do serve as indicators of pollinator health in an ecosystem plagued by climate changes, pesticides and other pressures.

Honey bee fanning at entrance of hive and worker collecting honeydew.

Interesting Behaviors of Bees

Some members of the various bee families are docile insects that go about their daily lives without a lot of “buzz”.

Others can be a bit more “testy” and require more personal space. It is good to understand some of these characteristics as you share the world with bees.

How do Bees Defend Themselves?

Bees can defend themselves and their home. In fact, defense is why bees sting and it usually only happens when they feel threatened.

Venom from the sting causes pain for the victim. The bees also leave behind an attach pheromone calling the other colony members to help.

Why do Bees Swarm? Is This a Good Thing?

Honey bee swarming is a natural phenomenon. A strong colony with a large population splits itself into two parts-creating a new colony.

From a survival point of view, swarming is a good thing – not there are 2 colonies. Beekeepers often strive to reduce swarming because their colonies often see a reduction in honey production for that season.

Are all Bees Aggressive and Likely to Sting?

Not at all, many bees are not aggressive and some bees do not sting at all. Those that do, usually only sting for defense.

Why do Bees Die After Stinging?

Honey bees usually die after stinging because they have a barbed stinger that gets stuck in your skin. When the stinger rips away, it takes part of the bee’s internal body parts with it.

How do Bees Find Their Way Back to the Hive?

Honey bees use landmarks to find their way home. The position of the sun, the Earth’s magnetic field and an internal compass helps them navigate the world.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, some of the most interesting and commonly asked questions about bees. From lifestyles to behaviors to nesting habits – there is so much to learn. And, the more we know, the more we are able to appreciate the role they play in our lives.