Fascinating Facts About Honey Bees: 20 Questions …with Answers
Honey Bees are Mysterious Creatures
1. Why are Honey Bees So Fascinating?
Everyone has seen honey bees flitting from flower to flower, but many people know very little about these fascinating little creatures. I’ve compiled a list of 20 questions that you may have about bees.The answers will help explain phrases like “busy as a bee” and “hive mentality” and will demonstrate the importance of bees to the Earth’s ecosystem.
Bee are fascinating because they pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables that humans and other animals depend upon for their food supply. They have a complex social organization with each bee taking on a predetermined role in the hive. Bees have an intriguing method of communication and a highly-evolved level of cooperation. They are incredibly industrious, working tirelessly to preserve the hive and to produce honey.
2. How Many Species of Honey Bees are There?
According to taxonomy, the scientific classification of all life into hierarchical charts, bees belong to the family “Apidae.” There are about 4,000 genera and about 25,000 species of bees. There are seven species of honey bee. The most common honey bee is apis mellifera.
Only honey bees make true honey. Bumble bees, carpenter bees, and other types of bees do not make honey, although they may store some nectar as a food reserve.
Scientific Classification of Honey Bees
3. Where do Honey Bees Live?
Honey bees originated in South Asia in heavily forested tropical areas. They migrated to Europe and they were brought to the Western hemisphere by the European colonists.
Honey bees can be found all over the world with the exception of areas which are extremely cold year round. They prefer temperate or tropical climates where flowers are plentiful.
Honey bees can be found in gardens, woodlands, orchards, meadows and any other area with lots of flowering plants. In the wild, they usually build their hives in the hollows of trees. Domesticated bees live in a kind of pre-fab beehive, a box prepared by beekeepers.
4. How Many Honey Bees Live in a Hive?
A typical hive has from 20,000 to 50,000 bees live in a hive. Some hives have 80,000 or more bees in residence.
5. What is the Life Cycle of a Honey Bee?
Honey bees are holometabulous insects. They undergo complete metamorphosis, passing through egg, larval, and pupa (cocoon) stages before emerging from the pupa as an adult bee. Bees in the pre-adult stage are known as the brood. The brood and the newly born adults are tended to and fed by bees specialized for this task.
6. What is a Queen Bee?
The queen bee is the mother bee of the hive. She is larger than the other bees and only mates once in her life. During her nuptial flight, she stores enough sperm from the 10 to 15 drones who mate with her for a life-time of egg laying. She has no other duties than the laying of eggs. She will lay about 1,500 eggs a day in her lifetime. Other bees attend to all her needs.
Several queen bees will hatch at one time. They hatch as queens because they have been fed a protein-rich secretion from glands on the heads of young bees known as royal jelly.
The newly hatched queens will fight until only one remains. A hive can have only one queen.
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7. What are Worker Bees?
Worker bees are female bees born from fertilized eggs. They are smaller than the queen bee. The worker bees have two main jobs. During the first half of their lives they are "hive bees" They tend the queen, tend the brood, or tend to the work of the hive--the making of honeycombs and honey. They also ventilate and defend the hive. During the second half of their lives, they become "field bees" and go out and collect nectar and pollen from flowers.
8. What are Drones?
Drones are male bees hatched from unfertilized eggs. They are larger than the female bees and there are only a couple of hundred of them per hive. Their only duty is to hope to be one of the few drones that get to fertilize the queen.
If food is in short supply, the worker bees will evict the drones from the hive.
9. How Long Do Honey Bees Live?
A queen honey bee lives about three to four years. A worker honey bee lives for six to seven weeks. A drone lives about four weeks or for as long as four months. Drones that mate with the queen die immediately after mating.
10. How do Honey Bees Communicate?
One of the most interesting things about honey bees is how they communicate. A foraging bee that has just discovered a great source of nectar and pollen tells the other workers where to find it by doing a little “dance.”
If the flowers are within 30 yards, the bee will do a “round dance,” flying in a circle in one direction and then the other. This dance tells the other bees that the flowers are nearby.
If the source is more than 30 yards away, the bee does a “waggle dance.” The motions of the dance are a type of code to tell the other bees where the food source is.
If the sun is straight ahead, and the food source is directly in front of or directly behind the hive, the waggle line will be straight up or straight down the honeycomb. If the food source isn’t directly in front of or behind the hive, the bee will adjust the waggle to match the number of degrees the source is from the sun. The angle of the dance is always relative to the sun.
11. How Do Honey Bees Make the Honeycombs?
The youngest worker bees make the beeswax used to construct the honeycomb. The wax is produced in eight paired glands on the underside of the abdomen. They secrete little wax droplets, which harden into flakes when exposed to air. The bees then work the wax flakes in their mouths to soften them into a workable construction material for the honey combs.
They create hexagon-shaped cells. Some of these cells are used to house the queen and the brood, and some are used to prepare and store the honey.
12. How Do Bees Make Honey?
The worker bees sip nectar from flowers with their proboscis, a straw-like tube that rolled up within the mouth and extended to sip nectar. They store this nectar in a special stomach called a "honey stomach." When the honey stomach is full, they return to the hive and disgorge the nectar into the honeycomb cells.
The nectar is allowed to partially evaporate, and when it is sufficiently concentrated, the hive bees cap each honeycomb cell with wax to store the honey.
The honey is stored to provide a food source for the bees in winter.
13. How Much Honey Does a Hive Produce?
A typical hive will produce about 60 to 100 pounds of honey in a year. Since the bees only need about 25 pounds for their own food, the beekeeper can harvest the surplus. (This will vary by region.)
14. How Much Honey Does a Honey Bee Produce in Her Lifetime?
A worker honey bee collects enough nectar in her lifetime to produce just 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.
15. What is Bee Bread’?
In addition to honey, the hive bees also make “bee bread” to feed the hive. When the honey bee is out collecting nectar, she also collects some pollen which is put into the "pollen baskets" on her hind legs. The pollen is brought back to the hive and mixed with nectar to form bee bread. This is also stored in the honeycombs. It provides protein for the bees.
A Honey Bee Sips Nectar
16. How Do Honey Bees Pollinate Flowers?
When a honey bee alights upon a male flower to obtain nectar, some of the pollen from the flower’s stamens adheres to her legs and body. When she lands on a female flower, a bit of the pollen may rub off on the second flower, fertilizing it.
Honey bees are very important to the ecosystem because they are the primary way of fertilizing the female flowers so they can grow into a fruit, vegetable, or nut.
17. How Fast do Honey Bees Fly?
A honey bee can fly between 12 and 20 miles per hour. She can fly faster when she is not laden down with honey and pollen.
18. How Many Miles Does a Honey Bee Fly During Her Lifetime?
A honey bee can fly up to 500 miles during her lifetime. A bee may make up to 30 trips per day to collect nectar.
It takes about 55,000 miles of flight to collect enough nectar to make a pound of honey.
Bees will only fly as far as they need to, but may fly as far as 5 to 10 miles from the hive.
19. Do Honey Bees Sting?
Yes, worker bees can sting, and the sting can be painful. (The drones do not have a stinger.) If a bee uses her stinger, she will die shortly afterwards. Queen bees can also sting and they sting multiple times. Not to worry--queen bees seldom leave the hive.
It is highly unlikely that you will die from a bee sting. If you are stung, use a fingernail or the edge of a credit card to scrape the stinger out. If you try to squeeze it out, you may cause more venom from the venom pouch to be released into the skin.
Have you ever been stung by a bee?
20. What is Colony Collapse Disorder?
Starting in 2006, beekeepers in North America began to notice the disappearance of entire colonies of bees. This sudden disappearance of bee colonies became known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).
The cause is unknown, although there are many theories. The most commonly suspected causes are climate change, pesticide and herbicideuse, parasites, pathogens, environmental toxins, genetically modified crops, and even electro-magnetic radiation (from cell phones).
Never allow infants under the age of 1 or people with immune system deficiencies to eat honey because of the possibility of botulism spores in the honey. Healthy people over the age of one will not be harmed by these spores.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Catherine Giordano