Bees work hard to support their colonies and pollinate the plants that make life on Earth possible. However, many species of North American bees are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and heavy pesticide use. Humans have used this as an excuse for intensive farming of these friendly flyers—but the unnatural intervention does nothing to support colonies.
Here are some fascinating bee facts that will help you get to know your buzzing neighbors:
1. They work really hard at their jobs.
In a single day, a worker bee may visit up to 10,000 flowers, collecting drops of nectar that she uses to produce honey and feed the hive. After all her hard work, a single bee will produce less than a teaspoonful of honey in her lifetime. Throughout her typical life span of only six to eight weeks, she will fly about 36,000 miles—almost 1.5 times the circumference of the planet.
2. They dance to show each other where to find food.
Workers use the “round dance” when nectar is less than 100 meters (328 feet) from the hive and the “waggle dance” when it’s found farther away. They will dance in a particular pattern to indicate where the nectar is located in relation to the sun.
3. They have very specific roles in supporting the colony.
Three types of bees make up a hive. The queen bee’s main role is to reproduce, laying around 1,500 eggs daily. Worker bees keep the hive clean, feed the queen and baby bees, guard the hive, and collect nectar from flowers. Drone bees leave the hive to find a queen to mate with and start a new hive.
4. Only female bees can sting—and they don’t want to sting you.
Since one of their roles as worker is to protect the colony, female bees will only sting if they think you’re a threat. A worker bee dies if she uses her stinger, so she will use it only as a last resort. Respect a bee’s space and she’ll happily fly along.
5. Honeybees have a powerful sense of smell.
They use odor receptors located in their antennae to identify and trace the scent of nearby pollen- and nectar-rich flowers. They also use their sense of smell to find other bees.
6. They are meticulously clean.
Bees bathe themselves in order to keep their colony free from any viruses that might spread throughout it. In the honey industry, they’re genetically manipulated and forced into stressful conditions that make them more susceptible to pathogens.
7. They need and use all the products that humans often steal.
Honey is an essential food source for bees during the winter. Honeycomb is a bee’s hive—the hexagons hold bee’s eggs and store pollen and honey. Royal jelly is used to feed future queens, as it triggers the development of ovaries. Bee pollen and “bee bread” are not produced by bees but are important sources of protein for growing bees.
8. Bees can recognize others in their colonies and are protective of their hives.
The honey industry manipulates hives and steals all the honey that bees work hard to produce, replacing it with a sugary syrup that lacks essential nutrients. Workers are protective of the honey that they produce because it’s the result of hard work and important to the colony’s survival.
9. Native bees are better pollinators than honeybees.
Supporting native bee species is a great way to pollinate crops, and it doesn’t require the exploitation of hives. Native bees are often solitary, and they collect pollen to take back to their nests. Honeybees also collect pollen, but they’re more interested in a flower’s nectar. Planting bee-friendly flowers and not using pesticides are simple ways you can support the native bees in your own backyard.
10. Without them, our ecosystem would collapse.
Bees pollinate many of the plants that humans eat, but their work is also essential to the survival of many other plants and animals. The vast biodiversity that characterizes life on Earth would simply cease to exist without them.
More Important Facts about honey bees
1. Honey bees are super-important pollinators for flowers, fruits and vegetables. This means that they help other plants grow! Bees transfer pollen between the male and female parts, allowing plants to grow seeds and fruit.
2. Honey bees live in hives (or colonies). The members of the hive are divided into three types:
Queen: One queen runs the whole hive. Her job is to lay the eggs that will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. The queen also produces chemicals that guide the behaviour of the other bees.
Workers: these are all female and their roles are to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, clean and circulate air by beating their wings. Workers are the only bees most people ever see flying around outside the hive.
Drones: These are the male bees, and their purpose is to mate with the new queen. Several hundred live in each hive during the spring and summer. But come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out!
3. What are these buzzing bugs most famous for? Delicious honey! But did you know they produce honey as food stores for the hive during winter? Luckily for us, these efficient little workers produce 2-3 time more honey than they need, so we get to enjoy the tasty treat, too!
4. If the queen bee dies, workers will create a new queen by selecting a young larva (the newly hatched baby insects) and feeding it a special food called “royal jelly“. This enables the larva to develop into a fertile queen.
5. Honey bees are fab flyers. They fly at a speed of around 25km per hour and beat their wings 200 times per second!
6. Each bee has 170 odorant receptors, which means they have one serious sense of smell! They use this to communicate within the hive and to recognise different types of flowers when looking for food.
7. The average worker bee lives for just five to six weeks. During this time, she’ll produce around a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.
8. The queen can live up to five years. She is busiest in the summer months, when she can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day!
9. Honey bees are also brilliant boogiers! To share information about the best food sources, they perform their ‘waggle dance’. When the worker returns to the hive, it moves in a figure-of-eight and waggles its body to indicate the direction of the food source. Cool, huh?
10. Sadly, over the past 15 years, colonies of bees have been disappearing, and the reason remains unknown. Referred to as ‘colony collapse disorder’, billions of honey bees across the world are leaving their hives, never to return. In some regions, up to 90% of bees have disappeared!