10 Fun Facts About The Honey Bee
10 Fun Facts About the Honey Bee
Have you ever stopped to watch a honey bee? Many people are afraid of them, so quite possibly you haven’t. They are fascinating creatures of nature, with complex communication systems and social structures within the hive. Read on for some fun facts about the honey bee—and next time you visit our farm, stop by the Bee Barn in the Farm Experience Center, where you can observe honey bees behind glass, without any fear!
1. The scientific name for the western honey bee is Apis mellifera, from the Latin words for “bee” and “honey-bearing.” The western honey bee is also called the European honey bee and is the most common species.
2. The western honey bee can be found on every continent except Antarctica, though its believed to have originated in either Africa or Asia. These bees adapted to their local environments as they spread around the globe.
3. There are three types of bees: the queen, worker bees, and drones. The queen is the only fertile female bee in the colony, and is responsible solely for reproduction in the colony. Worker bees are sterile females, and are responsible for most of the work in the hive: they raise other younger bees, forage for nectar and pollen, and build the hive. Drone bees are male bees and are primarily responsible for fertilizing a new queen, so that she can lay eggs that will become workers.
4. Honey bees go through a complete metamorphosis, like many other insects. They begin life as a single egg (laid into a cell by the queen), then they are hatched into a larva and cared for by worker bees who are known as “nurse” bees. After a week, the larva is sealed into its cell and becomes a pupa. It finally emerges about a week later as an adult bee.
5. There is typically only one queen bee in a hive—except during “swarming,” which is when there are favorable weather conditions and an abundance of blooming flowers, and a new bee colony splits off from the old colony. The old queen will create one or two dozen new queens, called “daughter queens.” Right before the daughter queens emerge as adults, the old queen and two-thirds of the workers will leave the hive in a swarm and find a new location to build their colony. Back in the old colony, the daughter queens emerge as adults and fight each other until only one remains, and she becomes the new queen.
6. Worker bees build the hive by secreting wax into the shape of honeycomb cells. Some of the cells are used for growing young bees (called “brood” cells), and others are used for pollen or honey storage.
7. Despite the common misconception, honey bees do not actually die as a direct result of stinging a human or other animal. Worker bees have barbed stingers, which are designed to pull free from their body when lodged in an elastic or soft material (like human skin). Sometimes the barb doesn’t catch, and so the worker bee can pull the stinger free and fly away. Drone bees do not have stingers at all, though they may swing their tails if they’re picked up or threatened, in order to frighten the predator.
8. All worker and queen bee larva are initially fed a substance called “royal jelly,” which is secreted from glands in the worker bee and is high in protein. After three days, the worker larva are switched to something called “bee bread,” which is a combination of pollen and nectar. The queen larva eats royal jelly exclusively—it is low in flavanoids, which is what allows her to develop a healthy reproductive tract.
9. Bees communicate with each other in many ways. One way that they communicate is through dancing. A general communication called the round dance tells other bees that there is food somewhere within 160 feet of the hive. A more specific communication called the waggle dance gives detail about the distance and direction of the food source.
10. In order to make honey, bees collect nectar, a clear liquid, from flowers. They carry the nectar back to the hive in a second stomach, and then digest it, using enzymes to break down the complex sugars. The resulting honey is spread in a honeycomb cell to dry. Once it is dry, the cell is sealed to preserve the honey. Honey does not rot or ferment under normal conditions.