AMAZING FACTS about honey bees!
Why not tell your friends?
1. Bees are very useful; they make honey and wax and they help plants to grow.
2. Honey bees are super-important pollinators for plants. This means that they help plants reproduce! How do bees do this? They carry pollen between the male and female parts of flowers so that plants can grow seeds and fruits.
3. Honey bees live in large groups called colonies. Their home is usually a hive (though they prefer a hollow tree!). Within the colony there are 3 types of honey bee:
- Queen: a large female bee. There is only one queen in the hive. Her job is to lay eggs that will grow to become the next generation of honey bees. The queen also produces pheromones (special smells) that guide the behaviour of the other bees. The queen bee is the mother of all the other bees in the hive.
- Workers: these are all female. They do not usually lay eggs. Their job is to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), produce wax and build honeycomb, store the honey and pollen and protect the colony. They also feed the larvae (young, developing bees) and circulate air by fanning their wings. A lot of work! Would you like to be a Worker bee?
- Drones: these are male bees. Their only job is to mate with new queens. Several hundred drones live in the hive in spring and summer. At the end of summer the drones are thrown out to die. Why do you think they are thrown out then?
4. The place where bees are kept in hives is called an APIARY.
5. A bee’s food comes from flowers. Bees collect nectar (a sweet sugary liquid) and pollen (a powdery substance) from flowers. Nectar is their carbohydrate food, pollen their protein.
6. Honey bees tell each other where to find flowers by dancing! To share information about where to find the best source of food, worker bees dance – either a round dance or a waggle dance with the bee’s body showing the direction to go and how far it is – and this in the darkness of the hive!
7. Why do bees make honey? Bees collect nectar from flowers, mix it with enzymes from their bodies, store it in honeycomb cells then turn it into honey by fanning their wings to remove some of the water. The honey stores are their winter larder!
8. Beekeepers look after bees and harvest the extra honey that the bees don’t need. What do you think would happen if the beekeeper took too much of the bees’ honey?
9. Bees sometimes sting (OUCH!) but they only do this when they are frightened or defending the hive.
10. Honey bees are GREAT flyers! They can fly at a speed of 25km (15miles) per hour. They can beat their wings really fast – at 200 beats per second!
11. A worker bee can carry only enough nectar to cover a pinhead. She has to work her whole life to make just one 12th of a teaspoon of honey!
12. Bees have an AMAZING sense of smell! Bees don’t have a nose, they use their antennae to smell – each bee has 170 odorant receptors! They use this to recognise bees from their own colony, to communicate within the hive and to search out different types of flowers.
13. A worker bee, born in spring or summer, lives for around 5-6 weeks. Her autumn born sisters live for 6 months! A queen bee can live for 5-6 years.
14. A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day (more than her own weight in eggs!).
15. Bee eggs are very small and look like a grain of rice. The eggs take 21 days to grow into a worker bee (female) or 24 days to grow into a drone (male) bee. Queen bees grow from an egg in only 16 days!
16. Bees build honeycombs of wax to store their honey and pollen. The queen bee also lays eggs in them – but not in the same cell. Each honeycomb is made of thousands of small cells.
17. Honeycomb cells have 6 sides and fit together easily. Why not draw some six sided shapes, cut them out and fit them together to make a honeycomb?
18. Worker bees make wax in a special wax gland in their abdomens. The wax comes out of the gland as a liquid and hardens quickly in the air. The bee chews the wax and shapes it into a honeycomb cell.
19. How do bees make honey? They suck nectar (a sweet liquid) from flowers using their long, hollow tongue (this is like a straw and is called a proboscis (pro-bos-iss). They carry nectar back to the hive in a special honey stomach inside their body. At the hive, the nectar is passed to another bee that puts it into a honeycomb cell. Then she uses her wings to fan and evaporate a lot of the water out of the nectar until it is thicker. Finally, she adds a cap of wax to seal the honey into the cell. Now there will be lots of food for the winter!
20. Honey can be any colour from dark brown to light yellow and clear. The colour depends on which flowers the bees have been visiting for nectar.
21. Why do bees need a store of food for the winter? Because there are no flowers for them to visit.
22. And what about pollen? Forager bees collect pollen for food and carry it back to the hive in special pockets made of hairs on their back legs. These are called pollen baskets. Pollen sticks to the bee when she is visiting a flower and, while she is collecting it, she accidentally pollinates the flower by taking pollen grains from one flower to another!
23. Bees know where their home is and will always come back to their hive. If their hive is moved, they will not find it. They will go to the place where it used to be and wait there.
24. How many bees live in a hive? It varies – usually about 10,000 in winter and up to 80,000 in summer.
25. What is a swarm? A swarm is a mass of many bees that flies from its home hive and sets up a new home somewhere else. They can sound very noisy as they leave but this is just excitement. By swarming, half the bees in the hive leave and make a second colony. It is the bees’ way of reproducing.