If you're looking for honey bee facts, here are some quick snippets of information to get you started, including general facts, scientific research, historical points of interest plus a couple of quirky facts about honey bees.
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• The honey bee is also known as Apis mellifera. Apis is a very old word probably with Egyptian roots, but is also related to the Greek word for 'swarm'. Mellifera means 'honey-bearing' in Latin.
• Only female honey bees can sting, the males (drones) are not able to sting, but if you are stung it will probably be by a worker. Queen honey bees can sting, but they remain close to the hive, and so a sting form a honey bee queen would be very rare.
• If the queen honey bee is removed from the hive, within 15 minutes, the rest of the colony knows about it!
• A typical honey bee colony may have around 50,000 workers. (Learn more about honey bee colonies)
• A honey bee queen may lay as many as 1000 eggs per day as she establishes her colony.
• Honey bees communicate through pheromones passed on through feeding. This is called ‘trophallaxis’. Learn more on this page.
• Drones (male honey bees) die after mating. Poor things! Follow this link to learn more about drones.
• Once honey bee eggs hatch into worker larvae, they’ll be fed around 1,300 times per day! (More information here).
• Foraging bees have to fly about 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey, visiting around 2 million flowers. Check out this link to learn more about how bees make honey, by clicking here.
• No wonder honey bees need a lot of energy. Honey bees fly up to 15 mph and beat their wings 200 times per second or 12,000 beats per minute!
• Each honey bee makes about 1 twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its life time. Find out how bees make honey here.
• Worldwide there are 10 types of honey bee, and one hybrid – the Africanized bee.
• The honey bee is one of the most studied creatures in the world after man!
• Honey bees are descendents of wasps.
• Honey bees belong to the insect order 'Hymenoptera' which they share with other bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
• Scent is important for bees. A
study has found that bees are better at learning new odours in the morning.
• The honey bee queen should certainly live 2 years, but may even live 3 or 4 years, whilst drones live for 4 – 6 months, and worker honey bees raised in the Spring may only live 6 or 7 weeks (those raised in the autumn may, like drones, live 4 – 6 months). Find out more about the honey bee life cycle.
• Like other bees, honey bees cannot see the colour red. However, they may visit red flowers because they are able to see the U.V. patterns in the flowers. Find out more about how plants attract their perfect pollinators by visiting this page about flower pollination.
• Honey bees are often thought of as living in wooden bee hives made by humans, but in fact a honey bee colony in the wild will naturally choose to build a nest in cavities, such as a tree hollow or cave - or around homes, they may even nest in an unused chimney.
• As with other types of bees, Honey bees have 5 eyes: 3 simple eyes on top of its head, and 2 compound eyes, with numerous hexagonal facets.
• Honey bees account for nearly 80% of crop pollination in the United States of America, because of the ease of transporting colonies across the country (although increasingly, some solitary bee species and bumblebees are being reared for pollination). Honey bees are actively pollinating at least somewhere in North America during every month of the year!
• Honey bee activity is dependent on temperature, rather than the seasons as is the case with other bee species. Honey bees are most active between 60 - 100 °F, although they can forage in temperatures as low as 55 °F. For this reason, almond crops in California are dependent on honey bee pollination, because the trees bloom in February, before many wild bee species emerge from hibernation.
• The honey bee's brain is about the size of a tiny grain of sugar, but researchers have found that the it is surprisingly sophisticated. Specifically, honeybees can understand conceptual relationships such as "same/different" and "above/below" that rely on relationships between objects rather than simply the physical features of objects.
• Scientists have discovered that honey bees are able to 'vote' when making decisions about where the colony should create a new nest site! Female 'scout bees' fly out to look for potential sites, and report back to the colony, using the famous waggle dance to inform the rest of the colony about the location of the nest - and the better the potential site, the more enthusiastically the scout bee dances! If other worker bees like the potential nest site, they begin imitating the dance, until eventually a 'critical mass' has been achieved, with enough worker bees in agreement about the new nest site such that a decision is made.
• Honey bees have been trained to act as bomb detectors! Scientists have trained honey bees to react to minute amounts of chemicals found in explosives. Trainers reward honey bees with sugar water when they correctly sense a particular explosive compound, such that the bees automatically stick out their tongues in expectation of a reward when they correctly sense the compound!
• By digitally reconstructing the complete brain of the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, researchers hope to one day create an autonomous flying robot that thinks, senses, and acts like the sophisticated pollinator - personally, I would prefer it if we keep our pollinators and look after them!
• Honey bees have been around longer than humans – there is fossil evidence from 150 million years ago!
Above - Honey Making Museum in Lithuania
• Different countries have kept bees in different ways. For example, in
Europe, people kept bees in straw baskets called skeps, or even in tree
trunks adapted for the purpose. In parts of the Mediterranean and
Middle East, clay jars were used. Read more about the history of beekeeping.
• The ancient Egyptians used honey as food and medicine. It was also used in offerings and for embalming the dead. Beeswax was used in magic rites, for preserving and also in medicine. Today, honey is believed to have health benefits. Find out more about the health benefits of honey.
• Humans have been seeking out bees for honey for a long time! Mesolithic rock-paintings in caves near Valencia, Spain, show honey hunters at work. These paintings are believed to date back 6,000 years.
• It wasn’t
until 1586 that it was recognized that the head of the honey bee colony
is a female queen. This news was popularized by Charles Butler (the
‘Father of English Beekeeping’) in his book ‘The Feminine Monarchie’ in
1609. Prior to that, it was assumed the head of the colony must be a
male – a ‘king’. Even William Shakespeare, in Henry V, refers to honey
bees living in a kingdom, with a king as ruler.
• Honey can be fermented to make a type of wine, called ‘mead’. The earliest evidence for the production of mead is from Northern China, and dates to back to about 7000 BC.
• In 1791, during the French Revolution, the government demanded a record of all hives. Honey was used as a source of tax revenue. Many beekeepers who did not wish to pay more tax, destroyed their hives.
• When the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs in England, where he became a beekeeper. There is even a group called "The Retired Beekeepers" in England who are actually a group of Sherlock Holmes international enthusiasts.
• Honey is loved by fictional characters Yogi bear and Winnie the Pooh.
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