Honey Bee Facts

Updated: 24th February 2020

Honey bee facts.
Above: Honey bee - <I>Apis mellifera</I> on Prairie mallow flower.Honey bee - Apis mellifera on Prairie mallow flower.

50 Facts About Amazing Honey Bees

Here are lots of honey bee facts, including quick snippets of information to get you started,  general facts, scientific research, historical points of interest plus a couple of quirky facts about honey bees.

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Interesting General Facts About Honey Bees

Honey bee - <I>Apis mellifera</I> foraging on Daphne flower.Honey bee - Apis mellifera foraging on Daphne flower.
  • 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 from 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.

  • Male honey bees (drones) have no father, but they do have a grandfather!

  • The queen honey bee is about twice the length of a worker.

  • A honey bee queen may lay as many as 2000 - 3000 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.

  • Foraging honey bees have to fly about 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey, visiting around 2 million flowers.  Learn more about how bees make honey by clicking here.

  • Honey bees may typically fly between 1 – 6 km on a foraging trip, but also up to 13.5 km (I have seen it stated that 20 km has also been recorded, but have not located the research paper to check this finding).  Read more about how far bees fly.

  • 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!

Image indicating locations of taste receptors on the body of the honey bee

  • The honey bee is one of the most scientifically studied creatures in the world after man! 

  • Honey bees, along with other bee species, are believed to be descendants of wasps.

  • Honey bees belong to the insect order 'Hymenoptera'  which they share with other bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
Honey bees belong to the insect order 'hymenoptera'.Honey bees belong to the insect order 'hymenoptera'.

  • Scent is important for bees.  A study has found that bees are better at learning new odours (smells) in the morning.

  • Honey bees eat nectar and pollen, but there are times when food is scarce, and they may eat insect secretions.  They are also known to eat a little fruit, such as plums and grapes. Read more.

  • The honey bee queen should certainly live 2 years, but may even live 3 or 4 years, whilst drones live for 55 days on average, and worker honey bees raised in the Spring may only live 6 or 7 weeks (those raised in the autumn may live 4 – 6 months). Find out more about the honey bee life cycle.

Honeycombs are hexagon-shaped cells made of beeswax.Honeycombs are hexagon-shaped cells made of beeswax.
  • The hexagon structure of honeycombs enables bees to make super efficient use of beeswax, and guards against wastage!

  • The 'Waggle Dance' or 'honey bee dance' enables worker honey bees to inform her sisters about great locations of food and water, or a new home.
  • 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 bee - <I>Apis mellifera</I> visiting dahlia.Honey bee - Apis mellifera visiting dahlia.
  • 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 have hairy eyes!  Find out why.

  • 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 bumble bees are being reared for pollination).  Honey bees are actively pollinating at least somewhere in North America during every month of the year!

  • To keep warm in winter, honey bees huddle together in a 'winter cluster'.
A wild honey bee nest in a tree trunk.A wild honey bee nest in a tree trunk.
  • 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.

  • Ever wondered whether honey bees poop?  Yes they do - read about it here.
  • 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.  Read more about honey bees foraging in cool temperatures.

Interesting Honey Bee Facts About Their Behaviours And Characteristics - From Scientific Research:

  • Scientists have studied honey bees, and have learned that honey bees sleep.  Read more.
    Below is a photograph - image D on the far right shows the bee snoozing, with antennae drooping and abdomen touching the floor.
Honey bees snoozing.Honey bees snoozing.
  • The honey bee's brain is about the size of a tiny grain of sugar, but researchers have found that it is surprisingly sophisticated.  Specifically, honey bees 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 honey bee, 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 can be trained to detect illnesses in humans - read more here.

A Few Historical Honey Bee Facts:

  • Honey bees have been around longer than humans – there is fossil evidence from 150 million years ago!

  • The earliest form of chemical warfare probably dates back to Turkey in 65 BC, and honey bees had a role in it, by producing toxic honey (or 'mad honey') after foraging on a certain plant.  Read more. 
A skepA skep
  • 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 and other civilisations 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.

  • Royal beekeeper to King Charles II of England said:  "The bee is a magnificent chemist". More quotes.
Honey bees foraging on Mahonia.Honey bees foraging on Mahonia.
  • 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.

Honey bees at a hive entrance.Honey bees at a hive entrance.
  • In 1791, during the French Revolution, the government demanded a record of all bee hives. Honey was used as a source of tax revenue. Many beekeepers who did not wish to pay more tax, destroyed their hives.

  • Honey has long been mentioned in religious holy books, and even used in religious ceremonies and symbolism.  Here are just a few examples:
    - The Bible has many references to honey (among the most famous is the 'Land of milk and honey' , but also Proverbs 16:24 "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."
    There are many Hindu references to honey - there is even an
    Indian Bee goddess - Bhramari Devi - the word Bramari, meaning ‘bees’ in Hindi.  Krishna has been depicted as a bee.
    - From the Sikh holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib:
    "My soul is enticed by the honey-sweet lotus feet of the Lord; night and day, I thirst for them."

A Few Quirky Honey Bee Facts:

  • 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 an international group of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts.

  • Honey is loved by fictional characters Yogi bear and Winnie the Pooh.

Car Stickers And More

Save the bees plant flowers car bumper sticker
Don't worry bee happy car bumper sticker
Bee kind bee-themed car bumper sticker

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