Bees: a lot of people fear them, but it would be a grim world indeed if we had to live without them. The scarier but actually much more helpful and agreeable cousin of the wasp, the bee is a badass among creation. Bees create complex societies and build massive hives to live in. They sometimes grow and shed their wings. They sacrifice themselves for a queen. They make delicious honey that a lot of humans throughout history had to use as the ultimate sweetener (sugar cane not having reached their homelands yet).
Best of all, bees pollinate all sorts of plants. This is an essential component of the circle of life for a huge variety of crops, flowers, trees and bushes. With more and more of the calories humans consume coming from fewer main crops, the role of bees is becoming ever more important to us, and their protection and survival should be a very high priority indeed. Sadly, neonicotinoid pesticides used excessively throughout the world have seriously damaged bee populations, and better practices to protect bees are only just now becoming clear. What we can say for sure are two things: one, if the bees go, many of us will go with them; and two, the more we know about them, the better we can do by them.
Let's make sure you've got your bee knowledge down, so we can help our black-and-yellow little friends thrive in this crazy modern world.
Honeybees are the only kind of bee that die after stinging -- and it's because they can't pull their barbed stinger out of human skin. When they fly away, they leave behind their stinger as well as parts of their abdomen and digestive tract. Only female honeybees will sting you if threatened, since males don't have stingers.
Worker bees, for instance, might scout for new food sources. Drones, all of whom are male, mate with the queen. And the queen, well she's busy laying fertilized eggs.
Not all bees make and eat honey. In fact, only honeybees make and consume honey (they live off of it in the winter months), as well as construct wax structures, honeycomb, for storage.
In the colder months of the year, worker bees can live for several months inside the hive. In the summertime, though, it's pollination season, and they quite literally work themselves to death after no more than six weeks.
A honeybee queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs in the comb. It only takes a few seconds per egg, and she's constantly tended to by her worker bees.
Honeybees have more eyes than humans -- 3 more, to be exact. They have a pair of large compound eyes, one on each side of their head. And in addition, they have three small eyes called ocelli, found on the top of their head. Together, honeybees are able to see color, light, and motion.
Just one honeybee visits between 50 and 100 flowers on a single trip, and she'll produce a total of about 1/12 teaspoon of honey during her lifetime. Altogether, it would take an estimated 768 honeybees flying over 55,000 miles to visit 2 million flowers to produce a single pound of honey -- and if that sounds like a lot, consider that the average honeybee hive produces as much as 400 pounds of honey every single year.
One cool thing about honeybees' bodies is that they have two stomachs. One stomach is used for eating and digestion. The other? It's used to store and carry back to the hive the nectar collected from pollinating flowers.
Male honeybees, which are called drones, can't sting you -- even if they wanted to, they don't have a stinger. Only female honeybees, including the queen and all the worker bees, are able to sting.
Although we think of all bees as if they were honeybees, it's true that only 10 percent of all bee species are social and live in colonies. Many types of bees are solitary, not social, preferring to live in their own nests, often located in the ground or in tree trunks.
When the queen is laying eggs, it's the fertilized ones that become either infertile female workers or a new, fertile queen. The unfertilized eggs become the drones of the hive.
From the carpenters, foragers and miners to the honeybees, the cuckoo bees and Africanized "killer" bees, there are an estimated 4,000 species of bees throughout the U.S.
Worker bees who work as nurses feed all the young worker bees a honeybee-produced "milk" called royal jelly during the first few days larva is out of the egg. All are then given pollen and honey, except for one -- the queen larva -- that continues to be reared on royal jelly alone.
Bees make six-sided hexagons, each side of equal length. All stuck together, these make up the structure that contains both their larva and stores their honey inside their nests.
There are a few variables, such as whether or not they're carrying nectar, but, on average, honeybees fly at 15 miles per hour -- and are capable of speeds up to 20 mph.
The round dance is a dance done by worker bees (specifically, foragers), but it's done to communicate where to find food nearby. It's the waggle dance that's used to communicate where food sources more than 100 feet away are. No one has noticed honeybees doing the moon walk or the robot, though.
Honey is made from the nectar collected by worker honeybees. Carried back to the hive, the bees then regurgitate it, along with enzymes from their bodies, and fan it with their wings until through evaporation, it becomes the honey we know. It's stored in the cells of the wax comb, and it never spoils.
Not all bees make honey. In fact, the honey we're used to eating comes only from honey bees. However, some other subsets of bees in the genus Apis, such as bumblebees, can, and do, too, but it's not the same as honey bee honey that we know, and not nearly as much of it is made.
Queens are made, not born, and there can be only one -- per hive, that is. Until the 1660s when it was discovered they had ovaries, queens were called kings.
When it stings, a honeybee injects 0.1 mg of venom through its stinger. About 1,300 honeybee stings could deliver a lethal dose of honeybee venom to a 150-pound person.
The world is full of blues and purples, if you're a bee. Unlike humans who see red, green and blue, bees see blue, green, and ultraviolet -- and they aren't able to see red.
Honeybees keep a constant temperature in their hives, a balmy 93 degrees F all year long. It's important for keeping the colony alive, and for keeping the brood nest (the eggs) healthy.
There are 4,000 native bee species in the United States, but honeybees aren't among them. It's believed they were first brought to the colonies in the early 1600s.
Although this belief has been around for a long time, it's actually a myth. Bees do sting at night -- and at any time, if they feel threatened.
More than one deity has been associated with bees and with honey throughout the ages. Among them, and in various religions and beliefs, are Aphrodite, Cybele, Pan, Ra and Vishnu.
There are many types of stingless bees, but they all have two things in common. One: stingless bees don't have stingers, so there's just no way they can sting you. And, two: stingless bees defend their homes and themselves by biting.
Honeybees really do live up to the simile, "busy as a bee." They're responsible for pollinating as much as 80 percent of all the fruits, vegetables, and seed crops in the U.S.
Honeybees have two pairs of wings, each beating 250 times every second -- and that fast stroke gives them their distinctive buzz.
Just like table sugar, honey is made of simple sugars. It's a combination of fructose and glucose, with more fructose than glucose, and also contains small percentages of other carbohydrate groups called oligosaccharides.
An active, thriving colony can have as many as 40,000 to 60,000 honeybees -- and sometimes beekeepers need to safely get to the hive. For times when a hive is being relocated or honey is being collected, smoke is used to keep bees calm, typically dispersed with a bee smoker. The smoke interrupts guard bees' defensive response -- and rather than sounding the alarm to the colony, it makes bees hungry for honey.
Honey's healing benefits are all due to its anti-microbial properties, in particular a honeybee protein called defensin-1. Medical-grade honey helps as a barrier against infection, and because it keeps wounds moist it helps with repair and healing.
It's called configular processing, and humans do it, too. We. and honeybees, look at all the parts of a face, such as ears, eyes, and lips, and we're then able to whirl those parts together into a whole face -- one you either recognize or don't.
Wasps and bees belong to the same order of insects, hymenopterans, but wasps aren't bees and bees aren't wasps (however, yellow jackets and hornets are wasps). One big difference is their diet: While bees are vegetarians, wasps are carnivores.
Immunotherapy can include eating small amounts of something you've had an allergic reaction to in order to make your body less sensitive to it over time. It's an interesting theory that local, unprocessed honey could help ease seasonal allergies, but since there's no way of knowing what kinds of flower nectar went into it, it's impossible to know if it helps.
Because it may contain botulism spores, it's recommended that honey never be given to kids who are less than one year old -- babies' immune systems aren't developed enough to fight the bacteria until after their first birthday. Botulism is caused by spores of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a bacteria that's readily found in dirt.