Some Interesting Facts about Honeybees

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not native to North America, they evolved around the Mediterranean and were brought over by the Spaniards in the 1700’s.

Honeybees are social animals and the colony, as a whole, acts as a single organism, with the individual being subservient to the best interest of colony.

The worker bees are all female, and they make up about 99% of the hive.

They are colorblind.

The life expectancy of a worker bee is 5-6 weeks.  The first half is spent inside the hive attending to the queen, creating wax cells for honey, feeding larvae, and performing basic maintenance. Then they leave the hive to gather nectar and pollen for the second half of their life literally wearing out their wings from the friction of flying so much. They die of exhaustion.

Not wanting to burden the other bees, a worker bee will leave the nest for the final time so her sisters do not have to dispose of her body.

It takes about 50,000 miles of flying and visiting 2 million flowers to make a single pound of honey.

During the quieter winter months, the worker bee will live as long as 3 ½ months staying inside the hive, forming a cluster around the queen to keep her and the colony warm.  As it gets colder the cluster around the queen gets tighter.
The bees are able to keep the center of the cluster at about 96 degrees F, even if the temperature outside the hive is minus 40 degrees F. The bees generate this heat by shivering, using the same muscles used for flying, but the wings do not move.

Honeybees are the only insects in the Northern Hemisphere that stay active and heated up throughout the northern winter.

The male bees are called drones and have perhaps the best life, albeit a very short one.  They are the colony’s brawniest bees, endowed with large eyes to spot young queens out on their nuptial flights and massive muscles for flying after the queen.  They hang out in the hive all day, not helping out, and helping themselves to the food reserves or begging it from their working sisters.  Their only purpose is to fertilize young queens from neighboring colonies, and then they are kicked out.

Drones and queens do not have stingers.

The average healthy colony hive has about 60,000 bees.

The queen bee is much larger than the other bees and her sole purpose is to lay eggs.  She is cared for at every step by an army of her daughters who feed and clean her.

When hives were first studied it was assumed that the large bee directing everyone was the king bee.  This belief lasted until the 1700’s.

Queens can lay 1,500-2,000 eggs a day.  Over the entire summer, she will produce about 150,000 eggs, but the size of the colony peaks at 60,000 due to the short life span of the worker bees.

The life expectancy of the queen is about 2 years.  During that time she will lay nearly 750,000 eggs.

Any egg laid by the queen can be the next queen, the larva just needs to be fed Royal Jelly by the worker bees.They make this decision when the queen dies or they believe the queen is starting to fail in her duties.

Swarms normally occur in the spring when the hive is getting overcrowded.  The old queen is the one that leaves the hive taking 10,000-20,000 of her daughters, leaving behind the food supplies and the majority of the workers for the young queen.

This is a dangerous time for the old queen as they need to find a home, build a new hive, and start gathering honey and pollen.

Scouts are sent out to find a suitable home and through a democratic process they vote on which scout to follow to their new home.

Bees communicate to each other by dancing, known as the waggle dance.  They stick their butts up and through a series of circles, lifts, and waggles they can tell the other workers the location of good nectar up to 2 miles away with pinpoint accuracy.  It is based on the location of the sun.

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