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10 Buzzworthy Facts About Bees

6. Honey bees are the second most studied insect in science

It’s spring again ... time for bees to pollinate flowers. Although bee populations have leveled off during the past few years, we’re still at a nadir historically. In the 1940s, there were 6 million hives in the United States compared with only 2.5 million today.

Western hive bee
Source: paulrommer/123RF

Let’s take a look at 10 buzzy facts about bees.

  1. Honey bees are different from bumblebees. Honey bees refer to one species of bee, Apis mellifera or the western hive bee, and are domesticated and widely distributed throughout the world. Bumblebees are mostly found in the Northern Hemisphere, and many species of bumblebee are severely threatened. Honey bees look more like wasps, and bumblebees are larger and furry, with yellow. orange, and black stripes. Bumblebees live in much smaller colonies than honey bees do, with honey bee colonies typically numbering between 15,000 and 30,000 individuals. Both honey bees and bumblebees pollinate flowers and both sting.
  2. Bee colonies mostly consist of non-reproductive (female) worker bees, which begin life as nurse bees. There is also a queen bee and some male bees called “drones.”
  3. More than one-third of crop production in the United States؅—including many types of nuts, berries, and flowering vegetables—require pollination by bees.
  4. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) happens when worker bees abandon the hive for no apparent reason, leaving behind their queen, food, and a few nursing bees to tend after the larvae. In recent decades, CCD has taken its toll on bee populations. Fortunately, the threat of CCD has abated—accounting for only 31.1 percent of hive loss in 2013 compared with about 60 percent in 2008. Moreover, according to a USDA report titled Honey Bee Colonies, there’s been a 27 percent drop in CCD symptoms observed at commercial bee operations with five or more colonies between 2016 and 2017.
  5. Although the long-term threat of CCD is attenuating, recent bee population numbers are still slightly lower overall. Once again, according to the USDA, the number of colonies in 2017 was 2.62 million compared with that of 2.89 million in 2016 among bee farmers with five or more colonies.
  6. Honey bees are the second most studied insect by researchers behind the fruit fly.
  7. Bees play a prominent role in many religions. Bees and honey are mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Quran. Furthermore, the state of Utah is commonly symbolized by the Beehive, which is prominently displayed on the state seal, flag, and emblem.
  8. Honey bees have been sent into space by NASA twice: in 1982 and 1984. On their second trip, the bees built a normal, functioning honeycomb in zero gravity!
  9. Bees eat nectar and honey, and unlike wasps, are not carnivorous. Most bee larvae eat honey, but queens eat a white secretion called royal jelly.
  10. Bees secrete wax from their abdomens and use this wax to efficiently build hexagonal cells—the only animal in nature to do so.
Source: paulrommer/123RF

No article on bees would be complete without discussing the bee’s sting. Most everyone has been stung by a bee at one time or another. In his book The Sting of the Wild, entomologist Justin Schmidt selflessly subjected himself to scores of bites from ants, wasps, and bees. He then came up with an index rating pain on a scale of1 to 4.

A score of 4 is the worst pain and is doled out by bugs like the bullet ant or warrior wasp, both found in Central and South America. Western honey bee and bumblebee stings come in at a 2 (unless you’re unlucky enough to be bit on the tongue in which case it's a 3).