Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interesting Facts and Tidbits about the Honey Bee

Today my husband and I are doing a lesson on honey bees for our kids at church.  We have a basic lesson and lots of pictures to show them and then we're going to show them our beekeeping equipment, serve them some peanut butter (and honey) popcorn for a snack, have them color a huge honey bee mural and teach them lots of things they probably never knew about this amazing little creature in hopes that they will have a newfound respect for the humble little honey bee.

I had planned to do a honey tasting, but haven't been able to take any honey off of my bees this year because of slow build-up after losing my queen early.  The merger I did with the small swarm is doing great though and I'm going to start feeding them soon for winter and just hope to have a better year in 2012.

I've put together a collection of fun facts about honey bees from various sources that I think you all might enjoy as well.  (I still have internet for a couple more days and I'm glad I get to post this one for you!)

Honey Bee Fun Facts

Honeybees are not native to the USA. They are European in origin, and were brought to North America by the early settlers.  Solitary, native, wild bees did all the pollinating prior to that.

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the U.S., especially big commercial crops.

Einstein postulated “"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Bees collect 66 lbs of pollen per year, per hive. Pollen is the male germ cells produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo formation. The Honeybee uses pollen as a food. Pollen is one of the richest and purest natural foods, consisting of up to 35% protein, 10% sugars, as well as carbohydrates, enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

Pollen comes in different colors and a beekeeper can guess which flowers the bees have been visiting based on the colors of pollen packed in the cells.

A colony of bees consists of 20,000-80,000 honeybees and one queen. Worker honey bees are female, live for about 6 weeks and do all the work.

Worker bees will live for 4 to 9 months during the winter when they have no foraging to do.  They literally work themselves to death in the summer.

Honeybees never sleep!

The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.

To make one pound of honey, the bees in the colony must visit 2 million flowers, fly over 55,000 miles and will be the lifetime work of approximately 300 worker bees.

Male bees, called drones, are mostly useless and are kicked out of the hive in the fall and left to die so that the colony won’t have to feed them through the winter.

Honeybees will usually travel approximately 3 miles from their hive, but can go as far as 6 miles.

The bee's brain is oval in shape and only about the size of a sesame seed, yet it has remarkable capacity to learn and remember things and is able to make complex calculations on distance travelled and foraging efficiency.

In its flight, a honey bee uses the sun's compass position, gravitational field direction, and the UV polarization pattern to determine its direction. Along the way, a honey bee also memorizes any geographical landmarks.

Worker bees will scout for good nectar sources and when they’ve found some, they come back to the hive and communicate its location to the others using one of two complex dances, the waggle dance or the round dance, depending on how close by it is.  They also give the others a taste of the nectar so they will know which flower they are looking for.

Honey bees will usually work only one type of flower at a time until it runs out, then they move on to another.  Because of this, beekeepers can take honey off of the hive after that particular “honey flow” has ended and can isolate very different tasting varieties of honey.

The color and taste of honey will depend on the flower it was collected from.  It can be very light and floral or very dark and strong flavored or anything in between.

Honeybees are the only insect that produces food for humans.

Out of 20,000 species of bees, only 4 make honey.

Honey is the ONLY food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.

Honey never spoils.  It has been found in Egyptian tombs and dated to be around 2000-3000 years old and it was STILL edible.

Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants. Honey is an easily digestible, pure food. Honey is hygroscopic (attracts moisture, like salt does) and has antibacterial qualities. Honey is a good salve to apply to burns. Eating raw, local honey can fend off allergies.

A typical beehive can make up to 400 pounds of honey per year.  Beekeepers only take off the excess and must leave each hive with at least 60 to 70 pounds of honey to make it through winter. 

Honey bees survive winter by clustering into a tight group for warmth and eat off of the honey they have stored from all their work in spring and summer.

Each honey bee colony has a unique scent for members’ identification.   That’s why you can place many hives in a row next to each other.  The worker bees know which hive is theirs based on the scent and also their ability to memorize location.

Honey bees are true patriots.  Worker bees on guard duty will defend their hive to the death. 

The honey bee is the only bee that dies after using its stinger.  The tip of the stinger is barbed like a fishing hook and is torn from the bee’s body as it tries to fly away.

Contrary to popular misconception, honeybees are not aggressive by nature, and will not sting unless protecting their hive from an intruder or if they are unduly provoked (or stepped on!)

Unless you are one of a small percentage of people who are highly allergic to bees, it is estimated that about 1100 honey bee stings are required to be fatal.

Bee venom therapy—the practice of deliberately applying a sting to a person’s skin -- is widely practiced overseas and by some people in the US to address health problems such as arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even MS.

There have been occasions in history where honey bees were used as a weapon of warfare.  Some have thrown hives at their enemies like missiles or left them as traps.  Others have set out poison honey as bait, utilizing an invading army’s tendency to loot and pillage.  The advancing troops would eat the honey and become very sick and delirious and therefore easy to defeat!

Oh, there is so much more I could add to this list and many more amazing things I'm sure mankind will continue to learn about the honey bee.  I didn't include here much about the intricate order of business within the hive.  My husband had already done a basic lesson and my job was to hunt up "fun facts" and I think I got a little carried away.  Ha.
Is it not in the heart of every beekeeper to want to encourage everyone to have an appreciation and admiration for our wonderful bees?  I think the honey bee is an awesome testimony to the creative hand of God!

This post is linked to the Homestead Barn Hop #23.


  1. What a fascinating post. I have to share this with everyone I know. Thank you so much for putting this all together. I am sure that your church families will really enjoy the thoughtful presentation and activities you have planned for their children. Have a great week.

  2. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award !

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I have been offline for a long while.