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A Small Guide to the Honey Bee

Updated on August 22, 2014


That summer time sound of Bzzzzzzzzz....around the flower gardens, bushes, trash cans, discarded sweets a child dropped- it is such a familiar sound we all hear. Whether you live in a city or in the country, where there is a warm period of weather, the bees are abundant.

This summer we decided to add two Hummingbird feeders to our home. One is in the back, the other in the front. The Hummingbirds just love them and they are fun to watch BUT those bees also love the feeders. And that random way they fly makes it difficult to take the feeder down to be refilled.

Most of us are afraid of bees, mostly because the sting they give us hurts and there are those that could die if stung because their bodies react with a dangerous Anaphylaxis reaction that is potentially deadly. But also the sheer numbers of them and the abstract pattern in which they seem to fly, making us fearful.

I think that if we understand bees' behavior better that possibly the irrational fear of their existence would lessen. How many times have we avoided sitting near an area where we see the bees buzzing in a nearby bush? Those bees don't want to leave their work to fly over and sting you..they ignore you if you ignore them, most of the time.

A Purpose for Living

But there are reasons for bees to exist and if we look closer at one type, the Honey Bee we will see what incredibly structured lives they live, they aren't just buzzing around looking for someone sting, they have a purpose. Bees in general have an important role in the pollinating of flowering plants. Depending on their needs, bees will gather nectar or pollen and by doing so pollination is achieved. One interesting fact is that it is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, mostly done by Bees. Honey production is also important, done so for human consumption by Beekeepers keeping the Honey Bees in Hives. They are very careful when the remove honey from the hive. Careful not to injure the bees during removal, Beekeepers replace the honey removed with sugar syrup.

The Social Grouping of Honey Bees

Although Bees are grouped into three types, the solitary, social, and parasitic, the Honey Bee is in the Social Grouping.

Social-Are known for making honey and beeswax, as well as for pollination. With over 400 species, the group includes Bumblebees, Stingless Bees, and Honeybees. In warmer climates,

Bumblebee colonies go on for many years; however in colder climates the workers and drones die off in the fall. Only the young and fertilized queens live through the winter, in hibernation. When spring comes, new colonies are started by laying their eggs.

Stingless Bees, known for being honey producers, are generally located in tropical regions. They do possess a stinger but will bite rather than sting when defending the hive.  

The Honey Bee, is often raised domestically for honey and wax. They build nests (combs) of wax. Honey is stored in the hexagonal cells of the comb. The wild Honey Bees build their nests in caves or hollow trees; however a beekeeper (Apiculturalist) will provide nesting boxes, called hives, for the bees.

Citizens of a Typical Honey Bee Colony

The hive of the HoneyBee is made up of cells made of wax. Typically the colony will be made up of 3 groups, the large queen producing the eggs, thousands of workers who are sexually undeveloped females, and a few hundred fertile males called Drones.

The Queen has a strong stinger connected to poison glands. She will only sting rival queens and is able to withdraw the stinger easily. The Queen's job is to produce the larvae and when the hives becomes overcrowded, the old queen leaves with a swarm, for her mating flight and to create a new colony.The old colony now needs a new queen and rears several potential queens. The first queens to hatch will sting the others to death in their cells, while if two hatch at the same time, they will fight until only one remains. The Queen then mates after a fight by the drones. The Drone dies and the Queen returns to the hive to live out the rest of her life where she continuously lays eggs in the cells, often over 1500 eggs per day.

Worker Bees have a barbed stinger, causing a difficult withdrawal and death of its victim. Worker Bees gather nectar, make and store the honey, build the cells, clean, and fan the hive with their wings. They must visit over 4,000 flowers to produce just one tablespoon of honey. They also protect the hive, feed and look after the Queen and her larvae. Dances are performed in specific patterns to enable communication. Worker Bees only live for about 6 weeks.

Drones are male bees, the result of an unfertilized egg, and they cannot sting. Their purpose is to mate with a Queen Bee of a new hive. Several drones will mate with a non-virgin Queen on her flight and die soon after mating. They also recreate the Queen's single unfertilized egg into about 10 million identical male sperm cells.

Life in the Honey Bee Colony

Bees fall into three family groups, solitary, social, or parasitic in the nests of other bees.

Solitary-Every female is fertile and lives in the nest she makes herself. Solitary Bee families have no worker bees and do not produce either honey or beeswax. A very important role for the solitary Bee is being a pollinator. Pollen is also gathered for the Bee's young ones. Their nests are built in hollow twigs, holes in wood, or tunnels in the ground. The female makes a compartment with an egg and food for the resulting larva, then it is sealed off. A nest can consist of numerous compartments. If the nest is in wood, the compartments closer to the entrance become males. Once the eggs are laid in multiple nests, the female usually dies. Now here is the why the males are placed closest to the entrance. Once the males emerge, they are ready for mating when the females emerge later. Most solitary Bees are stingless or will only sting in self-defense.

Bees are related closely to Wasps, are considered to be flying insects, and in the same family in which Ants are also classified. There are almost 20,000 known species of bees and many more not known. Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica and in every area on the planet that has flowering plants pollinated by insects.

From the smallest (2.1 mm long) to the largest (39 mm long), a Bee will feed on nectar and pollen. Nectar is mostly used as an energy source for the Bee and is converted into honey in its digestive tract, and Pollen for protein, nutrients, and as food for the larvae.

Why the Sting?

Rarely will a Honey Bee sting when out visiting plants. They will openly attack if they think their hive is in danger, being alerted by the release of pheromones, a chemical alarm system. This happens when the Honey Bee first stings its victim, releasing apitoxin, sending out the alarm. If you are stung near a hive, the entire hive could come out in defense. Interestingly, the Bees will continue to attack until the thread is not longer perceived, the danger has fled. Also, because the pheromones do not fade away or wash off with water, if the bee's target flees into water then emerges, the bees will resume their attack.

Honey bees are the only species of bees to die after stinging, leaving their stinger in the skin and pulling their own abdomens loose.


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    • mgeorge1050 profile image

      Alan 3 years ago from West Georgia

      People depend on honey bees a lot more than we realize. I hope the recent stories in the news will help make more people aware of how important the bees are.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Leaf cutter ants cut out cirles of leaves which they cart back to their colony. They use the leaf cutouts to raise fungus which they eat. They do not eat the leaves... they are gardeners....

    • MimiKat33 profile image

      MimiKat33 5 years ago from Northeastern NY State, USA

      I will do that..I love sitting quietly and watching a group of ants around the small hill they built; so busy and moving with a purpose. Thank you

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      There are many fascinating things about bees, bee mimics, ants, and wasps... google Velvet Ants... they are beautiful creatures but are not ants at all...

    • MimiKat33 profile image

      MimiKat33 5 years ago from Northeastern NY State, USA

      You are definitely the expert when it comes to this subject; I am happy that you approve of my small contribution on the subject of bees. This Hub was a result of my own curiosity about bees after discovering a huge empty nest hanging from my maple tree.

      Bee mimics is a subject I now want to know more about.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      There are a large number of bee mimics... one is moth that looks like a yellow jacket...

    • MimiKat33 profile image

      MimiKat33 5 years ago from Northeastern NY State, USA

      Thanks for the input, smart flies

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      very well written. Picture one on the top... is a fly... not a bee. They mimic bees so people avoid them... awesome!

    • ChristinCordle12 profile image

      ChristinCordle12 6 years ago

      Wonderful guide. Very easy to follow. Voted up!

    • onegoodwoman profile image

      onegoodwoman 7 years ago from A small southern town

      My Granddad was a beekeeper.

      I would be also, if not for

      my hubby.

      I truly enjoyed your hub.

      It is original and useful.

      I encourage you to offer it

      to other venues.