- The Animal Encyclopedia for Kids

Honey Bee

Honey Bee Facts

Size 0.2-0.6 in (5-15 mm) (wingspan)
Speed Up to 18 mph (30 km/h)
Weight Unknown
Lifespan 6 weeks to 6 month (worker, drones); 6 years (queen)
Food Nectar, pollen
Predators Birds, rodents, reptiles, insects
Habitat Worldwide
Order Hymenoptera
Family Apidae
Subfamily Apinae
Scientific name Apis mellifera
Characteristics Form colonies, yellow-brown body

Main Characteristics

Bees are insects that are best known for making honey and for stinging. Honeybees live in colonies with of 10,000-80,000 bees. There are over 20,000 bee species worldwide.

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Photo: szefei/Shutterstock

The Honey

How Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees collect nectar from flowers with their proboscis, a straw-like tongue. They store it in the so-called honey stomach or honey sac, where it will become honey eventually. To supply bee larvae with it, they vomit the sweet liquid.

Why Do Bees Produce Honey?

Because it tastes delicious with milk! Ok ... because they like it themselves? Maybe. Actually, they need it to survive the winter. Wasps, hornets and bumble bees die in winter – not just a few of them, but the entire colony with the exception of the queen, which spends the winter in a deep sleep. Queen bees cannot survive the winter like this, they have to feed on the sweet honey to keep their body temperature. Thank you, little pollen collectors!

Why Do Beekeepers Use Smoke?

The smoke fakes a forest fire. The insects get into a panic and start to collect emergency food rations instead of stinging. It's like trying to save things from the apartment before it burns down (which of course you should not do, but back off to safety).

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Photo: lkordela/Shutterstock

The Honey Bee Colony

There are three types of bees in a colony:

• Worker

Most bees in a colony are female bees and so-called workers. They collect pollen and nectar, take care of the larvae, make wax, build the honeycomb, keep the hive clean and defend the colony. The worker bees approach up to 40 million flowers every day.

• Drones

The drones are male bees. They fertilize the eggs of the queen, but collect neither pollen nor nectar and they do not have a sting. Drones are bigger, have a broader body and larger compound eyes than the workers.

• The Queen

There is only one queen in a bee colony. It is much bigger and longer than the workers and drones. A queen bee can live up to six years and lay up to 2,000 eggs a day - up to 2 million in her life.

Is There a Bee King?

No, the male bees are all drones.

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Photo: Yuttasak Jannarong/Shutterstock

The Waggle Dance

Just imagine: You find a reservoir of absolutely delicious nectar and you are only able to tale a little bit of it home. You return to your hive and want to tell your buddies about it. But how? You are a bee. And bees can’t talk. Nevertheless they are able to inform their friends where they can find the pollen.

They communicate by performing the "waggle dance". While dancing, they first take some steps straight forward. Then they go in semi-circles, alternately clockwise and anti-clockwise. It's like a figure-eight pattern. How long and in which angle they waggle tells the others about the direction and distance of the “honey-pot’s” location. The other bees imitate the dancers, try to learn the choreography and memorize the smell of the pollen before hitting the trail.

Importance for the Ecosystem

Many plants rely on pollination by bees because otherwise they can not reproduce. In particular, wild bees (and bumblebees) are important for the biodiversity, because they already pollinate flowers in early spring when the honey bees are not active yet.

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Photo: Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock

Enemies and Threats

How Do Honey Bees Defend Themselves?

Often, honey bees don't stand a chance against hornets. But some are very smart and can fire-up hornets, quite literally. If a spying hornet is detected near a beehive, several dozen bees encircle and form a kind of sphere around it. They fiercely flap their wings to increase the temperature inside the sphere to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). This is too hot for the hornet. It dies and cannot return to its colony to inform the other hornets about the location of the beehive. Some honey bees can even survive temperatures of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) for a short while.

What Happens When a Bee Stings?

A bee stinger has barbs and gets stuck in the skin. The bee dies afterwards.

How Many Bee Stings Can a Human Survive?

If one is not allergic, it is possible to withstand ten bee stings per lb of body weight (or twenty stings per kg). For a person weighing over 170 lb (80 kg) that would be more than 1,500 stitches.

Senses and Abilities

Bees Can See Polarized Light

Honey bees can see polarized light and thus they can determine the cardinal direction. Read more about this in the mantis shrimp fact file!

Fun Facts

The Pooping Flight

Actually, it is called cleansing flight, but the term "pooping flight" instantly reveals what it's all about ;) Well, even bees have to poop. In winter this is not easy, because outside the bees would freeze to death and relieving themselves in the hive is not a good idea. This would promote bacteria and germs to spread.

The bees hold back their poop until it is at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) outside. Then they fly outside to ... well, you know what. Especially in spring, when many bees fly out at once, you can see their poop - especially on cars. It look like yellow dots.

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