Bees are some of the most fascinating creatures with the most interesting bee facts. I’m always impressed by how bees manage complex tasks with tiny brains, and work together as a community, even sacrificing themselves for the greater good of the colony. The most astounding fact about bees is that they are primarily responsible for pollinating 3/4th of all our crops which makes up one-third of all the food we eat! It is in everyone’s interest to keep our earth’s bees happy and healthy.
Let’s dive into the fascinating world of honeybees with these 12 bee facts.
12 Bee Facts
- Bees have 2 pairs of wings, 6 legs, and 5 eyes, and carry pollen on their legs in a “pollen basket” or corbicula
- Bees fly 15 to 20 mph and up to 6 miles from their hives
- Male bees are called drones, non-fertile female bees are called worker bees, and a fertile female bee is called a queen bee
- An average hive is made up of around 50,000 bees in the spring and summer months
- If a worker bee uses its stinger it will die because its stinger is barbed, but a queen bee’s stinger is not barbed and can sting without dying
- A queen bee will lay around 2,000 eggs a day in spring through early fall
- Honey is nectar that bees dehydrated with their wings and is around 80% sugar and 20% water
- The average queen will live 2 to 4 years, the average drone 90-days, and the average worker bee 4-weeks in the summer and up to 6 months in the winter
- A queen mates once with about a dozen male drones, a mating process that kills the drones afterward
- Foraging bees visit between 50 to 100 flowers each trip, and it takes 2 million flower visits to produce 1 pound of honey
- Honeybees produce wax from eight glands under their abdomen and produce royal jelly which is the only food a queen bee eats, from a gland on the top of their head
- Bees communicate through chemicals called pheromones and through wiggle dances
Beekeeping Facts and Tips for Beginners
Now that you know some fun bee facts, you may be wondering what are the most important bee facts and tips for beginning beekeepers to know. The world of beekeeping can seem overwhelming, so we’ve boiled it down to the most important tips for new beekeepers.
Everyone Has an Opinion
It’s said that if you ask 5 beekeepers the same question, you’ll get 6 answers. And beekeepers being an independent bunch, often have very strong opinions about the way they bee-keep. Beekeeping does have quite the learning curve, so educating yourself is not optional. But do remember to trust yourself in the process.
If you hear conflicting advice, or advice that doesn’t seem logical, take it with a grain of salt. And contrary to what some may think, there is no one right way to do things. You’re going to have to learn, practice, fail and learn some more and you will develop your own beekeeping philosophy of what works for you and your local area.
Trust in your own powers of observation, and even the power of asking for wisdom from above! If you see mold in your hive, you can use your innate scientific reasoning to deduce that there is excess moisture. Are your bees irritable during a dry season with few flowers? Trust your instincts that they are probably hungry. So much of beekeeping is learning to observe the bees and applying scientific thinking.
Learn Beekeeping Terminology
The world of Beekeeping and bee facts includes a unique vocabulary you will do well to learn. You will even find multiple terms used for the same word, further confusing the matter. But beekeeping doesn’t have to be a world of secret handshakes and passwords but rather something anyone can learn.
Read and refer back to these basic beekeeping terms as you explore the world of bees:
- Absconding—this differs from swarming and refers to the bees simply up and abandoning their hive.
- Apiary—a group of bee colonies or hive in one spot, also called a bee yard.
- Apiculture—the study of using honeybees for human benefit.
- Bee—typically refers to European honeybees and not to be confused with bumblebees, carpenter bees, wasps, yellow jackets, or hornets.
- Beehive—a man-made shelter where bees build their nest. The 3 most common hive styles are the Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warre hives.
- Beeswax—wax produced from glands on the underside of bees that they use to form the honeycomb.
- Colony—the bee family is made up of worker bees, drones, and a queen bee, usually numbering around 50,000 bees in one single nest or hive.
- Brood—developing bees which include the eggs, larvae (unsealed with wax), and pupae (sealed with wax.)
- Brood chamber—also called the brood nest, the area of the hive where bees concentrate their brood, usually in the lower sections of a Langstroth hive or in the area closest to the entrance in a Top Bar hive.
- Capped honey—honeycomb cells filled with nectar that have been dehydrated by the bees into honey, and have been capped or sealed with wax.
- Cells—hexagonal-shaped cavities in the honeycomb which can house brood, honey, beebread, and royal jelly.
- CCD—Colony Collapse Disorder is where the majority of the worker bees leave the queen behind in the colony, leading the colony to die. Occurs in about ⅓ of colonies that die and can be due to a variety of environmental reasons.
- Comb—a wax structure made by the bees which are usually built in rows parallel to each other and have a set of cells on either side of the structure with a dividing wall in between. Each comb contains thousands of cells.
- Draw—refers to how the bees shape and build their comb, whether on a sheet of foundation, or a comb guide. Often expressed as bees “drawing down the comb.”
- Drone—a male bee whose sole purpose is to mate with a newly hatched queen bee. Most drones do not mate, but those that do will die in the process. The remaining drones are usually kicked out of the colony in the late fall because they are no longer useful, where they will freeze and starve. New drones are raised by the colony in the spring.
- Eggs—bees begin life as eggs laid in cells by the queen. If the queen lays unfertilized eggs they will become male drone bees, while fertilized eggs will become a worker or queen bees.
- Feral bees—a colony of wild bees that are not kept by humans and do not live in hives.
- Forager—the role of a female worker bee who goes out and collects pollen, nectar, water, and propolis and brings it back to the hive for use.
- Foundation—a thin sheet of beeswax crafted into a cell pattern to guide bees in laying perfectly straight honeycomb. Foundation is most often used in a Langstroth hive and is easier for beginners and those more interested in high honey yields. Foundation is not as natural for the bees because it uses commercial pesticide-filled beeswax.
- Frame—a wooden rectangle that surrounds the comb and hangs in the hive and is most common in Langstroth hives.
- Hiving bees—the practice of placing a new colony of bees in an empty beehive, whether it’s a wild swarm of bees or a purchased colony of bees.
- Hive body—the box which holds the frames filled with comb. If the hive body is used for brood it is called the brood chamber, and when it’s filled with honey it’s called a honey super. Hive bodies come in various depths and widths.
- Honey flow—also called the nectar flow, is when flowering plants are in abundance for bees to collect nectar and store a surplus of honey.
- Honey sac—a chamber inside a bee’s digestive system that is upstream of their stomach and used to store nectar and then deposited into cells.
- Kenya Top Bar Hive—also known as a KTBH or more generically Horizontal Top Bar Hive (HTBH.) This is a single-story frameless hive with movable top bars with the benefit of not being nearly as heavy to handle as the more popular Langstroth hives. You can read more about the pros and cons of each hive style here.
- House bee—also known as a nurse bee. These are young worker bees that are one day to two weeks old and they work only in the hive and tend to the brood.
- Langstroth hive—the most popular hive style and used almost exclusively in commercial beekeeping. This hive style uses stacking hive boxes filled with frames.
- Nectar dearth—typically a seasonal period of time where there is almost no nectar for bees to forage. Aside from seasonal dearths, severe droughts or unusually timed frosts may cause an unexpected nectar dearth.
- Nuc—this term is short for nucleus colony which is a complete small colony with a queen or queen cells, bees, brood, and food.
- Open brood—bees that are in the larva stage of development
- Orienting—refers to a burst of activity by newly hived or hatched worker bees, with the goal of orienting themselves to the location of the hive. You may see several hundred bees exiting the hive, then do a 180 to look back and the hive, and make increasingly larger circles from the hive.
- Package bees—bees you can purchase and usually refers to a 2 to 4-pound package of worker bees with sugar syrup food. Package bees may or may not include a queen so be sure to read the details before ordering.
- Pollen—a powdery substance collected by bees mostly from flowers and brought back and placed into cells. It is a high protein food and is mixed with nectar, bee saliva, and sealed with honey to ferment and make a highly digestible form of pollen called bee bread which is fed to brood and nurse or house bees.
- Propolis—a mixture of resin that honeybees collect, mainly from trees, and used to seal and cement gaps and small spaces in their hive.
- Queen—the only reproductive female in the colony. She is bigger than either bees or drones so she can be found by careful observation.
- Royal jelly—a milky white secretion from the heads of worker bees that is rich in protein and is fed to all eggs during the first three days of life, and then fed to queens exclusively throughout their lives to support her reproductive development and function.
- Smoker—a metal container with bellows attached that burns organic materials to provide smoke around the beehive, which calms and distracts aggressive bees during a hive inspection.
- Super—a hive box or body that sits above the box containing brood and is often filled with surplus honey.
- Swarm—a group of a few thousand workers bees and typically an older queen that leave the hive to establish a new colony. The primary swarm is the first swarm to leave a hive, and can sometimes be followed by secondary swarms with more worker bees and usually newly hatched virgin queen bees.
Learn About Varroa Mites
Varroa mites are the single biggest reason hives die in winter, so they are bee facts well worth learning about. Varroa mites are parasitic mites that require honeybees to survive. The entire varroa mite life cycle is dependent on the honeybees and their hive.
Varroa mite growth is exponential and begins on a very small scale. Therefore it may not be until the third year of infection in a hive that the mites can be detected. Varroa mites can be virus carriers and infect honeybees, which is one of their major negative impacts on the colony, along with lowered honey production. Varroa mites are the biggest reason colonies fail and die, so it’s important to check and treat mites in your hive.
The simplest way to check for Varroa Mites is to use a sticky board, which is a white piece of cardboard or corrugated plastic covered in cooking oil and placed on the floor of your hive. You can check the daily number of mites that fall onto the sticky board and determine if you have an infestation.
In the northern hemisphere, you can use the number of the month, for example, May is the 5th month of the year, and if you find 5 or more mites on your sticky board in a day, then you have a mite infestation you need to treat or risk losing your hive in the winter.
How you treat mites will vary depending on your beekeeping philosophy and whether or not you want to introduce chemicals into your hive. Though chemicals are the most effective, can also have a harmful effect on the bees and have negative long-term consequences on the mite population by making them more resistant and difficult to control.
Some beekeepers like to allow natural selection to take its course and not treat Varroa mites at all. There is evidence that bees allowed to deal with the mites on their own will either die or develop the genetic traits to mechanically evict the mites from the colony and become resistant to their viral infections. This long-term approach could be helpful but could also be devastating for new beekeepers whose goal is to have their hives survive through the first season.
A middle-of-the-road approach is to help control Varroa mite populations without damaging chemicals by using drone culling, small cell foundations, brood breaks, or sugar dusting. Female Varroa mites are ten times more likely to lay their eggs in drone brood cells than worker bee brood cells and experts disagree as to the reason. Nevertheless managing the drone brood is an effective way to lower problematic mite populations.
Using a wax foundation in a Langstroth hive, which is embossed with a slightly smaller cell size than what is used for drone eggs, is felt to be an effective way to control mite infestations. Some beekeepers like to use the brood break method where they remove the queen from the hive for 21 days and cull all of the brood combs for disposal or later treatment with powdered sugar. This three-week period interrupts the natural Varroa life cycle and reduces the load of mites in the hive.
Dusting each side of each comb with pure powdered sugar has shown to be effective without any ill effects on the bees. The sugar works to encourage natural bee grooming behaviors which dislodges the mites, and also makes it more difficult for mites to attach themselves to the bees. You can begin sugar dusting when your sticky board mite checks indicate a problem and continue dusting weekly until you see the mite population drop to no more than 3 mites per day on your sticky board.
Just as with all things beekeeping, there are a wide variety of opinions on how to deal with mites in the hive, but it is the single biggest problem that will cause your hive to die, and is worth monitoring and treating.
Learn About Nectar Flow and Dearth
A nectar flow is when there are flowering plants in the local area available for honeybees to collect nectar and pollen from, and a dearth is a seasonal absence in nectar-producing plants. Most places have a winter dearth, but in some climates like my climate in Texas, we have two dearths, one in the winter, and a shorter dearth in the heat of summer, with two nectar flows in the spring and the fall.
It is important to connect with your local beekeeper’s club and learn about the conditions and bee facts specific to your area and how that will impact your beekeeping activities and honey collection. What works for a beekeeper in an area with a long harsh winter dearth and short summer nectar flow, will differ from what will work for a beekeeper living in a moderate climate such as the south-west coast where flowering plants can be foraged to some degree all year round.
Observe and Have Fun
You will learn more about your bee facts by observing them than you will from a book, article, or youtube video. And there is something so needed and special about slowing down our busy lives long enough to observe bees. We need that kind of disconnection from our screens and media, and connection to the slow rhythms of the natural created world.
I am a busy mom to five teenagers, and last time my homesteading Grandfather visited, he sat in a comfortable chair in my bay window and observed the sheep and cattle for hours. I was so struck my his ability to slow down and observe, and the rich information he came back with after observing. I envied his ability to live slow.
Watching your bees is a mindfulness activity that will lower stress and help you stay present in the moment, rather than preoccupied with past guilt and future fears. We were created by God for this sort of observational activity, and it will make us excellent and astute beekeepers.
Let’s remember not to get so wrapped up in methods that we stop having fun with beekeeping!
Failure is Normal
In our search for beekeeping information to set ourselves up for success in our first year of beekeeping, we can quickly forget what our childhoods taught us—failure is the best teacher. We had to tie our shoes wrong before we got it right. We had to fall before we learned to run. And we had to miss the ball before we could make the catch.
Hold on to this childlike wisdom in beekeeping and understand that not only is failure a normal part of the process, but it is an important one. Failure means you are doing something and making progress. You won’t get stung by starring at bees on a screen, but you also won’t get honey either.
Connect to Local Beekeepers and Conditions
As we talked about earlier, what works for one beekeeper in a certain climate, will not work for every beekeeper around the world. This is why it’s so important to connect with local beekeepers and learn about the conditions in your area such as available pollen and nectar, mite conditions, nectar flow, dearth, wild swarms, and humidity.
Some beekeepers can be a bit grumpy or downright mean, but the majority will make wonderful connections and allies on our journeys. We were created for community, and part of beekeeping and homesteading is reconnecting with those who are local around us. Community is good for the soul, good for our transfer of wisdom, and good for our beekeeping efforts as we can accomplish more together than we ever could alone.
A few more beekeeping facts to consider as you begin your journey—local wild-caught bees are often the strongest, start with two hives for better success, and check your hives every 7 to 10 days spring through fall.
What about you, what are your best beekeeping tips, bee facts, or what you wished you knew before you began? Let us know your experience in the comments below.