Bzzz, bzzzz. During the summer months, you probably hear this sound a lot. No, it’s not a fly. It’s a bee. These important pollinators are always buzzing from flower to flower looking for something to eat. Although many of them look the same, there are tons of fascinating facts about all the different types of bees you probably don’t know!
Kinds of Bees
There are over 20,000 known bee species. They come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. In the United States alone there are 4,000 species of bees. A couple of the bee species you could find in the US are:
- Bumble bee
- Mining bee
- Cuckoo bee
Size of Bees
Some bees are as small as 2 millimeters or the length of a new pencil’s tip. At the same time, other bees like carpenter bees are as giant as kumquats. The largest bee is the Megachile pluto or Wallace’s giant bee. It is four times larger than a honeybee and is about the length of a human thumb!
Where Bees Live
Some bees live in hives or bee colonies, while others are solitary bees which means they live alone. About 90% of the types of bees that live in the United States are solitary bees. You may find their nests in the sand, wood, or other hollow or easy-to-dig places. You may also see a queen bumblebee on the ground during the spring/summer months. They are looking for a new nesting spot.
Some species of bees, like honey bees, can live in natural or domesticated environments. They prefer to live in gardens, woodlands, meadows, orchards, and other areas with many flowering plants. They may build a hive inside hollow tree cavities, holes, or under the edges of different objects to help hide from predators.
Life Cycle of a Bee
The life cycle of a bee consists of four stages: eggs, larva, pupa, and adult bee. The life cycle length depends on the bee type. A bee’s lifespan can range depending on the type of bee.
The queen bee will examine each of the eggs before putting them into a honeycomb surrounded by pollen. She is the only bee that will lay eggs and can lay about 2,000 a day. The bees are then in the larva stage for an average of 6 days, the pupa stage for about 7-10 days, and then become adults.
During the larva stage, they are fed royal honey for the first couple of days and then the worker bees switch to regular honey and pollen. The larva eats almost constantly. Within 5 days, it will be 1000 times bigger than its original size. The cell is then sealed with wax, and the larva spins a cocoon around itself.
In the pupa stage, the bee develops eyes, wings, legs, and tiny hairs on its body. They start to look like bees.
The time it takes a bee to go through this process depends. The queen bee will only take 16 days, the male drone bees take 24 days, and the average worker bees take around 22 days. Each bee will become a worker, drone, or queen bee.
Lifespan of Bees
The worker bees will live 15-38 days in the winter months and 150-200 days in the summer. However, the queen bee can live for 1 to 2 years. The average lifespan of a bee is about two months.
Each bee has an important role in the working bee colony. During the summer, the average beehive has between 20,000 to 80,000 bees. There are 3 main members of the hive, the worker bees, drone bees, and queen bee.
All the female bees become female worker bees. They spend their entire life looking for food, creating wax cells, and filling them with honey and pollen. The worker bees do all the work within and out of the hive. Their jobs are housekeeping, feeding the queen, drones, and larvae, collecting the pollen and nectar, and maxing the wax.
A worker bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers in a single collection trip, and she’ll carry more than half her weight in pollen and nectar back to the hive. She will make this type of trip at least 12 times a day.
The male bees become drone bees. Drone bees do not have stingers and do not gather nectar or pollen. Their only responsibility is to mate with the current queen.
Future queens seem to be decided at random. The worker bees choose up to twenty of the fertilized eggs. When these eggs hatch, the worker bees feed the larvae a special food called royal jelly. Once the new queen bee chews her way out of her honeycomb cell, she will have to kill the other developing or already hatched queen bees to become the actual queen bee of the hive.
The Bee’s Body
The body of a bee is divided into 3 parts. These 3 parts are the head, thorax, and abdomen. Each has its own purpose and supports the body parts’ functions.
The head has the eyes, antennae, mandibles (the mouth), and the brain. Bees have a long tongue curled up inside their mouth. When it is extended it is about 1.3 inches long, or the length of a paperclip. Certain long-tongued bees use their tongues to get nectar from plants like orchids.
The thorax includes the legs and the wings. Each bee has two pairs of wings and pollen baskets attached to its hind legs. These pollen baskets are where the bees collect pollen to bring to other plants and back home.
The abdomen has the stinger, wax glands, and reproductive organs. A bee sting can hurt! The stinger goes into your skin and releases venom. It contains proteins that affect human skin and the immune system. This causes pain and swelling around the sting.
We all know bees make honey, but how is it made? How much honey do they make a day, a week, a year, or in their lifetime?
The bee’s food source is nectar and pollen. They use nectar to create honey. About 550 bees would be needed to make one pound of honey in about 2-3 weeks. An average bee colony can make about 60-100 pounds of honey in a year. But, an average worker bee will only make a teaspoon of honey (it takes a bee’s lifetime to make one).
Honey starts as nectar in flowers. The bees collect the nectar, which is then broken down into simple sugars and put inside the honeycomb. The honeycomb design and fanning from the worker bees create evaporation, causing sweet honey to form. The taste and color of honey depend on the type of nectar collected.
If you can believe it, bees do have some predators. The most common predators are skunks, bears, and hive beetles. Skunks are insectivores and will come back night after night to eat a lot of bees. Bears will smash the hive to get the honey and bees inside.
Importance of Bees
Bees are one of the most important insects on our planet. Bees help pollinate many different flowers and plants, allowing for more of them to grow. Without bees, we wouldn’t have flowers or other plants in the wild.
Bees are essential to humans because they pollinate approximately 130 agricultural crops in the United States. These crops include fruits, vegetables, fiber, and nut crops. Without this pollination, these crops would not grow, and we would not have the byproducts from them. If we did not have fruits, vegetables, and other crops, our nutrition would be significantly affected.
Fun Bee Facts
Let’s get into some fun facts and interesting information about bees you may not have already known.
- Baby bees (larvae) are known as brood or small white grubs.
- Bees do a special dance called the waggle dance to communicate.
- Bees can fly 20 miles per hour.
- Losing its stinger will cause the bee to die.
- Bees are so noisy because they beat their wings 11,400 times in one minute!
- Bees can fart like humans.
These are just a few interesting facts about bees. These insects are so fascinating and vital to our Earth!