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British Beekeepers Association

Biology - interesting facts

We all know what an insect is, but each one is slightly different from another and it is these differences that make the honey bee and every other species unique. We have compiled a list of favorite question about their biology.

How many legs,wings and eyes do bees have?                               Six Legs: The rear pair are specially designed with stiff hairs to store pollen when in flying from flower to flower and the front pair have slots for cleaning their antenna.

Four Wings: The front and rear wings hook together to form one big pair of wings and unhook for easy folding when not flying.
Five Eyes: Y
es honey bees have five eyes, two large compound eyes and three smaller ocelli eyes in the center of their head.

Do Bees have Knees'?
A popular expression is 'Its the bees knees' meaning its ideal, or the best. However, although bees have legs with joints like any insect their joint have nothing like a knee cap therefore bees do not have knees as such.

What's the difference between Honey Bees, Wasps (yellow Jackets) and Bumblebees?                                                  Honey Bees are the highest form of insect life, they live in a well organised colony that does not need to hibernate. They produce honey and store it in wax comb and use the same hive from one year to the next.Typical max population 35,000-50,000.

Wasps start in the spring with a single queen wasp that has hibernated under leaves or in cracks. The queen wasp builds a new hive constructed from paper and about the size of a golf ball. This hive (bice) builds up through the summer, however no honey is stored. In the autumn the colony organization breaks down, with homeless wasps becoming an increasing nuisance around bins and rubbish. Typical max. population 2,000.

Bumblebees or as the Victorian’s called them ‘Humble bees’ like wasps, only the queen hibernates and survives the winter. In the spring the queen bumblebee seeks an old mouse or vole hole and builds within it a nest of leaves and moss. She constructs nodular wax cells and incubates her young as a bird would. As her first offspring hatch and begin to fly the queen increasingly stays within the hive to produce young. Bumblebees do make a small amount of honey and store it in one special cup like cell. There is no more than a tablespoon at any time. Typical max. population only 50-150.

How many types of Bee are in a Honey Bee colony?
Three types, a single queen, thousands of female workers and in the summer hundreds of male drones. The drone bee does no work and in the early autumn they are evicted by the workers and die.

Howdoes a honey bee navigate?
As mentioned above the bees use the position of the sun and there is evidence of sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field. Also bees eyes are sensitive to polarized light which penetrates through even thick cloud so they are able to ‘see’ the sun in poor weather.

Can a honey bee see colour?
Yes, their eyes are sensitive more to the blue end of the spectrum and into ultra violet. Flowers reflect large amounts of ultra violet light and to a bee will be very bright. Bees are totally red blind.

Do bees sleep?
No, but during the night most bees remain motionless reserving their energies for the next day.

How far can honey bees fly?
It is possible for bees to fly as far as 5 miles for food, however an average distance would be less than a mile from the hive. A strong colony flies the equivalent distance of to the moon every day!

How high can honey bees fly?
A honey bee will not fly much higher than the height of any obstacle in its path. The bee will learn to fly straight out from its colony at high speed and be most surprised if it strikes an new obstacle such as you standing in the way. It may lash out and you will receive a sting so be careful when walking close to the front of a busy beehive.
Mating drones will fly up to 30mtrs above ground to find a queen and can go much higher if warm rising thermal air carries them so.

How fast can honey bees fly?
Normal top speed of a worker would be about 15-20mph (21-28km/h) when flying to a food source and about 12mph (17km/h) when returning laden down nectar, pollen, propolis or water.

Do honey bees catch diseases?
Yes, they’re several diseases, some more serious than others. They are not infectious to humans but dangerous for the bee. Some of the most serious AFB (American Foul Brood) and EFB (European Foul Brood) are normally treated by destroying the colony (UK). If left they can spread throughout out the whole apiary and affect surrounding beekeepers. Spores from AFB can remain dormant for over 50 years in old beekeeping equipment and cause problems decades later.

Why do bees collect pollen?
Pollen is mixed with water and to form a type of bread that is fed to the growing larvae. It provides rich source of proteins and fat whilst honey provides energy (carbohydrate). Bees collect about 20kg of pollen every year that’s 1 million pollen loads at 20mg a go.

Do honey bees hibernate overwinter?
No, bees over winter as a strong colony clustered together and using their bodies to generate heat. This cluster is about the size of football, with bees taking turns to be on the cold outside.

Why does a honey bee sting?
A bee only stings under two conditions. To protect the colony or when frightened.

Why does a honey bee die when it stings? 
When a bee stings, barbs in the lance of the sting cause it to firmly stick into the victim pulling out the venom sacs and glands when the bee is shaken off. The venom sac muscles continue to pump after these organs have been torn from the dying bee. Only the female workers and the queen can sting, the queen having a smooth sting which she uses to kill other queens.