There are so many plants in our fields and gardens and in the wild that are so common we can often take them for granted: apples, raspberries, oxeye daisies, foxgloves, oil seed rape, to name just a few.

But they could not flourish without their pollen being spread by bees and hundreds of species of other insects – hoverflies, wasps, moths, beetles and butterflies.

If these pollinating insects went into serious decline, the health of our £100bn food industry, which is at the heart our economy, would be damaged. Without the service nature provides, some of that food would become a lot harder to grow and more expensive.

Some problems facing this beautiful species; 

  1. habitat loss  
  2. pests and diseases  
  3. extreme weather   
  4. competition from invasive species
  5. climate change and  
  6. use of some pesticides

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 maximum population is 35,000-50,000.

How does a honey bee navigate?

Bees use the position of the sun to navigate and there is evidence of their sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field. Also bees' eyes are sensitive to polarized light, which penetrates through even thick cloud, so bees are able to ‘see’ the sun in poor weather.

Can a honey bee see colour?

Yes, bees' eyes are sensitive more to the blue end of the light spectrum and into ultraviolet. Flowers reflect large amounts of ultraviolet light and will appear very bright to a bee. Bees are totally red blind.

By Paul Stein from New Jersey, USA - Where

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 the earth 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 will 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 30 metres above ground to find a queen, and can go much higher if warm rising thermal air carries them.

How fast can honey bees fly?

The normal top speed of a worker would be about 15-20 mph (21-28 km/h), when flying to a food source, and about 12 mph (17 km/h), when returning laden down with nectar, pollen, propolis or water.

By Paul Stein from New Jersey, USA - Honey Bee, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Do honey bees catch diseases?

Yes, there are several diseases, some more serious than others. They are not infectious to humans but dangerous for the bee. Some of the most serious are AFB (American Foul Brood) and EFB (European Foul Brood), which are normally treated by destroying the colony (UK). If left untreated, they can spread throughout out the whole apiary and affect surrounding bee colonies. 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 to form a type of bread that is fed to the growing larvae. It provides a rich source of protein and fat, while honey provides energy (carbohydrate). Bees collect about 20 kg of pollen every year: that’s 1 million pollen loads at 20mg a go.

Do honey bees hibernate overwinter?

No, bees overwinter as a strong colony clustered together, using their bodies to generate heat. This cluster is about the size of a 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 lodge in the victim's skin, pulling out the venom sacs and glands from the bee's abdomen. 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 has a smooth sting which she uses to kill other queens.