How many eyes does a honey bee have?

Incredible as it may seem, the honey bee has FIVE eyes, two large compound eyes and three smaller 'ocelli' eyes in the centre of its head.  Honey bees compound 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 so you may want to rethink you planting for bees to include more blues.

Photo taken by Graham Kingham, Devon BKA, showing close up of a bee's set of eyes.

How many wings does a honey bee have?

The honey bee has four wings in total. The front and rear wings hook together to form one big pair of wings and unhook for easy folding when not flying.

How many legs does a honey bee have?

The honey bee has three pairs of legs, six legs in total. However, the rear pair is specially designed with stiff hairs to store pollen when flying from flower to flower. This is why a heavily laden worker bee is seen to have two golden pouches in full season. The front pair of legs has special slots to enable the bee to clean its antenna.

Do honey bees sleep?

Yes, honey bees sleep between 5 and 8 hours a day mostly at night when darkness prevents them from going out to collect pollen and nectar.  We know this thanks to a researcher called Walter Kaiser who in 1983 observed bees in his hive which had stopped moving. He discovered that honey bees sleep.  As he watched, Kaiser noted how a bee's legs would first start to flex, bringing its head to the floor. Its antennae would stop moving and, in some cases, a bee would fall over sideways as if intoxicated by tiredness. Many bees held another bee's legs as they slept.  This was the first record of sleep in any invertebrate. 

Some bumble bees have even been photographed sleeping in flowers.

How far does a bee fly?

The distance a bee flies in its life is astonishing.  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 of around 60,000 bees therefore flies the equivalent distance from earth to the moon everyday!

The normal top speed of a worker bee 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 heavily laden with nectar, pollen, propolis or water.

How does a bee navigate?

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

As well as two large compound eyes on either side of its head, the bee has three 'ocelli' on the top of its head.  The ocelli can detect the transition from darkness to light.  They use them to detect where the horizon is.  If the horizon moves up it means the bee is flying down so it can rotate the angle of its wings to compensate.  In this way the bee can make sure it is flying along a flat plain to achieve a greater distance over a shorter space of time.

Do honey bees hibernate over winter?

No, honey bees do not hibernate during winter.

The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter. The colony reduces its size in autumn and relies on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available. The colony clusters together inside the hive to keep warm using their bodies to generate heat with the bees taking turns to be on the cold outside. The queen will remain at the centre of the cluster. On warmer days honey bees will go on ‘cleansing flights’ to relieve themselves of waste.

Why does a bee have a hairy body?

A bee's body is covered in branches hairs, a bit like feathers.  This makes it easy for pollen to get trapped in the hairs.  As the bee flies its hairs become positively charged.  The pollen grains are negatively charged so the pollen is attracted to the hair and sticks.

How do honey bees communicate?

When they find a good source of food honey bees perform a 'waggle dance' which communicates the direction and distance of the food source to the other bees in the colony.  They move in a figure of eight and 'waggle' their body to indicate where the food can be found.