Bees (of the Hymenoptera order) can live up to 5 years, and they actually have 5 eyes, allowing them to sense movements that are separated by 1/300th of a second. (Humans perceive moments by 1/50th of a second.) While most North Americans think all bees are honeybees, there are actually 30,000 different types of bees — 4,000 of which are native to the United States. These bees don’t make the honey or wax that we use, but they do pollinate many of our plants.
Honeybees were first brought to America by European colonists in the 1600s. While they do produce honey or wax that we use, they do not actually create it. They use nectar from plants and flowers to produce the product. Bees have a special tongue to suck up nectar and a place in their throat for storing it until they get back to their hive.
Honeybees and bumblebees are the only bees that are social and live in colonies or swarms, which is the reason why they are the only bees to produce honey. The colonies that they live in have one queen — the only female bee that reproduces — other female “worker” bees, and male bees, called drones.
The queen bee’s only job is to lay eggs. And she does it quite well — she’ll lay up to 2,000 per day for two to five years. The male bees’ job is to look for a queen. Once they catch one and successfully mate, though, the male bee dies.
The other female bees are the workers. They build the honeycomb, take care of the larvae, keep the hive clean, and collect the food. Sometimes there are up to 60,000 worker bees in one hive. In the course of a lifetime, a worker bee will produce about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.
These worker bees are not called busy for just anything either. While they do produce enough honey for beekeepers to get a hefty profit, they actually are a significant part of a billion-dollar industry. Foods that we eat, such as oranges, tomatoes, and squash, need bees to distribute pollen. Farmers will hire beekeepers to bring bees and bee hives to their fields for up to weeks at a time so that the bees can collect nectar for their hive and then plants can get pollinated. Honeybees pollinate more that $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States each year.
Recently, however, a significant number of bees have disappeared in the United States. Up to 60 percent have been lost on the West Coast and up to 70 on the East Coast. The most recent explanation for the disappearance of these bees is Colony Collapse Disorder, but the cause or causes of this syndrome are still not fully understood and are continuing to be researched. The scary thing about the disappearance is that without bees, agriculture, as we know it, would not be the same. So, next time you see a bee, don’t be scared of it, thank it!
Fun Bee Facts
- There are more kinds of bees than there are fish and birds put together.
- The average American consumes a little over a pound of honey each year.
- Worker bees fly 55,000 miles and collect nectar from two million flowers to make just one pound of honey.
- A productive hive can make and store up to two pounds of honey each day.
- A bee only flies 15 mph.
New York Times
San Diego Zoo