Bees are among the most beautiful creatures on earth. One of the most interesting bee facts is that they execute one of the most vital assignments in the world which is facilitating pollination to ensure production of fruits and seeds. Another interesting fact about bees is that it is a highly economic creature; whatever it takes from the environment, it replaces with a better substitute. Think about “honey” and what the world would be without it. It means that there would not be all those blemish free skin and lustrous hair you see on TV, and apparently the world would be left with only “darling” and “sweetheart” without the “honey” as pet word. However, our famous stripey buzzer is apparently in trouble – their numbers are going down – so everyone needs to plant flowers that attract them and the other pollinating insects! In the meantime, here are some 20 lesser known but interesting facts about bees. [See Also: Interesting Facts on Dragonfly]
Bee Facts – General
1 – Wasps and ants are bees’ closest relatives and there are nearly 20,000 bee species, although the actual number of species may easily be higher since many have not been specifically described yet. They are found everywhere in the world except Antarctica, and in every habitat as long as there are flowers there that are pollinated by insects.
2 – Honey, the food bees produce to feed their larvae, is a marvellous substance that contains no fat or cholesterol, keeps almost forever and even has antiseptic properties if spread on wounds! On top of that, honey actually contains every necessary substance to sustain life, from vitamins and minerals to enzymes and water – and including pinocembrin, an antioxidant that helps improve brain function. Wonderful stuff, eh?!
3 – Bees range in size from the Trigona Minima, which is 0.08 in (2.1 mm) long, to the Megachile Pluto at 1.5 in (39 mm). They are a prey species for several birds such as the aptly-named Bee-eater and Beewolf, along with mockingbirds and kingbirds, and also for dragonflies.
4 – The best known bee, of course, is the European Honey Bee, a honey-producer and the bee usually kept by human beekeepers. Not all bees produce honey, however – in fact, only a handful of the species do so.
5 – Bees are the major pollinators for many species of plants, although they carry out pollination as an accidental side-effect of the process of collecting either pollen or nectar (both are used in the production of honey). In the plants we humans use for food, it is thought that about 33% are pollinated by insects and of that pollination, most is carried out by bees. Because of this, the main reason for keeping bees in some countries has shifted from honey production to migratory contract pollination, whereby the keepers move their beehives around to ‘service’ local flowering plants at the required time. [See Also: 20 Lesser Known Facts About Bats]
6 – The reduction in numbers of bees, particularly honey bees, is not a minor matter but fast approaching disastrous proportions. Over the last forty years wild honey bees in the US have been come virtually extinct, and there has been a significant decline in the ‘domesticated’ colonies, as well. This has now been attributed to the so-called ‘colony collapse disorder’, a situation in which both a virus, IIV6 (invertebrate iridescent virus) and a fungus, Nosema ceranae, are present in a single bee colony – neither are a major problem on their own, but somehow when both are present the outcome is 100% fatal to the bees every time. Colonies are also having great difficulty surviving the winter in many other countries, with a parasite called Varroa and also some pesticides taking much of the blame for this.
Bee Facts – Behaviour
7 – Despite having brains the size of a sesame seed, it seems bees can learn new behaviours! There is a mistletoe in New Zealand which has evolved such that their buds will not open until the top of the bud is twisted by certain birds to release an explosive mechanism, allowing the petals to spring open and make the pollen and nectar available. Some of the local bees have been observed to break off the bud’s top and push the petals out with their legs, so they can get inside. Since the mistletoe, like the bees, is on the decline, this is actually good news!
8 – Not all bees are as sociable as the honey bee. They range from being totally solitary through family groups of sisters working together (‘semisocial’) or a mother ‘queen’ and her daughters, her ‘workers’, making a ‘eusocial’ group. In the wild eusocial colonies are rarely more than a few hundred individuals, but the ‘domesticated’ colonies living in human-provided beehives can number up to 40,000 at the spring peak.
9 – Some bees can’t be bothered to gather pollen to make honey and construct the wax egg cells themselves – so they just infiltrate the nests of bees that do, and lay their eggs in the existing cells. When these Cleptoparasitic bees hatch (they are known as ‘cuckoo bees’ because they behave exactly like cuckoo birds), they consume the pollen ball left for the genuine occupant and kill said occupant (if their mother hadn’t already). Sometimes they stay and lay lots more eggs, occasionally even killing the genuine queen and taking over the nest!
10 – Not all bees are active during the daytime. There are several species that are crepuscular (active in twilight, around dawn and dusk) and they have much larger ocelli than normal (‘simple’ eyes, on the top of the head, as opposed to their much more obvious ‘compound’ eyes) to help them see in the reduced light conditions.
11 – There is actually a very small group of stingless bees that doesn’t feed on plants at all – the ‘vulture bees’ have evolved to feed on carrion! They behave a bit like maggots, crawling into a carcase and salivating on the rotten flesh, then sucking it up into a special stomach to carry it back to the nest. Once there, the meat is transferred to other workers who add digestive fluid to make an edible goop which is stored in ‘pots’ for feeding the young bees.
Bee Facts – Characteristics
12 – A honey bee’s wings move at an incredible 200 beats a second (causing their famous buzz) and they can fly for up to six miles at a time, at a maximum of fifteen miles an hour.
13 – The occupants of a beehive need to fly for about 90,000 miles (the equivalent of about three times around the earth) to acquire the makings of 1 kg of honey – but one individual bee will only make about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of the precious substance in her entire life (about six weeks)!
14 – The queen bee is the only one to lay eggs and her drones (the only males) do no real work at all – they exist solely to mate with the queen and so help her produce her 2,500 or so eggs per year. She is also the only bee to live for more than one season, usually living for up to five years. All the real work in the hive is done by the female worker bees.
15 – Honey bees do have a sting and will use it to defend themselves, but they die once they’ve done so – and it is thought it would take 1,100 bee stings to kill a human (as long as they’re not allergic, of course). Queens do have a sting, but don’t leave the hive so never use it.
16 – Bees have a buzz – literally! It’s not only their fuzzy fur that enables them to collect pollen by brushing against it, they actually have an electrostatic charge that causes it to stick! Every so often they stop to groom themselves, pushing the pollen into a ‘scopa’ (a section of dense hairs used to store it, usually on the back legs) and freeing up the rest of the fur to collect again.
17 – The British favourite, the bumblebee, is one of the bees that are now declining so badly; two of its species have become extinct and several are now a ‘priority’ species needing conservation. Two new charities are now working to help save them, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (2006) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (2011).
Bee Facts – Bees and Us
18 – Despite the fact that it possesses such a painful sting and insects generally are seen as such pests, bees are one of the few insects that are almost always shown in a positive light in adverts – perhaps because of their pollination, or producing honey, or possibly it’s their perceived diligence and sociability.
19 – Bees figure prominently in Ancient Egyptian lore, as one of the symbols of the land; Upper Egypt was represented by sedge, and Lower Egypt by the bee. Hence Pharaoh was often referred to as “He of Sedge and Bee”, since he reigned over both halves.
20 – Recently scientists manage to create a flying robot they called ‘Robobee’ because it flies in the same way as a bee and is of much the same size (although it doesn’t look much like them!). It’s hoped it will be used to perhaps mechanically perform pollination and a number of other uses, but first they need to develop an on-board power supply as, the Robobee has to be plugged into the mains (or at least a large battery) in order to operate!