Honey Bee Biology

Basic Facts about Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)

Over 25,000 species of bees have been identified in the world, with perhaps as many as 40,000 species yet to be identified. In the continental United States scientists have found approximately 3,500 species of bees. Some of these bees are social and live in hives, like honey bees. Others are solitary bees, like carpenter bees or digger bees. All bees collect pollen and nectar, and many of the solitary species are essential because they pollinate plants ignored by honey bees. The scientific name for the honey bee is Apis mellifera, which means honey carrier; technically incorrect as bees carry nectar and pollen – then create honey in the hive. Within the scientific name is the genus Apis and thus beekeeping is called “apiculture” and a bee yard called an “apiary.” There is good diversity in Apis mellifera with 24 known breeds. They each have different physical and behavioral characteristics such as body size, color, wing length, aggressive/docile behavior, and their susceptibility to disease. Because they all come from the same species cross-breeding can and does regularly occur, creating even more variations in the world of bees. The Spanish brought the honey bee from Europe to North America in the early 1600s, as did the English colonists later. The bees flourished and by the late 1900s, honey bees had become a common part of the environment across all of North America. Today there are more than 211,000 beekeepers tending about 3.2 million honey bee colonies in the United States.

Anatomy of a Honey Bee


The honey bee abdomen is composed of nine segments. The wax and some scent glands are located here in the adult. The sting is contained in a pocket at the end of the tapering abdomen in adult females.


The form of the antenna in insects varies according to its precise function. The antennae are feathery in male moths, elongated in the cockroach, short and bristle-like in the dragonfly, and bead-like in the termite. In honey bees, the segmented antennae are important sensory organs. The antennae can move freely since their bases are set in small socket-like areas on the head. Each of the antennae are connected to the brain by a large double nerve that is necessary to accommodate all of the crucial sensory input. The tiny sensory hairs on each antenna are responsive to stimuli of touch and odor.


Honey bees and people do not see eye to eye. Although honey bees perceive a fairly broad color range, they can only differentiate between six major categories of color: yellow, blue-green, blue, violet, ultraviolet, and also a color known as “bee’s purple,” a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet. Bees cannot see red. Differentiation is not equally good throughout the range and is best in the blue-green, violet, and bee’s purple colors.

The honey bee has 2 compound eyes. Each compound eye is composed of individual cells (ommatidium, plural ommatidia). Each ommatidium is composed of many cells, usually including light focusing elements (lens and cones), and light sensing cells (retinal cells). Workers have about 4,000-6,000 ommatidia but drones have more 7,000-8,600, presumably because drones need better visual ability during mating.

Honey bees also have three smaller eyes in addition to the compound eyes. These simple eyes or “ocelli” are located above the compound eyes and are sensitive to light, but can’t resolve images.


The honey bee head is triangular when seen from the front. The two antennae arise close together near the center of the face. The bee has two compound eyes and three simple eyes, also located on the head. The honey bee uses its proboscis, or long hairy tongue, to feed on liquids and its mandibles to eat pollen and work wax in comb building.


The honey bee has three pairs of segmented legs. The legs of the bee are primarily used for walking. However, honey bee legs have specialized areas such as antennae cleaners on the forelegs, and pollen baskets on the hind legs.


Honey bees have a pair of mandibles located on either the side of the head that act like a pair of pliers. The mandibles are used for any chores about the hive that require grasping or cutting, such as working wax to construct the comb, biting into flower parts (anthers) to release pollen, carrying detritus out of the hive, or gripping enemies during nest defense.


The proboscis of the honey bee is simply a long, slender, hairy tongue that acts as a straw to bring the liquid food (nectar, honey, and water) to the mouth. When in use, the tongue moves rapidly back and forth while the flexible tip performs a lapping motion. After feeding, the proboscis is drawn up and folded behind the head. Bees can eat fine particles like pollen, which is used as a source of protein, but cannot handle big particles.

Pollen Basket(s)

These are smooth, somewhat concave surfaces of the outer hind leg that are fringed with long, curved hairs that hold the pollen in place. This enclosed space is used to transport pollen and propolis to the hive. Also called a corbicula.

Pollen Press

Once the bees have gathered the pollen, they move it to the pollen press located between the two largest segments of the hind leg. It is used to press the pollen into pellets.

Rakes and Combs

Structures on the legs used to collect and remove pollen that sticks to the hairy bodies of honey bees.


The stinger is similar in structure and mechanism to an egg-laying organ, known as the ovipositor, possessed by other insects. In other words, the sting is a modified ovipositor that ejects venom instead of eggs. Thus, only female bees can have a stinger.

The sting is found in a chamber at the end of the abdomen, from which only the sharp-pointed shaft protrudes. It is about 1/8-inch long. When the stinger is not in use, it is retracted within the sting chamber of the abdomen. The shaft is turned up so that its base is concealed. The shaft is a hollow tube, like a hypodermic needle and the tip is barbed so that it sticks in the skin of the victim. The hollow needle actually has three sections. The top section is called the stylet and has ridges. The bottom two pieces are called lancets. When the stinger penetrates the skin, the two lancets move back and forth on the ridges of the stylet so that the whole apparatus is driven deeper into the skin. The poison canal is enclosed within the lancets. In front of the shaft is the bulb. The ends of the lancets within the bulb are enlarged and as they move they force the venom into the poison canal, like miniature plungers. The venom comes from two acid glands that secrete into the poison sac. During stinging, the contents of the alkaline gland are dumped directly into the poison canal where they mix with the acidic portion. When a honey bee stings a mammal, the stinger becomes embedded. In its struggle to free itself, a portion of the stinger is left behind. This damages the honey bee enough to kill her. The stinger continues to contract by reflex action, continuously pumping venom into the wound for several seconds.


The thorax is the middle part of the bee and is the anchor point for six legs (three pair), as well as two sets of membranous wings in the adult. Pollen baskets for carrying pollen back to the hive are located on the hind legs.

Wax Glands

Wax glands are four pairs of glands that are specialized parts of the body wall, which during the wax forming period in the life of a worker, become greatly thickened and take on a glandular structure. The wax is discharged as a liquid and hardens to small flakes or scales and sits in wax pockets. The worker bee draws the wax scales out with the comb on the inside hind leg. The wax scale is then transferred to the mandibles where it is chewed into a compact, pliant mass. The beeswax is then added to the comb. After the worker bee outgrows the wax forming period, the glands degenerate and become a flat layer of cells.


The honey bee has two sets of two separate flat, thin, membranous wings, strengthened by various veins. The fore wings are much larger than the hind wings, but the two wings of each side work together in flight. Just flapping the wings does not result in flight. The driving force results from a propeller-like twist given to each wing during the upstroke and the downstroke.

Bee Biology

Honey bees pass through four distinct life stages: the egg, larva, pupa, and adult – a wondrous metamorphosis. Passing through the immature stages takes twenty-one days for worker bees. On the first day, the queen bee lays a single egg in each cell of the comb. The egg generally hatches into a larva on the fourth day. The larva is a legless grub that resembles a tiny white sausage. It is fed a mixture of pollen and nectar called beebread. On the ninth day the cell is capped with wax and the larva transforms into a pupa. The pupa is a physical transition stage between the amorphous larva and the hairy, winged adult. The pupa doesn’t eat. On day 21, the new adult worker bee emerges.

Female worker bees make up the majority of the colony. Their jobs are tending young (larvae), making honey, making royal jelly and beebread to feed larvae, producing wax, temperature control, gathering and storing pollen, nectar, and water, guarding the hive, building-cleaning-repairing comb, as well as feeding and caring for the queen and drones. The individual job that a worker bee does depends on its age.

The male members of the colony, drones, are larger than the worker bee and make up about 1/7 of the hive population. Drones are fed royal jelly, and develop in a slightly larger cell than worker bees from unfertilized eggs. Drones remain in the pupal stage for 15 days, so they don’t emerge until day 24. Drones have huge compound eyes that meet at the top of their head and an extra segment in their antennae. In comparison to worker bees, drones have wider bodies and their abdomens are rounded rather than pointed. Drones, like all other male bees and wasps, do not have stingers.

In most circumstances there is only one queen in a honey bee colony. She is slightly larger than a worker bee, with a longer abdomen. She does not have pollen baskets on her legs. Eggs destined to become queens are laid in larger cells and these larvae are fed only royal jelly. The adult queen’s sole duty is to lay eggs, up to 2,000 a day! She is fed by the workers and never leaves the hive except to mate.

Queen bees also have stingers and use them in battles with each other for dominance of the colony. If a new queen emerges from her incubation cell and is detected by the current queen, the “old lady” often goes over and kills her rival. In this way, the stability of the colony is maintained. When a queen gets old or weak and slows her production of queen substance, she is generally replaced by a new queen. New queens are also produced in colonies about to swarm.

Virgin queen bees take what is known as a “nuptial flight” sometime within the first week or two after emerging from the pupal chamber. In this flight, the new queen leaves the hive and begins to produce a perfume-like substance called a “pheromone.” The drones in the area are attracted to the pheromone and the queen will mate with as many as 20 of them while in mid-air. After mating, the drones die.

Once the queen has mated, she heads back to the hive to start laying eggs in beeswax chambers that the workers have created especially for this purpose. A queen can lay her own weight in eggs every day and, since she can maintain the sperm she has collected for her lifetime in a special pouch in her body, she can continue laying eggs indefinitely. The fertilized eggs laid by a queen become female worker bees and new queens. The queen also lays some unfertilized eggs, which produce the drones. Since they come from unfertilized eggs, the drones carry only the chromosomes of the queen.

The drones could be called the couch potatoes of the insect world. While they wait for an opportunity to mate with a virgin queen they are fed and cared for by workers, and only occasionally fly out of the hive to test their wings. If no opportunity to mate arises by autumn, they are ejected from the nest by the workers and left to fend for themselves.

On average, queen bees live for about a year-and-a-half, although some have been known to survive up to six years. While she is alive and active, the queen is constantly cared for by workers acting as attendants.

When the colony starts to become too crowded, some of the bees split off to form a new colony. This is called “swarming.” Swarming occurs when part of the colony breaks off with the old queen and flies away looking for another place to call home. First the eggs for new queens are laid in their special larger cells so that the remaining colony can have a new queen after the swarm. The bees engorge themselves on their honey reserves before leaving so as to have sufficient energy to make it to a new location. When the swarm occurs, about half the colony leaves with the old queen, leaving the remaining half to wait until the new queen hatches, thereby making two colonies from one. There can be multiple swarms from one hive, since new queens can also emerge and fly off with part of the worker force.

What Bees Eat

Bees may fly long distances (up to six miles) in search of food and may be quite far from home when they are seen foraging in the flowers near by.

The worker bees gather pollen and nectar from flowers to feed to colony. Nectar is the sweet fluid produced by flowers to attract bees and other insects, as well as birds and mammals. Worker bees drink the nectar and store it in a pouch-like structure called the crop. They fly back to the hive and regurgitate the nectar to other “house bees”. The house bees mix the nectar with enzymes and deposit it into a cell where it remains exposed to air for a time to allow some of the water to evaporate. The result is honey.

Honey bees are covered in tiny little hairs and while they are foraging in flowers the pollen sticks to the hairs. The bees groom the pollen, moving it to their hind legs and into pollen baskets. Bees returning to the hive will often have bright yellow or greenish balls of pollen hanging from these baskets.

During those hard times when there are few foraging opportunities, bees sometimes raid other, weaker colonies looking for honey to steal. The robber bees cannot enter a different hive unnoticed. Guard bees at the hive entrance usually try to fight off invaders in stinging duels.

In addition to food, honey bees gather water for use in cooling the inside of the nest on hot days. They also use water to dilute the honey when they feed it to the larvae. Occasionally, honey bees collect the sticky resin and gum of trees and work into a substance called propolis. They used propolis to plug unwanted openings in the hive so that mice and pests such as wax moths or ants cannot get inside. The bees also spread a thin coating of propolis on the interior of the hive to protect against disease. When working a hive, the beekeeper uses a hive tool to pull apart the frames that may be stuck together with propolis.

Gardening for Bees

Bee Senses


Bees “smell” many things. Guard bees sit or hover near the hive entrance and “smell” other bees trying to enter the hive. If the bees don’t have the correct odor of that particular hive they are expelled. The new virgin queens produce a special odor called a sex pheromone to attract drones during the mating flight . Bees also use odors to help locate their hive or their new home after swarming. To humans this pheromone smells lemony.

When a bee stings, she releases an odor called an alarm pheromone to alert others to the danger. This alarm pheromone smells like bananas and attracts other bees to come to the defense of the hive. This pheromone stays on clothing, so if you are stung you should wash your clothing before wearing it again.

The queen bee has her own pheromones in addition to the smell she produces when ready to mate. She also maintains behavioral control of the colony by a pheromone known as the “queen substance.” As long as it is being passed around, the message in the colony is that “we have a queen and all is well.” When a beekeeper wants to re-queen a colony by introducing a queen from another source, he or she must place the queen in a cage within the colony for up to five days in order for the worker bees to get used to her odor.


Honey bees and people do not see eye to eye. Humans see the colors of the rainbow; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (otherwise known as ROY-G-BIV). Although honey bees have a fairly broad color range, they do not see red and can only differentiate between six major categories of color, including yellow, blue-green, blue, violet, and ultraviolet. They also see a color known as “bee’s purple,” a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet. Differentiation is not equally good throughout the range and is best in the blue-green, violet and bee’s purple colors.


Honey bees have been found to be able to distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter and salt, and thus have a sense of “taste.” Bees are more sensitive to salts than humans, but less sensitive to bitter flavors.


Honey bees use their antennae to gauge the width and depth of cells while constructing comb. They also communicate via touch during bee dances.

The Hive

The modern beehive is made up of a series of square or rectangular boxes without tops or bottoms placed one on top of another. Inside the boxes frames are hung in parallel. There are several types of modern hives in common use, differing mainly in size and number of frames used. Types include Smith, Langstroth, Modified Commercial and Modified Dadant, top-bar or Kenya-type hives, plus regional variations such as the British Modified National Hive. The Langstroth hive is the most common worldwide.

Langstroth Hives

Named for their inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, these hives are typified by removable frames which allow the apiarist to inspect for diseases and parasites. Movable frames also allow the beekeeper to more easily split the hive to make new colonies. Langstroth presented his design in 1860 and it has become the standard style hive around the world.

Langstroth hives make use of the discovery of bee space, a characteristic of European honeybees which causes them to propolize small spaces (less than 1/4 inch) and to fill larger spaces (more than about 3/8 inch) with wax comb, but to hold the intermediate space open for traffic channels for other bees. Langstroth’s cleverly designed hive makes use of this bee space so that frames are neither glued together nor jammed up with burr comb.

Langstroth hives make use of standardized sizes of hive bodies and frames to ensure that parts are interchangeable and that the frames will remain relatively easy to remove and inspect without killing too many bees. The hive bodies are rectangular wooden or styrofoam boxes that can be stacked to expand the usable space for the bees.

The frames are thin rectangular structures made of wood or plastic and which may have a wax or plastic foundation on which the bees draw out comb. The frames hold the beeswax honeycomb formed by the bees. Ten frames side-to-side will fill the hive body and leave exactly the right amount of bee space between each frame and between the end frames and the hive body. Frames are often reinforced with wire which makes it possible to extract honey in centrifuges which spin the honey out of the frames. The empty frames can be returned to the beehive for use next season. Since bees are estimated to use as much food to make one kilogram of beeswax as they would to make eight kilograms of honey, the ability to reuse comb can significantly increase honey production.

Top-Bar Hives

These hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment. They are used by some devotees in the US, but are much more popular, due to their simplicity and low cost, in developing countries. Top-bar hives also have movable frames and make use of the concept of bee space.

The top-bar hive gets its name because the frames of the hive only have a top bar, not sides or a bottom bar. The beekeeper does not provide a foundation (or only provides a fractional foundation) for the bees to build from. The bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar.
Unlike the Langstroth hive, the honey cannot be extracted by centrifuging because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. Because the bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, a top-bar hive will yield more beeswax but less honey. However, like the Langstroth hive, the bees can be induced to store the honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood so that far fewer bees are killed when harvesting from a top-bar hive than when harvesting from a skep.


What is a honey bee swarm?

Honey bee swarms are one of the most beautiful and interesting phenomena in nature. A swarm starting to issue is a thrilling sight. A swarm may contain from 1,500 to 30,000 bees including workers, drones, and a queen. Swarming is an instinctive part of the annual life cycle of a honey bee colony. It provides a mechanism for the colony to reproduce itself.

What makes a honey bee colony swarm?

Overcrowding and congestion in the nest are factors which predispose colonies to swarm. The presence of an old queen and a mild winter also contribute to the development of the swarming impulse. Swarming can be partially controlled by a skilled beekeeper; however, not all colonies live in hives and have a human caretaker.

When do honey bees swarm?

The tendency to swarm is usually greatest when bees increase their population rapidly in late spring and early summer.

Are honey bee swarms dangerous?

NO – honey bees exhibit defensive behavior only in the vicinity of their nest. Defensive behavior is needed to protect their young and food supply. A honey bee swarm has neither young nor food stores and will not exhibit defensive behavior unless unduly provoked.

What should homeowners do about a honey bee swarm on their property?

When honey bees swarm they will settle on a tree limb, bush, or other convenient site. The swarm will send out scout bees to find a cavity to nest in and will move on when a suitable nesting site is found. Rarely, swarms may initiate comb construction in the open if a suitable cavity cannot be found. You may want to call a local beekeeper to see if he or she would like to collect the swarm.

A swarm in May – is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June – is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm in July – isn’t worth a fly.

How does a beekeeper go about capturing a swarm of honey bees?

A swarm is looking for a new nesting site. A beekeeper can capture a swarm by placing a suitable container, such as an empty beehive, on the ground below the swarm and dislodging the bees at the entrance to the hive. The bees will begin to move into the hive which can be removed after dark to the beekeeper’s apiary. You can observe the bees scent-fanning at the entrance to signal the entrance to the new nest as the bees march into their new home. If for some reason the queen does not go into the new hive, the bees will abandon it and form a cluster where she lands.

What type of nesting sites will honey bees seek?

Honey bees are cavity nesters and will seek a cavity of at least 15 liters of storage space. Hollow trees are a preferred nesting site. Occasionally, bees will nest in the hollow walls of buildings, under porches, and in other “man-made” sites if they can find an entrance to a suitable cavity.

What can be done if a honey bee swarm establishes itself in an undesirable place?

Honey bees are beneficial pollinators and should be left alone and appreciated unless their nest are in conflict with human activity. If honey bees nest in the walls of a home, they can be removed or killed if necessary; however, it is advisable to open the area and remove the honey and combs or rodents and insects will be attracted. Also, without bees to control the temperature, the wax may melt and honey drip from the combs. After removal, the cavity should be filled with foam insulation as the nest odor will be attractive to future swarms. You may want to seek the assistance of a professional beekeeper. Nests should be removed promptly from problem sites. After several months, they may have stored a considerable amount of honey. You can prevent swarms from nesting in walls by preventive maintenance. Honey bees will not make an entrance to a nest. They look for an existing entrance, so periodic inspection and caulking is all that is necessary to prevent them from occupying spaces in walls.

Why are we observing fewer swarms than in previous years?

In the 1980s, two mites that parasitize honey bees were introduced into the U.S. They have spread throughout the states and have eliminated many wild or feral colonies. In addition, the number of colonies managed by beekeepers has declined during the past decade. Farmers and gardeners producing tree fruits, small fruits, forage legumes, oil seed crops, and vegetable crops requiring bee pollination need to consider pollination requirements as once abundant honey bee pollinators are no longer something they can take for granted. Managed honey bee colonies may be needed to assure adequate pollination of these crops.

In recent years, honey bees have come under attack from multiple pests, and the number of honey bee colonies has been on the decline. Tracheal mites and Varroa mites are two of the more common pests which devastate honey bee colonies. It is reported that over 2/3 of the produce crops which we consume are directly pollinated by honey bees – they’re a very important part of our world, and shouldn’t be treated like pests. Calling a beekeeper to capture your swarm helps to restore the population of bees.

Call a beekeeper from SCBA if you find a swarm and need assistance.

What to expect…

A beekeeper will arrive and assess the situation. The beekeeper will have a swarm capturing box, the specific design of which can vary considerably. In the case of tree (which is a common landing place for a swarm) and fence/exterior swarm clusters, the beekeeper will typically jostle the swarm of bees into the box, which might take a few attempts (but is quite spectacular), and then will set the box up and leave it for the bees to congregate in until after sundown, when the beekeeper will return to close up the box and transport it.

Structural extractions – removing bees from inside a wall for instance – are understandably more involved, and involve established colonies, rather than a swarm in transit. The process may require removal of siding or interior drywall or plaster. It can often be a multi-day process.

A swarm capture is an amazing sight to watch – please do so at a safe distance. Some beekeepers might even bring an extra “bee suit” and/or veil, and if you’re so inclined, you might ask about this if you want to lend a hand or take a closer look. Not all beekeepers will feel comfortable with the distraction, so please respect the beekeeper’s decision should they decline the request. Beekeepers are happy to answer questions and explain the process. If you’d like to take photographs while the beekeeper is working, please ask the beekeeper first.

Provided that you do not irritate the bees (swatting at them is a good way to do that), stinging risk should be minimal. If you do get stung, the most important thing to do is remove the stinger as fast as possible, which will minimize venom transfer. A scraping motion is most effective, and is preferred over trying to grasp the stinger to remove it, but either way, the quicker you remove the stinger with venom sac, the less venom will be transferred, and the less irritation you will subsequently experience.

Bee Safety

Beekeepers have learned to respect and honor the honey bee. When this happens a new relationship begins – they become sensitive to each other’s presence. Most beekeepers enjoy handling and observing bees and may comfortably do so without wearing protection. Generally bees are gentle as they go about their business of foraging and hive building. Slow and methodical movements should be adhered to when around bees, let them know what you are doing. You can even talk or sing to them.

Bee Alert!

The best safety advice is to avoid an encounter with unfriendly honey bees. Be alert for danger. Remember that honey bees sting to defend their colony, so be on the look out for honey bee swarms and colonies. Be alert for bees coming in and out of an opening such as a crack in a wall, or the hole in a water meter box. Listen for the hum of an active bee colony. Look for bees in holes in the ground, holes in trees or cacti, and in sheds. Be extra careful when moving junk that has been lying around.

Be alert for bees that are acting strangely. Quite often bees will display some preliminary defensive behavior before going into a full-fledged attack. They may fly at your face or buzz around over your head. These warning signs should be heeded, since the bees may be telling you that you have come into their area and are too close to their colony for comfort, both theirs and yours!

When you are outdoors in a rural area, park, or wilderness reserve, be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for bees the way you would watch out for snakes and other natural dangers. But don’t panic at the sight of a few bees foraging in the flowers. Bees are generally very docile as they go about their work. Unless you do something really outrageous, such as step on them, they will generally not bother you.

Bee Prepared!

There are a few things you can do to be prepared. One is to wear light-colored clothing. Experience has shown that bees tend to attack dark things. Dark clothing, dark hair, anything dark in color could draw the bees.

Avoid wearing floral or citrus aftershaves or perfumes when hiking. Bees are sensitive to odors, both pleasant and unpleasant. The smell of newly cut grass has been shown to rile honey bees.

Check around your house and yard at least once a month to see if there are any signs of bees taking up residence. If you do find a swarm or colony, leave it alone and keep your family and pets away. Contact a local beekeeper to deal with the bees.

To help prevent honey bees from building a colony in your house or yard, fill all cracks and crevices in walls with steel wool and caulk. Remove piles of junk. Honey bees will nest in an old soda can or an overturned flower pot. Fill holes in the ground, and cover the hole in your water valve box.

Bee Attack!

Obviously, it is best to avoid contact with honey bees except for observation or beekeeping. But sometimes contact can not be avoided. In that case, it is important to know what to do when stung.

Once the bees get riled up, the most important thing to do is RUN away as fast as possible. Do not try to retrieve belongings nearby. Do not try to stand still in an attempt to fool the bees. That may work with a snake under certain circumstances, but honey bees will not be impressed. Do not try to fight the bees; they have the advantage of numbers and the gift of flight. The more you flail your arms, the madder they will get. Just run indoors as fast as possible.

A bee can obtain speeds of from 12 to 15 miles per hour, but most healthy humans can outrun them. So, RUN! And when you run, keep running! Africanized honey bees have been known to follow people for more than a quarter mile.

Bee Stings

Anyone who keeps bees will inevitably get stung. Consider this before you invest in a beekeeping hobby. You can greatly reduce stinging if you wear a veil, use a smoker and handle bees gently. Experienced beekeepers can handle thousands or even millions of bees daily and receive very few stings.

A bee sting will cause intense local pain, reddening and swelling. This is a normal reaction and does not, in itself, indicate a serious allergic response. With time, many beekeepers no longer redden or swell when they are stung (however, it still hurts!). An extremely small fraction of the human population is genuinely allergic to bee stings. These individuals experience breathing difficulty, unconsciousness or even death if they are stung and should carry with them an emergency kit of injectable epinephrine, available by prescription from a physician.

Bee venom therapy is the part of apitherapy which utilizes bee venom in the treatment of health conditions. Apitherapy is the use of beehive products, including honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and bee venom. It has been used since ancient times to treat arthritis, rheumatism, back pain, skin diseases, and in this modern age it is used as an alternative therapy to treat multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome. Bee venom comes from the stingers of honey bees who use it in defense of the bee colony.

Bee venom is a rich source of enzymes, peptides and biogenic amines. There are at least 18 active components in the venom which have some pharmaceutical properties. The effect mechanism of the venom is not entirely know yet. Scientists believe it can modify the way the immune system functions in the body and contribute to increased cortisol production.


The honey bee has been around for thirty million years.

It is the only insect that produces food eaten by humans.

Honey bees are environmentally friendly and are vital as pollinators.

They are insects with a scientific name – Apis mellifera.

It takes about 556 workers to gather one pound of honey made from about two million flowers.

The honey bee’s wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.

A honey bee can fly for up to five miles and as fast as fifteen miles per hour. She would have to fly around 90,000 miles – three times around the globe – to make one pound of honey.

The average honey bee will actually make only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Worker honey bees are all female. They do all the manual work.

Worker honey bees live for only about thirty to sixty days in the spring or summer, but can average about 140 days during the winter.

The male honey bees are called drones. They do no manual work and have no stinger. It is thought that their main physical purpose is to mate with a virgin queen, however, they may have a further role that is still unknown to humans.

Only worker bees sting, and only if they feel threatened. They die once they sting. Queens have a stinger, but don’t use it to help defend the hive.

A honey bee visits fifty to 100 flowers during a collection trip.

The queen bee lives for about two to three years and is the only bee that lays eggs. She is the busiest in the summer months, when the hive needs to be at its maximum strength, and can lay up to 2,500 eggs per day.

A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honey bees and one queen.

Each honey bee colony has a unique odor for members’ identification.

It is estimated that 1,100 honey bee stings are required to be fatal.

Honey bees communicate with one another by “dancing”.

During winter, honey bees feed on the honey they collected during the warmer months. They form a tight cluster in their hive to keep the queen and themselves warm. They need about fifty pounds of honey to survive through the winter.

Honey bees must consume about seventeen to twenty pounds of honey to be able to biochemically produce each pound of beeswax.

Honey bees produce beeswax from eight paired glands on the underside of their abdomen.

The queen may mate with up to seventeen drones over a one to two day period of mating flights.

The western honey bee is called Apis mellifera, which means honey-carrying bee. This really should be Apis mellifica which means honey-making bee. Carolus Linnaeus recognized his mistake and changed it but scientists do not like to change names once they are established so the mistaken name is used today. Honey bees do not carry honey. What they carry is nectar.

Honey bees have an excellent sense of time. Many plants do not produce nectar all day long but only at certain times, such as in the morning or afternoon. They know when to go to the particular source of food so as to not waste time on unnecessary collecting flights. You can test this by putting out food at the same time each day.

Tracheal mites, Acarapis woodi, complete their whole life cycle inside the breathing tubes of adult honey bees. They were first found in the USA in Texas on July 3, 1984.

On each trip out to forage the bee will go to only one type of plant. For example she will not mix apple pollen with plum pollen. It is interesting to note that she will go to two different colors of plum blossoms on the same trip so it isn’t the blossom color that informs her decision.

Brain comparison

Bee Weight 0.001g – of Body 5v/v – Neurons 1M
Keeper Weight 1400g – of Body 2w/w -Neurons .1MM
Rat Weight 2g – of Body .5w/w -Neurons 150M

It takes eight to ten pounds of nectar to make a pound of honey.

It takes eight to ten pounds of honey to make a pound of beeswax.
To produce a pound of honey, bees travel about 55,000 miles, and visit some 2 million flowers.

Tradition holds the famous Delphic Oracle was revealed by a swarm of bees, and the Pythia or divinatory priestesses in Delphi’s temple of Apollo were affectionately called ‘Delphic Bees’, while virgin priestesses of Greek Goddesses like Rhea and Demeter were called melissai, ‘bees’; the hierophants essenes, ‘king bees’.

The California Buckeye is undoubtedly the greatest cause of loss of bees from plant poisoning in California. It is not related to the Ohio buckeye tree.