25 Great Honey Bee Questions With Answers
The Essential and Mysterious Honey Bee
Many people have a fear of honey bees, most of the time because of a fear from being stung. By learning about this insect we can move passed this fear that makes many avoid this intriguing pollinator. I have accumulated 25 questions that are often asked when people discover I am a beekeeper. If you have any questions that you would like answered, please, use the ask function at the bottom of the page and I will answer as quickly as I have time to. Thank you.
1. How Many Kinds Of Bees Are There?
There are almost 20,000 species of bees. These species include sweat bees, bumble bees, large and small carpenter bees to name a few. There are only approximately 44 sub species of bees that are actually honey bees though. That is less than a quarter of 1% of all bees are honey bees. A rather small selection.
2. Where Do Honey Bees Come From?
Until around 2014, it was believed that bees had originated in Africa. But it is strongly believed that bees began in Asia and then spread to northern Europe and Africa from there. Europeans brought the honey bee to America. Now the honey bee is on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. This is an amazing achievement, colonizing almost all land on the Earth.
3. Do Bee Stings Hurt?
Bee stings are often more annoying because of the swelling that can occur from the sting. Personally, most bee stings do nothing to me. But I have one hive that I react to when stung. Unfortunately, I get stung a couple times a year and it is part of keeping bees. Most beekeepers to my knowledge figure this is a part of beekeeping and those who wish to minimize being stung wear protective gear to avoid this.
There is an audible warning that honey bees give when they are upset and it helps to pay attention to this. Also, with time beekeepers learn how to move with their honey bees to lessen the chance of upsetting them. The above image is from a honey bee getting me on the outside edge of my eye lid. Bothersome because I wear glasses, but it made me laugh at myself. I could even feel my sinuses were swollen.
4. Do Bees Really Die When They Sting?
Most bees do die after they sting something. For honey bees, this is only true with worker bees though. Worker bees are female bees that do the majority of work for and around the hive. They clean the hive, make wax, make the comb, feed the young, control the temperature, make new queens, kick the males out, etc. One of the most serious tasks they are given is defending the hive and this is a task they will give their lives for when they sting.
Drones, or male bees, do not have a stinger. The male drone is only there to fertilize a new queen bee. They will actually meet in an area which the queen will look for. When a drone fertilizes a queen he will die, in a very similar way the worker bee dies when they sting. The queen bee will be fertilized by 10 to 15 drones before returning to the hive.
5. What Is A Queen Bee?
A queen bee is the bee that lays all the bee eggs, creates the attitude of the hive as a whole, and keeps the hive alive. The worker bees will actually create the queen bee by feeding her royal jelly. This is a high protein food that allows maximum growth and it doesn't have inhibitors like bee bread that is fed to most bees. This allows her to grow to full maturity as well as her reproductive organs.
The queen bee takes longer than other bees to complete metamorphosis, a total of 24 days to emerge from her cell. If there are more than one queen at a time, the first to emerge will generally go to the other cells and sting the queen that is still in the cell to death. Then there is a mating flight and she will return to take over the bee colony. If a colony is particularly aggressive, a beekeeper can replace the queen and change the attitude of the whole colony because the queen bee controls the other bee's attitude with pheromones.
An interesting side note about a queen bee is that the queen bee can sting as many times as she wants because her stinger is smooth while worker bees have a barbed stinger. Luckily, the queen bee is one of the most docile honey bees.
6. What Is A Worker Bee?
A worker bee is the engine of the colony. From the day that a worker bee emerges from her cocoon she is working. All worker bees are female as well. As the worker bee grows older, she is given more responsibility. Starting with cleaning until she is a field bee looking to keep the colony supplied with food and nourishment.
The worker bees decide with they need a new queen and alter the cell to grow a queen, and then feed the pupae in order to develop a queen for the colony. This decision could come from the queen's lacking performance, the queen dying while doing a mating flight, or an invasion into the colony.
It should be noted, that a worker bee is the only fertilized egg in the colony besides the queen eggs. The worker bee is diploid meaning that it two copies of each chromosomes from the drone that fertilized the queen and the queen. The queen can choose to either fertilize the egg or lay an unfertilized egg.
7. What Is A Drone Bee?
A drone bee is a male bee, hatched from an unfertilized egg with single chromosomes from the queen bee. This means that drone bees are haploid, a trait that is shared between ants, bees, wasps, and hornets.
The drone bee has one use and that is to mate with a new queen. The colony will support drones and limit their population to a couple hundred generally. If you do notice that there are a number of drones in a hive, the queen is most likely dead and a work bee has tried to replace her. But the worker bee would be unfertilized and only able to lay drones. There are signs to help support this,but that is not essential for now.
Drones will be kicked out of the hive when food shortages are occurring or when the cold winter weather is approaching. Because bees can not create their own body heat and the drone won't have access to food, the drones will die each winter.
8. Will We Really Die Without Honey Bees?
Human's would not die without bees. This is a dramatic statement that many people make. If we didn't change pollination methods, then we would lose about 33% of our food supply though. There are many ways we could focus on other pollination methods to offset this. But there are other uses for honey bees besides pollination and we do not truly know the devastation that removing this key part of our ecosystem would cause.
9. How Is Honey Made?
Honey is made from honey bees traveling to flowers and finding nectar. This is a sugary liquid that the bee will drink and store in their crop, which is an extra stomach that the honey bee has. While there the nectar is mixed with enzymes in the crop and it changes the pH and the chemical composition. This is the beginning of the liquid being transformed for long-term storage.
When the honey bee flies back to the hive, it will regurgitate the liquid from its crop to another honey bee. This will continue until the liquid that was once nectar is at honey comb within the hive that is prepared for the storage of honey. The liquid is then regurgitate into the comb and the colony of bees will flap their wings to evaporate water from this mixture. Generally, when the moisture content is less than around 17% water content the bees will seal the cell off with bee's wax. Honey can survive indefinitely when stored away from water and air.
10. How Much Honey Does A Hive Make?
One Langstroth hive will generally produce between 60 and 100 pounds of honey per season. This is based off of the 10 frame design, which is the design I use and is most popular in the world.
11. How Do You Get Honey From Bees?
The two most popular methods that I am aware of are spinning honey and crushing. With spinning honey, a beekeeper will remove the cap from the honey by scraping or cutting the wax cap off. Then they will place the frames within an honey extractor that will spin in a circular motion and centrifugal force will pull the honey out of the honeycomb and it will collect to the bottom of the container and run through a honey gate into a waiting container.
Crushing is when all the honey comb is removed from the frame and put into a press of some sort and crushed. Generally strained through a sieve of some sort to separate the honey and the beeswax. This destroys all of the honeycomb, where the extractor leaves most of the honeycomb in tack and makes it easier for the bees to clean and fill the honeycomb instead of having to use more wax and rebuild the honeycomb.
12. What Goes Into Making One Pound Of Honey?
One pound of honey is created from tons of work by many honey bees. To make one pound of honey bees will travel over 50,000 miles, I do say bees because one bee will produce roughly 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey in its lifetime. That means that with one pound of honey there are 64.04 teaspoons, so it takes 47 honey bees to make one pound of honey and it takes their whole life to accomplish this.
In the 50,000 miles they will have visited over 2.6 million flowers to collect enough nectar to transform it into one pound of honey. And the total distance traveled to collect all of this nectar would be a little more than around the world twice. All of this is a great feat just for one pound of honey, but if a bee hive colony makes between 60 pounds to 100 pounds of honey in a season....
13. How Much Honey Do Bees Need To Survive Winter?
In a Langstroth 10 frame hive with deep frames, I generally try for 19 frames of honey for the bees. There are a lot of times that the colony has left over in the spring, but I would rather them have surplus than die from hunger.
A full frame of honey for a deep is roughly 8 pounds. Which means, I am generally aiming for 150 to 160 pounds of honey for the colony for the winter. I have had other beeks tell me that this is overkill, but I would rather be safe than sorry.
14. Do Bees Poop In Their Honey?
Bees are surprisingly clean, the bees will not poop in their honey. They will hold their poop until they can leave the hive for a cleansing flight, even during the winter. If they do need to relieve themselves inside of the hive before they can fly, this is a process which will occur as far from their food sources as possible.
Some people think that bee poop would not smell because of the sweat food they eat, but if you are ever be a hive when the weather warms enough for a cleansing flight after a long cold - you will know that is not true.
15. Bees Make Bread?
Bees will take pollen from plants and fly it back to the hive in their pollen baskets on their back legs. As shown in the image of the worker bee above. The pollen is passed onto other bees and they chew it and combine the pollen with nectar and their saliva. This helps to stabilize the pollen for storage.
Different pollen have different colors, so when you look at honeycomb that has bee bread in the comb, you will notice the various colors of bee bread. This is a food that is packed full of protein. Honey is a source of carbohydrates and bee bread is the source of protein. All bees will eat bee bread with the exception of the queen bee.
16. How Close To The Hive Do Plants Need To Be To Change Flavor?
It is not that a plant needs to be close to change the flavor. But that the nectar needs to be from the same plant enough to influence the flavor. If a hive is surrounded by an apple orchard, there will be a sweetness to the honey where as clover is generally a deeper heavier flavor. I personally have not had buckwheat honey, but I am told this is very strong and deep - also a much darker color. Generally the sweater the honey, the lighter the color and the deeper the honey the darker the honey. I enjoy my bees to have a variety of nectar and pollen sources so I do not have much interest in specialty honeys that focus on one food source. But a rule of thumb is one hive per acre.
When a bee goes out and finds a nectar source, they will target that type of nectar during their trip. Hence, there needs to be enough nectar to influence the flavor of the honey from one particular type of plant.
17. How Is Bee's Wax Made?
I generally laugh about bee's wax and say it is the bee's sweat. What actually happens is when bees are between 12 and 20 days old they develop an gland that is specialized to create wax from in their abdomen. The gland takes sugar from honey and converts it into a flaky wax secretion or sweat. This wax is then chewed into softer more malleable substance and used to create honeycomb and caps. With the information that you have gained about honey production, imagine that it takes six pounds of honey to make one pound of bee's wax.
18. Are There Plants That Are Bad For Bees?
There are plants that are bad for honey bees. Some of these plants are much more common than you may think. Here is an incomplete list of plants that are bad and/or toxic for honey bees:
- Trumpet Flower a.k.a. Angel's Trumpet
- Camellia thea (green tea)
There are more plants that are damaging to bees. Some of these plants are toxic to the bee, some the toxins become more concentrated when stored and then when they are consumed can wipe out a hive, others are toxic to the larvae they are fed to. The list can be continued, but if this is the main resolve to prevent these plants around your beehives then that could be an endless endeavor since bees will travel up to five miles to collect nectar and pollen.
19. Will Roundup Ready Corn Hurt My Bees?
The corn does have pollen but no nectar. There is much debate on chemicals and the decline in bees. The chemical chemical companies, politicians, and farmers generally claim that there is not a correlation or a limited correlation. Beekeepers generally put a lot of blame onto herbicides and pesticides though.
As a person who enjoys researching different topics, I do not doubt that herbicides like Roundup, insecticides, and other chemicals we use are doing much more than just pushing the bee population down hill. I think we are destroying ourselves as well with many of these chemicals. I think we are directly hurting ourselves as well as hurting our food sources and the food sources of our food.
20. How Long Do Bees Live?
This is a matter of location and season. A worker bee will only live around six weeks during active season, but will live the whole Winter if not working itself to death. And that is pretty much what happens, a worker bee will work itself to death.
A drone bee will live while the hive has food or until it mates, but it can survive for months quite easily. I imagine if it did not succeed in mating, there was a supply of nourishment for the hive, and the temperature stayed above sixty-five that a drone could live for a couple years. This part is pure speculation, but there are many parallels to how they are pampered to that of the queen.
The queen can live for three to five years. Most of the time, three to four is cited, but I have seen a queen survive five years before a new queen replaced her. The queen has such a life span because the worker bees clean, feed, and take care of most every need she has. Her main focus is to lay eggs and stay alive.
21. Should I Be Concerned When The Bees Cluster Around The Entrance?
Most of the time there is nothing to be concerned about. This is generally called "bearding" in which the worker bees are attempting to cool the bee hive off. They are creating a breeze through the hive and can mass around the entrance. It reminds me of a giant grizzly beard at times because the mass is so large.
Depending on the style of bee hive a beekeeper has, there may be very little for them to do in a situation like this but to let the bees handle the situation themselves. Some solutions would be creating a gap in the cover, removing the bottom board in a screened bottom board, and that is about it.
22. How Many Bees Are In A Hive?
A healthy bee hive generally has around 50,000 to 60,000 honey bees in it. There are hives that are struggling or new hives that have fewer and extremely strong hives that have grown larger. But the tally is often around 50,000. New bee packages come with three pounds of bees which is around 10,000 bees. These packages do not count the bees, but they will dump bees in from a colony and weigh them or fill a volume up that is determined to be about three pounds.
23. Will There Be Trouble Between My Dogs and Bees?
Generally, I would lean towards no there won't. But each bee hive is different and I would not be able to guarantee being conflict free. If the dog stays away from the hive, there should be no issues since honey bees will defend themselves and their hives but besides that are pretty docile creatures.
I have seen dogs go to the entrance of a bee hive and smell it and the bees did nothing to them at all. But then I have seen a raccoon about ten yards from a hive that got harassed. It generally seems like if there is a history of trying to rob the hive or disturb it the bees will not continue to let such behavior go but until that point things are pretty easy.
24. What Do Bees Do In The Winter?
I live in Ohio, so I am assuming this would mean during cold Winters. In my area, bees ball in the hive or die. Some even die while balled occasionally. To describe what balling is, the queen is in the middle of this mass of worker bees. The mass changes to allow colder bees to come in and warmer bees to move to the fringes. The bees will get into honey stores and feed the queen and keep her alive. To generate heat the worker bees will disconnect or unhinge their wing muscles so that they can work these muscles to generate heat but not flap their wings. These clusters as some will call them will begin to form as the temperature hits around 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
25. Do I Need To Be Concerned With Bats?
Unless this was a severe situation of an extremely high population of bats, I would not worry. Bees generally are returning to the hive a little earlier than bats are coming out. For the few that the bats do consume, those bees should be replaced quite quickly. The queen bee is generally laying around 1,500 eggs a day to build and maintain the colony.
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© 2019 Chris Andrews