Facts about Honeybees

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Agriculture depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination. Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination. Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables.

Bees collect 30 Kilograms (66 lbs) of pollen per year, per hive. Pollen is the male germ cells produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo formation. The Honeybee uses pollen as a food. Pollen is one of the richest and purest natural foods, consisting of up to 35% protein, 10% sugars, carbohydrates, enzymes, minerals, and vitamins A (carotenes), B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinic acid), B5 (panothenic acid), C (ascorbic acid), H (biotin), and R (rutine).

Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants. Honey is an easily digestible, pure food. Honey is hydroscopic and has antibacterial qualities. Eating local honey can fend off allergies.

Wax is secreted by glands of the bees that are at a particular stage of growth. Beeswax is used by the honeybee to build honey comb. It is used by humans in drugs, cosmetics, artists' materials, furniture polish and candles.

Collected by honeybees from trees, the sticky resin is mixed with wax to make a sticky glue. The bees use this to seal cracks and repair their hive. It is used by humans as a health aid, and as the basis for fine wood varnishes.

Royal Jelly
The powerful, milky substance that turns an ordinary bee into a Queen Bee. It is made of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nurse bee's head. It commands premium prices rivaling imported caviar, and is used by some as a dietary supplement and fertility stimulant. It is loaded with all of the B vitamins.

Bee Venom
The "ouch" part of the honeybee. Although sharp pain and some swelling and itching are natural reactions to a honeybee sting, a small percentage of individuals are highly allergic to bee venom. "Bee venom therapy" is widely practiced overseas and by some in the North America to address health problems such as arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even MS.

Honey Production
Honey bees gather nectar from flowers and store it in special stomachs used just for honey---they have separate stomachs for regular digestion. These bees then return to the hive where the nectar is sucked out of their stomachs, via their mouths, by worker bees called "house bees." The house bees then add their saliva to the nectar. The bee saliva contains enzymes that break down complex sugars into simple sugars. The house bees then spit the nectar into honeycombs. The bees seal the honeycomb with a wax plug after the honey has cooled and some of the water has evaporated. Beekeepers harvest the honey.

Pollen allergy
Although rare, some individuals may have an allergic reaction to honey because of the pollen it contains. Nectar is derived from many plants. Honey contains small amounts of pollen from the plant that supplied the nectar. For example, sunflower honey was created by bees that gathered nectar primarily from sunflowers. If someone has a severe allergy to sunflowers and consumes enough sunflower honey, they may go into anaphylactic shock. Websites like Allergyfree-gardening.com and FitSugar.com suggest small amounts of honey local to an allergy patient's geographic area may gradually desensitize him to that region's pollen. It is unclear whether an allergic reaction can be caused by the honey itself, apart from the pollen it contains.

Other bits of information

  • Honeybees are not native to Canada or the USA. They are European in origin, and were brought to North America by the early settlers.
  • Honeybees are not aggressive by nature, and will not sting unless protecting their hive from an intruder or are unduly provoked.
  • Honeybees represent a highly organized society, with various bees having very specific roles during their lifetime: e.g., nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants, undertakers, foragers, etc.
  • A healthy colony of bees can produce 130 to 230 Kilograms of honey per year.
  • Bees gather 10 Kg nectar for 1 Kg honey
  • Bees from the hive will travel the equivalent of 3x the circumference of the earth for 1 kg of honey
  • Theoretically, the energy in 30 grams of honey would provide one bee with enough energy to fly around the world.
  • In the course of her lifetime, a worker bee will produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.
  • A bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during one collection trip.
  • Visits to fill honey stomach: 1,000 flowers
  • Honey bees must tap 4 million flowers to make one Kg of honey
  • The average Canadian consumes about 500 grams of honey a year.
  • Honeybees communicate with each other by "dancing." Scout bees dance to alert the other bees to where nectar and pollen are located. The dance explains direction and distance relative to the sun.
  • Bees also communicate with pheromones.
  • A honeybee flies at the speed of 15 mph.
  • While bees cannot recognize the color red, they do see ultraviolet colors.
  • Mathematically, honeycomb is the second strongest structure in the world after the pyramids.
  • The queen bee can live for several years. Worker bees live for 6 weeks during the busy summer, and for 4-9 months during the winter months.
  • Domestic hives may have over 80,000 bees.
  • There is only one queen in a hive and her main purpose in life is to make more bees.
  • The queen can lay over 1,500 eggs per day and will live two to eight years.
  • All bees work - When young, they are called house bees and work in the hive doing comb construction, brood rearing, tending the queen and drones, cleaning, temperature regulation and defending the hive.
  • Older workers are called field bees. They forage outside the hive to gather nectar, pollen, water and certain sticky plant resins used in hive construction. Workers born early in the season will live about 6 weeks while those born in the fall will live until the following spring.
  • The practice of honey collection and beekeeping dates back to the stone-age, as evidenced by cave paintings.
  • The honeybee hive is perennial. Although quite inactive during the winter, the honeybee survives the winter months by clustering for warmth. By self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the winter cluster (regardless of the outside temperature).

Three castes of honeybee

Queen Bee
There is only one queen per hive. The queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries. A queen bee can live for 3-5 years. The queen mates only once with several male (drone) bees, and will remain fertile for life. She lays up to 2000 eggs per day. Fertilized eggs become female (worker bees) and unfertilized eggs become male (drone bees). When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will "make" a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of "royal jelly". For queen bees, it takes 16 days from egg to emergence.

Worker Bee
All worker bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live for 4-9 months during the winter season, but only 6 weeks during the busy summer months (they literally work themselves to death). Nearly all of the bees in a hive are worker bees. A hive consists of 20,000 - 30,000 bees in the winter, and over 60,000 - 80,000 bees in the summer. The worker bees sequentially take on a series of specific chores during their lifetime: housekeeper; nursemaid; construction worker; grocer; undertaker; guard; and finally, after 21 days they become a forager collecting pollen and nectar. For worker bees, it takes 21 days from egg to emergence. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once.

Drone Bee
These male bees are kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin queen. Because the drone has a barbed sex organ, mating is followed by death of the drone. There are only 300-3000 drones in a hive. The drone does not have a stinger. Because they are of no use in the winter, drones are expelled from the hive in the autumn.

Threats to beekeeping

The greatest threat to beekeeping are two varieties of mites (Varroa and Tracheal). And although these mites can be kept under control by a persistent beekeeper, the negative effects on the honeybee population have been devastating. One New York State Beekeepers' Association surveyed its membership and learned that over 40% of the membership's hives died in 1996. These mites are greatly reducing the overall honeybee population in the USA. The mites are of no concern to humans, except for the effect they can have on honey production.

Beekeepers are on the watch for various diseases unique to honeybees, and harmless to humans. "Foul Brood" and "Nosema" are two such diseases. These problems can easily be addressed by good management and proper medication.

Africanized Bees
The arrival of so-called "killer bees" in a few southern states in the USA has received sensationalized treatment in the media. In some areas of the United States, this negative publicity has stimulated local restrictions and ordinances on the hobbyist beekeeper.

Royal jelly fact sheet


Royal Jelly is the substance that turns an ordinary bee into the Queen Bee. It is made of pollen which is chewed up and mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in the nursing bee's heads. This "milk" or "pollen mush" is fed to all the larvae for the first two days of their lives.

The larvae chosen to become a queen continue to eat only royal jelly. The queen grows one and a half times larger than the ordinary bee, and is capable of laying up to two thousand eggs a day. The Queen Bee lives forty times longer than the bees on a regular diet. There is no difference between a queen bee and a worker bee in the larval stage. The only factor that is different between them is that a developing queen bee continues to eat only royal jelly.

Scientists decided to try feeding the queen bee's diet to other animals with surprising results. The life span of pigs and roosters showed as much as a thirty- percent increases. Fruit flies fed royal jelly increased in size and in rate of production. Chickens given royal jelly laid twice as many eggs, and older chickens began to lay again.

In France, there have been reports of women fed royal jelly during menopause, showing complete remission of their symptoms. Some were even able to become mothers again. France also claimed that their studies showed royal jelly to have rejuvenating and sexually stimulating effects on both men and women. Canada has approved royal jelly as a natural dietary supplement for its athletes. Royal jelly is not a drug, but a nutritious, quickly assimilated food.

In Germany, Drs. Chochi, Prosperi, Quadri and Malossi (in separate studies) used royal jelly as an aid to badly undernourished and premature babies. The infants fed royal jelly increased in weight and health. Another doctor, Telatui, reported that neuro-psychic patients given royal jelly regained normal weight, a more stable nervous system, and a greater degree of stamina for physical and mental work.

Chemical analysis of royal jelly found it rich in protein and the B vitamins (especially panothenic acid). However, analysis of royal jelly fails to break it down into all its different components. It cannot be synthesized.

Royal jelly has proven to be a potent bactericide. It also acts as a catalyst, stimulating intercellular metabolic activities without significantly modifying normal physiological activity. Thus, it hastens cell recovery with no side effects. Royal jelly has been known to speed up healing of wounds and to reduce the amount of scarring.

The beneficial effects of royal jelly seem not to depend entirely upon its vitamin content, but upon some type of enzymatic or catalytic action of an as yet unknown factor; or perhaps, the known factors working in combination with a co-enzyme through a process that has not yet been defined.

Since the action of royal jelly seems to be systemic rather that one which affects a specific biological function, it has been recommended for a great variety of purposes: to retard the aging process, for menopause, correction of under-nutrition, for arthritis, vascular diseases, peptic ulcers, liver ailments, nervous instability, skin problems, improvement of sexual functions, general health and well being.

Glossary of terms

waxy material produced by worker bees and used to build combs.

Male bees, whose main function in the colony is to fertilize the queen. Drones make up a very small percentage of the total colony. In the Autumn drones are expelled from the hive by the female worker bees.

Thin sheets of beeswax imprinted with a pattern of honey comb. The beekeeper installs these sheets into wooden frames as "starters" for the bees in making uniform combs.

The removable wooden structures which are placed in the hive. The bees build their comb within these frames. The removable quality allows the beekeeper to easily inspect the colony.

Hive Bodies:
The first one or two wooden boxes of the colony. The hive bodies contain the brood nest of the colony.

The grub-like, immature form of the bee, after it has developed from the egg and before it has gone into the pupa stage.

Sweet fluid produced by flowers is 60% water and 40% solids. This is collected by the bees and converted into honey at 17 -18% moisture content.

Also called a "Nuc." It is usually 4 frames with a mated queen and her brood, bees and honey, pollen and nectar. The usual method of exchange involves bringing a deep box or super with bottom board, lid and 6 frames to the beekeeper and leaving it there until a successful transfer is made and a queen bee, brood etc. is established.

Very small dust-like grain produced by flowers. These are the male germ cells of the plant.

Sticky, brownish gum gathered by bees from trees and buds and used to seal cracks and drafts in the hive. Also called "bee-glue".

The immature form of the bee (following the larval stage) while changing into the adult form.

A completely developed female bee (with functioning ovaries) who lays eggs and serves as the central focus of the colony. There is only one queen in a colony of bees. A queen's productive life span is 2-3 years.

Royal Jelly:
The milky white secretion of young nurse bees. It is used to feed the queen throughout her life, and is given to worker and drone larvae only during their early larval lives.

The supplementary wooden boxes places on top of the hive body the expand the size of the colony, and to provide for storage of surplus honey.

When a colony with an old or failing queen rears a daughter to replace her.

Completely developed female bees that do have developed ovaries and do not not normally lay eggs. They gather pollen and nectar and convert the nectar to honey. A worker's life expectancy is only several weeks during the active summer months. However, they can live for many months during the relatively inactive winter period.