Is that a Honeybee?


Honeybees are often confused with other stinging insects, the most common being the yellow jacket. Stings from wasps and hornets are also often attributed to honeybees. For many people, any flying insect that stings is labeled, "bee".


Honeybees are usually tan or brown, with black or dark brown striping on the abdomen. They are also covered with a dense coat of tiny hairs giving them them a fuzzy appearance. Honeybees are generally gentle and rarely display high levels of aggression unless their nesting area is opened and exposed.

Yellow jackets


Yellow jackets are generally bright yellow and black with a shiny, smooth exterior. Yellow jacket nests are usually found in the ground, often at the base of trees or stumps, although above ground nests are not uncommon. This makes avoiding nesting areas difficult. Yellow jackets tend to be very aggressive, with the slightest knock triggering an attack by tens or hundreds of individuals.


Yellow jackets are very beneficial animals despite their level of defensiveness. They provide pollination for some plants that honeybees ignore. They are also consumers of protein and help to get rid of dead animals.


Bee Biology - interesting facts


We all know what an insect is, but each one is slightly different from another and it is these differences that make the honeybee and every other species unique.


How many legs, wings and eyes do bees have?

Six Legs: The rear pair is specially designed with stiff hairs to store pollen when flying from flower to flower, and the front pair has slots for cleaning their antennae.

Four Wings: The front and rear wings hook together to form one big pair of wings and unhook for easy folding when not flying.

Five Eyes: Yes honeybees have five eyes; two large compound eyes and three smaller ocelli eyes in the center of their head.


Do bees have knees?

A popular expression is, “It’s the bees knees,” meaning it’s ideal, or the best. However, although bees have legs with joints like any insect, their joints have nothing like a kneecap.  Therefore bees do not have knees.


What's the difference between honeybees, wasps (yellow jackets), and bumblebees?

Honeybees are one of the highest forms of insect life.  They live in a well-organized colony that does not need to hibernate. They produce honey and store it in wax comb and use the same hive from one year to the next. Typical max population: 35,000-50,000.

Wasps start in the spring with a single queen wasp that has hibernated under leaves or in cracks. The queen wasp builds a new hive constructed from paper about the size of a golf ball. This hive builds up through the summer, however no honey is stored. In the autumn the colony organization breaks down, with homeless wasps becoming an increasing nuisance around bins and rubbish. Typical max population: 2,000.

Bumblebees, or as the Victorian’s called them, ‘Humble bees’, are like wasps; only the queen hibernates and survives the winter. In the spring the queen bumblebee seeks an old mouse or vole hole and builds within it a nest of leaves and moss. She constructs nodular wax cells and incubates her young as a bird would. As her first offspring hatch and begin to fly, the queen increasingly stays within the hive to produce young. Bumblebees do make a small amount of honey and store it in one special cup-like cell. There is no more than a tablespoon at any time. Typical max population: 50-150.


How many types of bees are in a honeybee colony?

Three types: a single queen, thousands of female workers, and in the summer hundreds of male drones. The drone bee does no work and in the early autumn they are evicted by the workers and die.


How does a honeybee navigate?

The bees use the position of the sun, and there is evidence that they have sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field. Also, bees’ eyes are sensitive to polarized light which penetrates through even thick cloud so they are able to ‘see’ the sun in poor weather.


Can a honeybee see color?

Yes, their eyes are sensitive more to the blue end of the spectrum and into ultra violet. Flowers reflect large amounts of ultra violet light and to a bee will be very bright. Bees are totally red blind.


Do bees sleep?

No, but during the night most bees remain motionless reserving their energy for the next day.


How far can honeybees fly?

It is possible for bees to fly as far as five miles for food, however an average distance would be less than a mile from the hive. A strong colony flies the equivalent distance to the moon every day!


How high can honeybees fly?

A honeybee will not fly much higher than the height of any obstacle in its path. The bee will learn to fly straight out from its colony at high speed and be most surprised if it strikes a new obstacle such as you standing in the way. It may lash out and you will receive a sting, so be careful when walking close to the front of a busy beehive.  Mating drones will fly up to 30 meters above ground to find a queen and can go much higher if warm rising thermal air carries them.


How fast can honeybees fly?

The normal top speed of a worker would be about 15-20 mph (21-28 km/h) when flying to a food source, and about 12 mph (17 km/h) when returning loaded down with nectar, pollen, propolis, or water.


Do honeybees catch diseases?

Yes, there are several diseases, some more serious than others. They are not infectious to humans but dangerous for the bee. Some of the most serious, AFB (American Foul Brood) and EFB (European Foul Brood), are normally treated by destroying the colony. If left alone they can spread throughout the whole apiary and affect surrounding beekeepers. Spores from AFB can remain dormant for over 50 years in old beekeeping equipment and cause problems decades later.


Why do bees collect pollen?

Pollen is mixed with water to form a type of bread that is fed to the growing larvae. It provides a rich source of proteins and fat while honey provides energy (carbohydrates). A hive collects about 20 kg of pollen every year.  That’s one million loads of pollen at 20 mg a trip!


Do honeybees hibernate over winter?

No, bees in the winter are a strong colony clustered together and use their bodies to generate heat. This cluster is about the size of a football, with bees taking turns to be on the cold outside.


Why does a honeybee sting?

A bee only stings under two conditions: to protect the colony or when frightened.


Why does a honeybee die when it stings?

When a bee stings, barbs in the lance of the stinger cause it to firmly stick into the victim, pulling out the venom sacs and glands when the bee is shaken off. The venom sac muscles continue to pump after these organs have been torn from the dying bee. Only the female workers and the queen can sting. The queen has a smooth stinger which she uses to kill other queens, allowing her to survive after stinging.


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