25 bizarre facts about honey bees

honeybees by dni777 on Flickr

1. While many insects act as pollinators, none are as important as honey bees for life as we know it. The majority of food crops depends largely on bee pollination: apples, citrus fruits, grapes, melons, strawberries and other berries, apricots, beans, soybeans, cotton, sunflowers, almonds, cucumbers, peaches, pears, squash, peppers, avocados, spices such as caraway and cardamom, coconuts, okra, cashews, mustard, flax, mangoes and pomegranates, to name a few. Additionally, many others such as carrot, cabbage, broccoli, beet, celery and onion depend on bee pollination to produce seed.

2. Bees make honey by partially digesting and regurgitating nectar. They do this multiple times. It is a group activity. 3. Once enough bees have regurgitated to produce the desired quality, it still contains too much water to resist fermentation. Then the bees store it in open honeycomb cells. They collectively fan air through the hive, evaporating more moisture until the honey is concentrated enough for storage. Then the cell may be capped.

4. Bees have the same number of colour receptors in their eyes as humans: three. This is less than some insects, but more than most mammals. 5. Unlike humans, bees see ultraviolet, blue and green light. 6. They have good associative learning abilities, but learn more quickly about violet than other colours. 7. They can remember a colour for about five seconds, which is the same as short-term memory in birds.

8. Honey bees have a more discriminating sense of smell than other insects such as fruit flies and mosquitoes. They use it to communicate socially and distinguish between food plants. Each hive has a unique smell so the inhabitants do not get confused.

9. Honey bees are being used to fight terrorism. Just like bomb-sniffing dogs, bees can help detect explosives at security check points. 10. They are trained to give a typical Pavlovian response—sticking out their tongues—when exposed to a smell such as TNT. Training only requires a few hours, and after a short period of service, individual bees are returned to the hive.

11. Honey bees from a number of apiaries in Alsace, northeastern France, recently began producing green and blue honey. Beekeepers suspect their bees picked up the colour from candy waste. Mars, the food manufacturer, had been shipping M&M’s residue to a nearby biogas plant for processing, where the bees found it. The honey is considered unsellable.

12. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) poses a far more serious threat to honeybees throughout around the world. The worker bees simply vanish from the hive, abandoning their queen and larvae. CCD had been noted since the late 19th Century, but beekeepers began reporting widespread, serious losses in 2006. A few locations have reported 30% to 90% hive loss from one year to the next. 13. Some concern has focused on a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These chemicals attack the central nervous systems of insects. Studies show low doses of one neonicotinoid cause bees to lose their way, impairing their ability to forage and return to the hive. 14. However, a single cause of CCD has not been proven. It probably relates to multiple factors including diseases, parasites, pesticides, loss of genetic diversity, poor nutrition, beekeeping practices and loss of habitat due to urbanization.

15. Various creatures can store mineral iron, but bees are among the few organisms known to deposit it inside their cells. They share this ability with certain microorganisms. 16. Special iron-storing cells called trophocytes are located in their abdomens. These deposits sensitize adult bees to electromagnetic radiation and allow them to navigate. 17. Bees can detect fluctuations a thousand times weaker than the Earth’s magnetic field. Such anomalies can confuse honey bees‘ waggle dance, which they use to direct other workers to a food source. 18. The increasing use of mobile phones might disrupt bee behaviour and has been suggested as another culprit in the CCD phenomenon.

19. Apitoxin (bee venom) is an anticoagulant and antii-inflammatory sometimes used to treat rheumatism. 20. Its primary active ingredient, melittin, has anti-microbial properties. 21. The worker bee’s stinger has minimal effect against other insects. However, the Asiatic honeybee has a special strategy for killing large hornets. A mass of bees covers an intruder, pinning it down while they vibrate their wings. This elevates the temperature within the ball to 45°C and raises carbon dioxide to 100 times the normal atmospheric level. These conditions kill the hornet within minutes. 22. Unlike worker bees, the queen bee has an unbarbed sting and can use it repeatedly. However, she normally only uses it to kill rival queens.

23. Some biologists have begun to see bee colonies as super-organisms, possessing collective intelligence greater than the sum of their individuals. The decision-making capacity guiding hive activity can be compared to that of a primate brain. 24. This offers insight about how to create intelligent swarms of small, replaceable robots. 25. It may also illuminate better decision-making processes in small human societies based on shared interests and respect.

Photo courtesy of dni777 on Flickr via Creative Commons.


Comments

25 bizarre facts about honey bees — 4 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful post! I knew most of the facts but there were a few new ones even for me.

    Bees are so critical to agriculture, yet so often over-looked. It makes me happy to find them buzzing about in my garden, finding food and pollinating my plants. I do love me some concentrated bee vomit too!

    • Thanks, Toni. I had fun digging around to compose this post. It’s interesting to think we might have something to learn from bees about how to get along.

  2. Pingback: Link #54: Without Honeybees We Wouldn’t Be Able to Grow Food! - Cool and Interesting Facts for Kids

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