20 things you didn’t know about honey bees

Did you know these things about bees?

The world is full of wonders. The universe expands and contracts, men harness time through the written word and atoms dance under the microscope. Even the most humble of animals – such as the honey bee – are wrapped in a shroud of wonder if you know what to look for.

Here’s a few examples:

1. Bees trained as bomb sniffers

Bees with bee farmer
Bee farmer brings out the bees.

Got a need to sniff out drug dealers, gun runners, or terrorists? Send in the bee squad. The K-9 unit got nothing on these specially trained bees that can detect explosives, drugs, gunpowder… you name it. Plus, you’ll probably scare out a confession or two by just threatening to bring in the bees. Live Science

2.Bee visual system adapted to computers

Close-up of bee
This close-up shows the large bee eyes.

Bees aren’t the smartest of God’s creations, yet they can still fly and land with mastery. That fact got scientists to thinking: if we could figure out how they do it, couldn’t we “teach” robots to do the same?

The research is promising. Professor Mandyam Srinivasan and his team are in the process of studying the bee’s inherent navigational system. The data may lead scientists to crafting a visual system which gives unmanned airplanes ‘eyes’. Abc.net.au

3. New Zealand species of bees open bird-adapted flower

Peraxilla tetraptala and bee.
Peraxilla tetraptala and bee. Image courtesy of NZGeo

Peraxilla tetrapetala is a species of mistletoe that hoards its pollen and nectar inside its bud. In normal conditions, the bud only opens when a native bird injects its beak, something like a lock and key. But some of New Zealand’s native bees aren’t normal; they “pick the lock” by chewing the top off the bud and pushing it open with their legs.

Watch a video at teara.govt.nz.

4. Honey bees can recognize faces

Here’s a strange fact: the honey bee, with a brain barely bigger than a pin head, can remember human faces for days after seeing them. Keep that in mind the next time you’re ready to gush how you “never forget a face”. The feat is not nearly as impressive when an insect can do it just as well. abc.net.au

5.  Bees are the only insects that produce eatable food for humans

It’s pretty disgusting to think about; thousands of honey bees line up and regurgitate together to make honey. That bee puke is then harvested and merrily eaten by humans. Strangely enough, honey is the only insect created food humans can eat. Petersfield and District Beekeepers Association.

6. The bee as a symbol of death

Goddess of bee symbols of the plague
Tablets depicting the Goddess of bees of the plague.

The West has its Grim Reaper. The Ancient Near East and Aegean culture has its bee. The insect was seen as a connection between the afterlife and this world, bringing souls to the other side. Some even went as far as to craft their tombs into the shape of a beehive. Part of the idea may have steamed from the ancient Grecian use of honey during the embalming process. University of Michigan

7. The Sun Flower Project  – The Citizen Hunt for Bees

Across the planet, there is a very real fear that honey bees will go extinct due to what’s known as the colony collapse disorder. In response, protection groups are buzzing with initiatives to save the honey bees. One such initiative is asking regular folks to plant sunflowers in their yards and record how many bees visit in a 15 minute timeframe. Scientists can then use that information to extrapolate local bee populations. Read more at the Great Sunflower Project.

8. Working bees can lift 100% of their bodyweight

Honey bees make Vin Diesel look soft. Orchid bees (from Panama) in particular can lift their own weight and then fly around the room with it. Scientists say that bees are so jacked so that they can evade predators, carry food and run away from aggressive mates. But we have supermarkets, pickup trucks and police officers; no wonder I can barely do a few pushups.

9. What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

Colony collapse disorder is every bit as heinous as it sounds. Entire colonies of bees have been rapidly disappearing, not leaving a trace behind. This is a big deal because agriculture depends on the pollination of bees, so if there are no more bees…well, you do the math. The cause of the disappearances is still unknown, and appears to be speeding up.

10. How to Read the Bee “Dance”

Bees don’t talk. Instead, they break out into Glee-like dances to communicate the location of food. These dances are so pronounced that humans can understand them. For instance, they make a round motion when food is close or do a little waggle if it is far. They’ll also mark its direction by dancing in a circle (like a clock face) and stopping at a given point (like saying “food at 4 o’clock”).

11. In Some regions Beekeeping is Illegal

In some places you can’t do drugs, assault others… or keep bees. Why? It’s the whole idea of the swarm getting loose and wreaking havoc across the town. Even though domesticated bees are as docile as sloths, we’ve all seen enough killer bee movies to avoid taking any chances.

12. The oldest known bee specimen is 100 million years old

Oldest known bee specimen.
Oldest known bee specimen. Image courtesy of Museum Of Earth.

It’s estimated that humans came into existence about 7 million years ago. The oldest known bee, captured in the heart of a block of amber, is 100 million years old. The find made a few scientists smile, since theory holds that bees and wasps come from a common ancestor and the fossil has characteristics from both. BBC Science.

13. The queen bee lives up to 40 times more than a worker bee

Worker bees, the equivalent of the proletariat, live for no more than 9 months and sometimes as little as 6 weeks. The queen bee, in all of her opulent glory, can live up to 5 years. Just goes to show that the good die young, even in the insect kingdom.

14. Male bees are only used for copulating

Male bees (a.k.a. drones) have it even worse than the worker bees. They have no stingers, no honor, no glory. They’re treated like the scourge of society, and exist only to please the queen bee sexually. But the sexual act kills them, ripping their organs from their body. And, if that wasn’t enough, any drones that haven’t died by winter are forced out to starve in the cold and lonely air.

15. Queen Bee Promiscuity Boosts Hive Health

Queen bees are promiscuous by design. In getting around as much as she does, she’s inadvertently keeps the entire hive healthy. How? By diversifying the offspring, the chances of the hive catching illnesses is drastically diminished.

16. Honey Bees Inspired the Most Influential Architects of Our Times

Palacio Güell’s cupola
Palacio Güell’s cupola. Photo credit Manuel Secher

The honey comb is a thing of beauty… and the great architects Antoni Gaudi and Le Corbusier seemed agree. Each took the essence of the beehive and incorporated it into their work and ideas. Gaudi crafted the Palacio Güell’s cupola to mimic the honeycomb. Le Corbusier pulled inspiration for self-contained living units from descriptions of beehives in Frisch’s The Dancing Bees.

17. 3400 Honey Bees Were Taken On One OF NASA Flights

3,400 bees have been to outer space. Only 482 humans hold the same honor. If that isn’t embarrassing enough, while the humans were busy doing weightless cartwheels, the bees were busy crafting a nearly normal honey comb over the course of 7 days. And, to show off even more, not a single bee defecated in outer space. Since they never excrete where they sleep, they simply held it until they landed back on Earth.

18. Origin of the word honeymoon

Interesting fact: what we call the “honeymoon” has somewhat hedonistic roots. In days of old, newlyweds were given a month’s worth of mead – a honey based booze – which they were to drink daily. The tradition was believed to promote matrimonial happiness and pregnancy… both things alcohol is very good at. We’ve been honeymooning ever since.

19. Honey Bee Thermal Defense / Honey Bees use their sting only on vertebrates

Honey bees can be ruthless. If repelling a vertebrate, the worker bees will drive their venom-filled stingers deep into the flesh, eventually leading to the stinger ripping off. When the bees are up against an invertebrate (such as a wasp) the worker bees will cluster around the insect and literally flex their muscles until the resulting heat kills the intruder. And if the heat doesn’t kill them, the lack of oxygen surely will.

20. The queen was known as the king until the late 1660s

Until the 1660’s it was simply assumed that the head honcho had to be a male. Then Jan Swammerdam nipped that idea in the butt, finding ovaries while crouched over a primitive microscope. It wasn’t until 1737, almost 80 years later, that scientists realized she was also the only one allowed to get pregnant.