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Five Things to Know about Bees and Beekeeping


by Robbie Shell

It’s fun to play the numbers game with bees: For example, honeybees beat their wings 250 times a minute. A queen bee lays between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs a day. A single bee produces 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. On an average two-to-three mile nectar-hunting trip, a bee visits between 50 and 100 flowers. Bees have five eyes and six legs. Bees are about 3/4 inch long.

But numbers just touch the surface of bee buzz. Other interesting facts:

  • Honeybees don’t see the color red, which means you rarely notice them heading for a red fruit or flower. They do see blue, green, yellow, orange, and ultraviolet.
  • By performing a series of figure-eight moves at various angles and speeds, a bee tells the others where to find nectar—how far away and in what direction. It’s like their own system of radar.
  • Honeybees are very social: They live together in a hive, they make and store huge amounts of food (honey) together, and they take care of their babies ((larvae). Other social insects are ants, wasps, and termites.
  • Bees like to cluster: When you see a man at a county fair with a huge group grouped around his neck and down his chest, you should know that the man is hiding a caged queen under his chin or his hat. The bees are merely trying to be close to their queen. In winter, bees cluster together in a tight ball in the middle of the hive. The bees on the inside of the ball do a shivering motion to generate heat, while the bees on the outside act as insulators to hold the heat in. They take turns being on the inside and outside so all the bees get a chance to be warm.
  • Bees can be shipped to beekeepers through the U.S. postal service. A three-pound package of honeybees and their queen costs about $130 and includes approximately 9,000 bees.
  • The queen bee lays fertilized eggs that will become female worker bees, and unfertilized eggs that become drones. Drones’ main, really only, job is to mate with future queens, after which they die.

You can see why beehives are matriarchal societies.

  • When a queen bee becomes too old or ill to keep laying eggs, she faces what is called “cuddle death.” Don’t ask: Just remember that beehives are extremely efficient and not at all sentimental.
  • The color of honey depends on the type of flower a bee collects nectar from. There are more than 300 kinds of honey in the U.S. alone. Especially popular are clover honey and orange blossom honey. Also tupelo honey, wildflower, goldenrod, eucalyptus, buckwheat and apple blossom.

One piece of advice: Deciding to become a backyard beekeeper is not like deciding to buy goldfish or a pair of cute kittens. Beekeeping takes hard work, especially in the spring and summer. But think of the rewards: You are helping not just bees, but the whole miracle of pollination. We rely on pollinators – including honeybees, hummingbirds, bats, butterflies and even humans – to fertilize more than 100 different fruits, vegetable, nuts, flowers and trees. And we rely on honeybees for one of sweetest, most nutritious foods on earth. Honey.

Robbie Shell is a former business journalist. Bees on the Roof is her first work of fiction.


Beekeeping, Bees, National Honey Month


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