12 mind-blowing facts about bees

FILE - In this May 21, 2008 file photo, honey bees sit on a honeycomb in Germany. The German state of Bavaria is set to accept in large part a plan by environmentalists to save bees and protect biodiversity, averting a referendum on the issue. Leaders of Bavaria’s two governing parties _ both traditional allies of farmers, who have criticized the proposal _ said on Wednesday. April 3, 2019, that they would back the plan in the state legislature. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper, File)
Honeybees sit on a honeycomb in Germany, May 21, 2008.
Associated Press

Whether you're fascinated by bees or tend run away from them, you enjoy the fruits of their labor: Bees play a vital role in our ecosystem by pollinating plants.

Honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of US food crops, according to the AP; one-third of everything Americans eat comes from pollinators like honey bees.

Unfortunately, bees' numbers are declining. Researchers from the University of Maryland reported last month that about 40% of the US' honeybee colonies died between October 2018 and April 2019 — the highest winter loss in 13 years. Another recent study found similar problems in the UK: One-third of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species there experienced declines between 1980 and 2013. These losses are primarily due to decreasing crop diversity, poor beekeeping practices, pesticides, and loss of habitat (caused by human activity and climate change). 

Given these insects' vital role in our lives, here are 12 things you probably didn't know about bees. 

The oldest bee fossil is 100 million years old.

oldest bee fossil
George Poinar, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, identified the world's oldest known bee, called Milittosphex burmensi. It's seen trapped in amber in this fossil.
Oregon State University

In 2006, researchers from Oregon State University found a bee fossil in Myanmar's Hukawng Valley that dates back 100 million years. The bee fossil was preserved in amber and is believed to be one of the oldest fossils on record. 

There are more than 20,000 species of bees.

honey bees
Honey bees are busy in a beehive at a bee farm in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, August 22, 2017.
Hani Mohammed/AP

A bee is defined as any member of the suborder Apocrita, which includes honeybees, bumblebees, and many other fly-like and wasp-like creatures.

In the US, there are more than 100,000 beekeepers.

In this Oct. 12, 2018 file photo, a man holds a frame removed from a hive box covered with honey bees in Lansing, Mich. According to the results of an annual survey of beekeepers released on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, winter hit America’s honeybees hard with the highest loss rate yet. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP)
A man holds a frame removed from a hive box covered with honey bees in Lansing, Michigan, October 12, 2018.
Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP

The practice of beekeeping is a 9,000-year-old tradition. Some of the world's first beekeepers were prehistoric farmers.

Today, there are between 115,000 and 125,000 beekeepers in the US. The majority are hobbyists (anyone with less than 25 hives). Honey is produced in every state, but North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Florida, and California are among the top honey-producing states.

Bees may be able to differentiate between different human faces (kind of).

A swarm of bees delays the start of a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants, Monday, May 6, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A swarm of bees delays the start of a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants, May 6, 2019, in Cincinnati.
John Minchillo/AP

For a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2010, researchers were able to train bees to differentiate between a set of human faces with close-together features and a set with more spread-out features. The bees were rewarded with sugar for picking one category over the other.

Bees are the state insect of 16 US states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin.

nypd bee cop   hold the bees.JPG
Hilary Brueck/Business Insider

Of the 48 US states that have an official state insect, 16 of them honor bees with that distinction. In Utah, bees are doubly recognized: Honey bees the state insect, and Utah's nickname is also the "Beehive State."

This moniker can be traced back to Utah's Mormon roots, since "deseret," a word that originates in the Book of Mormon, means "honey bee." 


Bees communicate via their movements.


Honeybees communicate with each other via physical movements like head butts, which researchers say could mean "stop," and waggle dances that could signal where the nest is, according to Live Science

A queen bee can live up to five years.

bee keeper
Beekeeper Roger Garrison holds a container with a queen bee inside on the roof of the W hotel in San Francisco, April 18, 2016.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg

With a lifespan of up to five years, queen honeybees live far longer than worker or drone honey bees.

Workers, by contrast, live for just five or six weeks. 

Queen honey bees lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.

queen bee
It only takes a few seconds.
Shutterstock/ StockMediaSeller

A queen honeybee is generally the only fertile female in a hive. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs daily

Each individual worker honeybee makes only a tiny bit of honey in its life.


The average worker bee makes just one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey over its entire lifespan.

Bees produce substances other than honey.

bee bread
This is "bee bread."
Maurice Tricatelle/Shutterstock

Bees produce a range of substances besides honey.

They secrete beeswax from abdominal glands, and use it to build honeycomb. They also create "bee bread," or edible pollen, which is a blend of pollen and honey. They can also make a gluey substance called propolis.

Worker honeybees can fly up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour).

Worker bee
A bee gathers pollen from a sunflower in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, August 20, 2008.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

On average, worker honeybees can travel at 15 to 20 miles per hour when unencumbered. On their return flights to the nest, when they're carrying nectar, pollen, or water, they travel more slowly.

Bee colonies around the world are disappearing due to climate change and other factors.

bee colony
Honeybees work in a hive located in an apple grove at Hartland Orchard, near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Markham, Virginia, September 14, 2014.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Climate change is hurting bee colonies. 

A 2015 study published in the journal Science found that climate change has lead to reductions in the geographic range of bumblebees in North America and Europe. Some bees' ranges shrunk by up to 186 miles (300 kilometers).

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