Honey bees are social insects in the family
Apidae, order Hymenoptera. The most important species to humans is Apis millifera, the honey
bee. Honey bees live in colonies or bee hives. Bees have two pairs of wings and compound
eyes. Beekeepers make hives for the bees out of
straw, pottery, or wooden boxes. Wild bees make their hives in hollow trees
or logs or sometimes under the eaves of houses. Worker bees stand guard at the entrance of
the hive, keeping out bees from other hives. Honey bees protect their hive by stinging
intruders. Bees communicate with each other with pheromones.
Pheromones are body chemicals that allow bees and other animals to talk to each other by
smell. Bees smell pheromones and other scents with their antennae and can tell whether a
bee is from the same hive, a worker, a queen bee, or is warning about danger.
Bees can fight most honey robbers like skunks, bears, and wasps who come to raid the hive.
When a honey bee stings, the barbs on the stinger get stuck in the victim, and the stinger
is pulled out of the bee’s body. The bee dies shortly after stinging. Queen bees however
can sting many times and can pull their stinger out of the victim’s skin.
The honeycombs inside the hive are made up of small boxes called cells. The cells are
six-sided or hexagons. They are tilted so that the honey does not flow out. All the
cells together make up the comb. The comb is made from wax that bees make with their
wax glands. The wax comes out from openings on the underside of the bee’s abdomen.
Bees forage thousands of flowers a day to gather nectar and pollen.
Nectar and pollen are food for bees. Pollen is sometimes called bee bread. Nectar is a
sweet liquid found inside flowers. The bee laps and sucks up nectar with her tube-like
tongue and stores it in her honey stomach. The female worker bees make honey from nectar
in the bee hive. Bees eat this honey in the winter when there is no food available from
flowers. It takes more than 5,000 flower visits to
make one teaspoon of honey. Honey bees also gather pollen grains from
each flower they visit. The bee uses her hind legs to scrape off the pollen grains stuck
to its abdomen and then presses them into the pollen basket on the hind leg.
While gathering pollen, the honey bee also pollinates flowers as she accidentally carries
pollen from flower to flower. When a pollen grain combines with a flower
egg cell inside the flower, a seed begins to grow. Bees pollinate many crop plants—plants
that give us food like oranges, apples and watermelons.