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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Facts

Bees and Honey

Bees and Honey

If you used these facts, along with the "Fruits, Nuts, and Veggies, Oh My" booklet, please let us know by answering a few quick questions. Your class might be featured on the website as a result!

  • One mouthful in three of the foods you eat directly or indirectly depends on pollination by honey bees. The value of honey bee pollination to US agriculture is more than $14 billion annually.
  • Farmers contract with migratory beekeepers, who move millions of bee hives to fields each year just as crops flower.
  • Honeybees are social insects. They depend on one another for survival.
  • Bees live in groups called colonies. A colony can have tens of thousands of bees.
  • There is only one queen in each colony. She is the mother of the colony, laying more than 1,800 eggs a day. She has to lay that many eggs, because workers bees only live a few weeks during honey-making season in the spring and summer.
  • Bees make honey from nectar. Nectar is a sweet liquid found inside flower blossoms.
  • The bees collect the nectar and carry it to the colony in pouches within their bodies.
  • The secret ingredient that turns nectar into honey is bee "spit." Chemicals in the bees' saliva help change the nectar into sugars. The nectar/saliva mixture is then stored in the beeswax comb by the workers.
  • The younger bees fan the nectar with their wings until much of the water has evaporated. Then they put wax caps on it and save it to eat in the winter.
  • Beekeepers harvest honey just like any other crop. When they take honey from a hive, they are very careful to leave enough so the bees can survive the winter.
  • One bee would have to make 154 trips, carrying tiny amounts of nectar from the flower to the hive, just to make one teaspoonful of honey.
  • If one bee had to make a pound of honey all by herself, she would have to spend 160,000 hours and make 80,000 trips. That would be the same as flying around the world three times.
  • One worker bee actually makes only 1⁄12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. But working together, a colony of bees may bring in as much as 50 pounds of nectar in a day and make 200 or 300 pounds of honey in a year.
  • Honeybees communicate through their movements. They attract the attention of other bees and let them know where to find nectar using movements that look like a dance. The movements show the other bees which way to go and how far.
  • The bees usually move in the form of a figure eight. Slow dancing means the nectar is far away. Fast dancing means it is nearby.
  • Beeswax comes out in white flakes from glands under the bee's abdomen. The wax is white at first but gradually turns a golden color.
  • About 8 million pounds of beeswax is used in the US each year.
  • People use beeswax to make candles, lipsticks, lotions, shoe polish, crayons, chewing gum, and floor wax.
  • In the past sculptors used bleached bee's wax to hide mistakes in their sculptures. The best sculptors were proud to say their statues were "sine cera," or without wax. That is where we get the word "sincere."
  • When one bee colony gets too crowded the bees split up and start a new colony. The workers begin to raise a new queen. When it is almost time for the new queen to hatch, the old queen will gather several thousand bees to go away with her. This is called "swarming." The bees fly in circles around the queen until she lands. The other bees land around her, clinging to each other in a great heap. When the swarm has settled it sends out scouts to find a new home.
  • When bees are swarming, they will not attack, because they have no home to protect.
  • Honeybees will sting only if they are frightened or harmed. If you are stung you should remove the stinger immediately by scraping it off with a fingernail or any straight-edged instrument. Do not try to pull it out, because this will force more venom into your skin.
  • A worker bee will die a few hours after stinging, because the stinger has a barb at the point which the bee cannot pull out once it is stuck in your skin.
  • Bees pollinate flowers as they fly from one to another, gathering nectar. Pollen is sticky and clings to the honeybee's body. When the bee flies to the next flower, the pollen will rub or fall off.
  • Bees pollinate more than 16 percent of the flowering plant species, ensuring that we'll have blooms in our gardens.
  • Honey bees that are not managed by beekeepers are considered feral rather than wild because all our common honey bees were introduced to the New World from Europe.
  • Honey is the only food that doesn't spoil.
  • Honeybees are the only insects that produce food eaten by humans.
  • Conquering Spaniards found that the natives of 16th Century AD Mexico and Central America had already developed beekeeping.
  • It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month, which we know today as the honeymoon.