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Facts about bees and the importance of pollinators

What’s the economic impact of bees?

  • Pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the economy in the U.S. annually, and honey bees alone are responsible for more than $15 billion of that total.

  • Honey bees are responsible for the pollination of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America, and worldwide, 87 of the just top 115 food crops rely on pollinators, representing 35 percent of the world’s total food production.

  • Native pollinators, like bumble bees, also contribute substantially to the domestic economy, coming in at roughly $9 billion in the U.S.


What are the differences between the queen, drones and worker bees?


  • Queen—There’s only one queen bee per colony. After a single successful mating flight, she’s set to lay eggs (brood) for the rest of her life.

  • Drones—Drones are male bees that do not forage for food, nor do they have stingers. Their one and only role is to mate with an unfertilized queen. Unfortunately, as temperatures drop in the fall, the drones are evicted from the hive, as they serve no purpose during the cold winter months. (Sorry, fellas!)

  • Workers—All worker bees are female, and account for the vast majority of the colony.


What is the average life span of a bee?

During warmer months, the lifetime of a worker is typically between five and six weeks, during which a worker bee can log as many as 500 miles of flight. During colder months, worker bees can live up to six months (the drones get kicked out of the hive in the fall). Queens can live up to about five years.


For the first three weeks, worker bees spend their time advancing through the roles of housekeepers and nurse bees to feed the young and help keep the hive clean. From there, they move on to fan (dehydrate) the nectar from the foragers. Then, they move on to build wax comb and finally, they serve as guards to protect the hive entrance from robber bees, such as yellow jackets, and other insects and pests. The second three-week period, they spend foraging for nectar and pollen. 


How many bees are in a hive?

Colony populations are in constant flux. In the summer, when the population peaks, there are as many as 50-60,000 bees per colony.

How much honey do bees make? How much honey do we eat?

It takes at least eight bees their entire lives to make just one teaspoonful of honey. Honey consumption in the U.S. alone is estimated at nearly 450 million pounds per year, with the per capita consumption coming in around 1.3 pounds annually.


What do bees do in the winter?

When temperatures drop below 60 degrees, bees prefer to stay inside their hives. The bees will use the restroom outside the hive (called cleansing flights) during the colder months in order to keep the hive clean. They will also do some foraging as winter begins to transition into spring, or if food supplies are running low inside the hive. But for the most part, the colony forms a cluster, or ball, in the center of the hive. They maintain a temperature of between 90-95 degrees by vibrating to create heat. They take turns, rotating between the inner and outer areas of the cluster. As winter progresses, the cluster slowly moves up the hive, eating their stored honey along the way.

How do bees know where to find good sources of nectar and pollen?

In the second half of worker bees’ lives, they spend foraging for nectar and honey. Of the worker bees within this age-range, a small subset of them serve as scouts. This job entails looking for the next up-and-coming source of nectar and pollen, and communicating the location to the other foraging worker bees. They do this by performing a waggle dance.


What is a waggle dance?

Honey bees communicate to nestmates locations of resources, including food, water, tree resin (propolis) and nest sites, by making waggle dances. Dances are composed of repeated waggle runs, which encode the distance and direction vector from the hive or swarm to the resource. Distance is encoded in the duration of the waggle run, and direction is encoded in the angle of the dancer’s body relative to vertical (Schürch et al. 2013).


What do bees produce?

  • Propolis—This is the dark red or brown resin collected by honeybees from tree buds. They use propolis to fill in cracks and crevices inside the hive, and they also use it to seal and varnish honeycombs.

  • Royal Jelly—Royal Jelly is produced by the worker bees. Comprised of 60-70% water, 12-15% proteins, 10-16% sugar, 3-6% fats, and 2-3% vitamins, salts, and amino acids, it is fed to the queen and larvae. It is also used for medicinal purposes and in beauty products.

  • Wax—For the colony of bees, wax is used to store brood and honey. For the beekeeper, it’s used to make candles, lip balm, lotions, creams and salves, and makeup products, to name just a few. For every 8 lbs of honey, bees produce 1 lb of wax.  

  • Honey—There are more than 300 kinds of honey, depending on the types of plants the bees forage. Beekeepers sell honey in many different forms, including creamed (crystalized), chunk (comb), cut comb, and infused (lavender, lemon grass).

  • Pollen—Some beekeepers trap pollen to sell fresh or freeze. The benefits of ingesting pollen include decreased inflammation and improved immunity.

  • Venom—Bees are generally peaceful, but if they feel threatened, they will sting. Once a bee stings, it will die shortly after. Bee venom is comprised of peptides, enzymes, biologically active amines and nonpeptide components. Some use bee venom as an alternative therapy to treat inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, liver fibrosis, atherosclerosis, pain and other diseases and conditions.

Do bees and plants communicate to one another?

Recent studies show that plants emit a sort of electric charge to communicate to bees and other pollinators that they are low on nectar, especially after other bees have visited them, and that the bees should move on to other sources while they restock. 

How do I know if I’m allergic to bee stings? What should I do if I’m stung?

  • Only 1-3% of the population are allergic to bee stings.

  • If you are stung and you notice swelling that makes it difficult to swallow, call 911 immediately and use an epi-pen immediately. Also, if you are stung on your arm, for example, and the swelling or other symptoms occur in a different part of the body (away from the sting), or if it feels like your feet are burning, call 911 immediately and use an epi-pen immediately. In both of these circumstances, these symptoms indicate that you have an allergy to bee venom; and a single sting can be deadly.

Trees + Bees

Most people tend to think of flowers, shrubs and brambles when they consider plants that are good for pollinators, but did you know that bees get a large percentage of their nectar and pollen from trees? Here are just some of the top nectar and pollen-producing trees in Ohio:



Cherries and apples






Chinese Chestnut

Tulip Poplar


Autumn Olive

Black Locust




Where can I learn more about bees?

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