Bees are one of the most vital creatures on our planet. Without bees one of every two to three morsels of food that we put into our mouths would simply not exist.
Because of both the crucial role these tiny pollinators play in the food cycle and their dwindling numbers around the world, teaching children about bees and how to raise them is one of the most responsible things you can do.
Teaching even young children about bees is possible, and will hopefully lead to the development of a lifelong appreciation of these essential workers in our agricultural system.
These kid-friendly and imagination provoking facts can easily be adapted for presentation to children of all ages. Even if you’re not a homeschooling parent or grandparent, helping children learn about bees “just for fun” is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, as well.
1. There are more than 20,000 different varieties of bees in the world.
2. Honey bees live in large colonies (communities) inside of a hive.
3. Honeybees have six legs, and five eyes.
4. Honey bees are divided into three different types:
- queen (only one per hive),
- and workers
5. A queen honey bee is responsible for laying all of the eggs inside the beehive. During her time of peak production a queen bee is capable of laying more than 2,500 eggs daily.
6. The scientific name for honey bees is Apis Mellifera.
7. The person who takes care of a beehive is called a beekeeper.
8. Beekeepers use a manual smoker tool to calm bees before working in their hive or attempting to catch them in the wild.
9. Sometimes, beekeepers have to feed the honey bees during the winter to make sure they have enough food to eat when there are no flowers to draw nectar from. During the winter, the bees eat the stored honey in their hives, but if they do not make enough honey when the weather is warm, they will die without human intervention.
10. Varroa mites are the primary pest for honey bees. An infestation of these mites in a hive can kill the entire colony in a short amount of time. Ants and mice are also hive predators that steal honey, and leave behind bacteria in their droppings that can also kill the hive and the growing brood.
11. In a healthy honey bee beehive in the wild, it is not unusual for 50,000 bees to live in the colony. A residential hive typically contains only hundreds to a few thousands of bees because they are limited by the size of the wood box that is used as a hive, to grow their brood and to make honey.
12. All bees have an intense sense of smell. They use this sense of smell as part of an alarm system when they sense a threat by giving off specific pheromones. Their sense of smell also guides them to their food source – flowers, flowering bushes, and flowering trees – especially fruit trees. 170 odorant receptors exist in a bee’s sense of smelling.
13. Worker honey bees travel from flower to flower collecting nectar to take back to the hive. In just one nectar collecting trip a worker bee typically lands on a minimum of 50 to 100 flowers.
14. Honey bees can see all the colors of the rainbow except for red.
15. Honey bees flap their wings more than 200 times every second.
16. Honey bees are rapid fliers. These tiny insects can fly at speeds up to 15 miles per hour.
17. Honey bees are the only insects that actually make food which is eaten by human beings.
18. Honey bees can fly for up to six miles before they need to land and rest.
19. A honey bee would have to fly the equivalent of three trips around the earth (about 90,000 miles) to collect enough nectar to make one pound of honey. It would take just one ounce of honey to give a bee enough energy to make such a long flight.
20. There are four stages in the life cycle of a bee:
21. Honey bees pollinate about 70 percent (at least 100 different common crops) of the food consumed in the United States.
22. Once laid, it takes roughly 21 days for a honey bee larvae to mature into an adult.
23. Worker bees of all varieties are ladies, but they are not royalty like the queen. Their job includes cleaning the hive, grooming and feeding the queen, feeding the bee larvae, collecting pollen and nectar, protecting the colony, and creating the wax needed to make new honeycomb cells.
24. Worker honey bees live only about six weeks during warm weather months. They live slightly longer in cold weather months when less manual labor is required from them.
25. Drones of all bee varieties have just one job, mating with the queen bee to make little bees. Drones live just about eight weeks during the summer months. They are either kicked out of the hive, or die by fall.
26. Honey bees, like all other types of insects, have three primary regions in their tiny bodies – the head, abdomen, and the thorax.
27. The thorax is located in the middle of the body, and contains the pollinator’s six legs, flight muscles, and its four wings.
28. Honey bees have two front wings (or forewings), and two hind wings.
29. The size and weight of a bee of any type will determine where it fits in the highly structured caste system inside of the hive. The queen bee is the largest bee in any hive, and the worker bee is the smallest.
30. Only female honey bees have stingers. The barbed stinger possessed by a worker bee is used to self-defense and hive defense purposes.
When a bee stings, a barb on the stinger anchors it into its target, and then a pouch inside of the bee pumps out venom. After the bee stinging episode ends, the pollinator dies due to a rupture in its abdomen, however this won’t happen when stinging other insects. Due to how human skin is made, a bee will die when stinging a human, and typically not an insect.
31. Worker honey bees use a honey sac (an organ that is somewhat like a stomach) that is connected to the insect’s digestive tract to store nectar until it gets back to the colony.
32. The wax gland is located on the underbelly of the abdomen in a honey bee and excrete the wax needed to build the honeycomb.
33. Honey bees must digest between 17 to 20 pounds of honey to be able to produce a pound of beeswax.
34. A queen honey bee can live for up to three years.
35. A honey bee colony will swarm and disperse if it is left without a queen.
36. Bees make a buzzing noise because their wings strike approximately 11,400 times per minute!
37. When honey is fermented is it known as an ancient beverage that can be consumed by grownups called “mead.” It was in Norse society that the term “honey moon” was coined. They deemed the first month of a new marriage as a time to consume a lot of mead – especially during the evenings.
Today the phrase, “honeymoon” is synonymous with taking a trip after getting married or the first few months of marriage. The term is also used to reference the first several months after a new president has taken office – the “honeymoon phase.”
38. Bumblebees are the largest (and often deemed the most gentle) of all bee species. This variety of bee is not known to swarm. Some folks claim that if you remain calm and quiet that bumble bees will sit in your hand after landing on you and allow you to stroke their back.
39. The scientific name of a bumble bee is – bombus.
40. Bumble bees have several important differences from their honey bee peers. They live alone or in a very small group instead of in a large colony. A bumblebee hive is only about the size of a baseball even though they are fairly large bees.
41. Both queens and worker bumble bees have stinger – which they do not lose after stinging like honey bees. Drones tend to live on their own and only show up at the hive when it is time to mate.
42. Carpenter bees can sometimes be mistaken for bumble bees, however carpenter bees have a black tail that is incredibly shiny. Wasps can also resemble carpenter bees, but have a smaller waist.
43. The scientific name of a carpenter bee is Xylocopa.
44. Carpenter bees live everywhere on earth except in Antarctica.
45. The tunnels that carpenter bees make to live in are only a few inches deep, but can be created so they stretch up to 10 feet long.
46. In the winter, carpenter bees, unlike honey bees and bumblebees, hibernate until the weather grows warm again.
47. Female carpenter bees do possess a stinger, but it is not barbed – allowing them to sting as much as they want (but they are known to rarely sting at all) because their abdomen is not damaged when the stinger is extracted to defend themselves.
48. The carpenter bee literally lives up to its name. It will tunnel into wood decking, a tree branch, a wood beam, deck, rail on a porch or even a thick wood bench. They don’t eat the wood, but use the particles created when they tunnel to build cells – or simply move them out of their way while tunneling even more deeply.
49. Honey bees are about a half of an inch long. Both bumble bees and carpenter bees measure roughly one inch long.
50. Some other common bee varieties in the United States that you could encounter in your own backyard or while hiking include:
- leaf bees
- sweat bees
- mason bee
- squash bee
- mining bee
- long horned bee
When teaching children about bees, include some interactive and tactile resources, as well as visual aids to help bring the trip into the pollinator insect world to life.
Queen hunting photos that can be printed from the internet or purchased will keep children busy and intrigued (sometimes adults, as well) as they scan an image of dozens of bees trying to find the one that is different – the queen.
Touching a piece of honeycomb, tasting raw honey, investigating an empty hive and beekeeper tools, are also excellent hands-on bee homeschooling unit teaching aids.
Take a walk once armed with some facts about bees. Odds are it will not take very long for a keen observer to find some bees to watch while they work – at least during warm weather months.
Making bee themed crafts and learning how to make “bee patties” to leave out for the little pollinators to enjoy as fall turns into winter, as well as superbly enriching extension activities.
Take a field trip, either in person, at a local apiary, or to the backyard of a beekeeper, or virtually via YouTube, to get up close with honey bees and to learn more about their life cycle and how they function as a colony.
Children who are afraid of insects will hopefully be far less so after they learn more about honey bees, bumble bees, and carpenter bees and the role they play in making our gardens grow.
An appreciation of the valuable service the tiny pollinators perform in keeping both us, our pets, and livestock alive just might turn your curious son or daughter into a future beekeeper one day.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.