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Bee: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

The humble bee may seem like just a garden-variety insect, but don’t be fooled. These industrious creatures play an indispensable role in pollination, thereby significantly impacting the biodiversity of our planet and even our agricultural systems. Bees are often celebrated for their wax and honey production, but their larger ecological role is even more essential.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the buzzing world of bees, exploring their taxonomy, physiology, behavior, and the challenges they face in the modern world.

The Bee at a Glance


Class:Insecta (Insects)
Genus:Apis (and others)

Essential Information

Average Size:0.4-1.6 inches (1-4 cm)
Average Weight:0.0003-0.00088 lbs (0.1-0.4 grams)
Average Lifespan:Worker: 5-6 weeks, Queen: 2-5 years
Geographical Range:Worldwide except Antarctica
Conservation Status:Varies by species; some endangered or at risk

Species and Subspecies

Bees are not a monolithic group but consist of a variety of species and subspecies, each with its own unique characteristics.

  • European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera): One of the most well-known species, they are native to Europe but have been introduced worldwide. Known for honey production and pollination.
  • Asian Honey Bee (Apis cerana): Closely related to the European Honey Bee but native to Asia. They produce less honey but are more resistant to some pests.
  • Bumblebees (Bombus spp.): These are larger and furrier than honey bees and are adapted to colder climates.
  • Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp.): Known for their wood-boring habits, these bees are solitary and do not live in hives.
  • Stingless Bees (Melipona spp.): As the name suggests, these tropical bees lack a functional sting. They produce honey but in smaller quantities.
  • Mason Bees (Osmia spp.): Solitary bees that are excellent pollinators. They do not produce honey but are highly efficient in pollination.
  • Africanized Honey Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata): A subspecies of the European Honey Bee, these bees are more aggressive and have adapted to tropical environments.

Key Differences:

  • Habitat: Ranges from tropical rainforests to arctic climates.
  • Honey Production: Varies significantly between species.
  • Social Structure: From solitary to highly social colonies.
  • Sting: Ranges from non-functional to very potent.
Bee hive


Bees are generally small to medium-sized insects with bodies that are divided into three segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. They have six legs, two antennae, and two pairs of wings. Their bodies are often covered in tiny hairs that collect pollen. The colors can range from black to brown with various patterns of yellow, orange, or even green and blue in some species.

Size and Measurements

  • European Honey Bee: Approximately 0.5 inches (1.3 cm)
  • Bumblebees: Up to 1 inch (2.5 cm)
  • Carpenter Bees: Around 1 inch (2.5 cm)
  • Stingless Bees: Generally smaller, around 0.2-0.4 inches (0.5-1 cm)

Sexual Dimorphism

In most species, females are typically larger than males. The queen bee, which is the largest female in the hive, can be up to twice the size of a worker bee. Males, or drones, are generally bulkier but shorter than worker females.

Habitat and Distribution

Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are most diverse in temperate and tropical regions. Some species have been introduced to areas outside their native range, most notably the European Honey Bee in North America and Australia.

Bees can live in a wide range of environments, from deserts and grasslands to forests and urban areas. Their habitats often depend on the availability of flowering plants for nectar and pollen. Some species, like bumblebees, are adapted to colder climates and high altitudes.

Bee on a flower


Bees are primarily diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day. However, some species can also be active during dawn and dusk.

  • Honey Bees: Highly social and live in colonies that can contain up to 60,000 bees.
  • Bumblebees: Social but have smaller colonies, usually less than 200 individuals.
  • Carpenter and Mason Bees: Mostly solitary; females lay eggs in individual nests.
  • Stingless Bees: Social, with colonies ranging from a few dozen to several thousand.

Bees communicate through a series of complex behaviors and pheromones. Honey bees are known for their “waggle dance,” which is a way to communicate the location of food sources to other bees. Pheromones are also used extensively for various functions like attracting a mate or signaling danger.

Other Interesting Points:

  • Swarming: This is a natural behavior mostly seen in honey bees, where a new colony is formed.
  • Winter Clusters: In colder climates, honey bees and some bumblebees form clusters to keep warm during the winter.

Through these intricate behaviors, bees not only survive but also play a vital role in pollinating plants, thereby contributing significantly to biodiversity and human agriculture.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Bees are primarily herbivores, feeding on nectar and pollen from flowering plants. The nectar provides them with carbohydrates, while the pollen is a source of protein. Here is what bees typically eat:

  • Nectar: From a wide variety of flowering plants.
  • Pollen: Collected from flowers, often stored in “pollen baskets” on their hind legs.

Bees are foragers. Worker bees fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollen. In honeybees, some workers specialize as “nurse bees” that feed the young and the queen with a substance called “royal jelly,” which is secreted from their glands.


Bees have a number of natural predators at various stages of their life cycle.

  • Birds: Species like bee-eaters, sparrows, and hummingbirds.
  • Mammals: Skunks and bears are known to raid beehives for honey and larvae.
  • Insects: Wasps, hornets, and some species of flies and beetles.
  • Arachnids: Spiders can prey on adult bees.
  • Reptiles: Some lizards also eat bees.

While adult bees are at risk from a variety of predators, bee larvae are generally safer, being protected inside the hive. However, some insects like the wax moth can invade hives and consume bee larvae.

Bee with pollen

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The queen bee is the sole reproductive female in the hive and is responsible for laying all the eggs. She mates early in her life with several males (drones) and stores their sperm, using it to fertilize her eggs throughout her life.

Once the queen lays an egg, it takes about three days to hatch into a larva. The larva undergoes several molts before becoming a pupa, eventually emerging as an adult bee. The entire process takes about 21 days for worker bees and up to 24 days for queens.

A queen bee can lay thousands of eggs in her lifetime. Once the eggs are laid, worker bees take over the care of the young. They feed the larvae, keep them warm, and protect them from predators.

Young bees start their lives as nurse bees, taking care of other young bees, and as they age, they take on roles like foraging, guarding the hive, and finally, searching for a new nesting site if they are part of a swarm.

Conservation and Threats

The conservation status of bees varies widely depending on the species. However, many species are facing declines due to a variety of factors, such as habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and climate change. Some species are listed as endangered or critically endangered. Here are some threats that bees are facing:

  • Habitat Loss: Urbanization and agricultural expansion.
  • Pesticides: Especially neonicotinoids, which are highly toxic to bees.
  • Climate Change: Alters the distribution of plants that bees rely on.
  • Disease and Parasites: Such as Varroa mites and Nosema fungus.

Various conservation efforts are in place to help protect bees, including:

  • Habitat Restoration: Planting wildflowers and creating bee-friendly spaces.
  • Legislation: Some countries have banned or restricted harmful pesticides.
  • Public Awareness: Education and community-led efforts to protect local bee populations.

Fun Facts

  1. Waggle Dance: Honey bees perform a unique “waggle dance” to communicate the location of food sources to their hive mates.
  2. Queen’s Longevity: A queen bee can live for several years, whereas worker bees usually live for only a few weeks.
  3. Royal Jelly: This substance is what turns an ordinary bee larva into a queen. It’s fed exclusively to the queen bee.
  4. Bee Vision: Bees can see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans.
  5. Sting Autotomy: Some bees die after stinging because their stingers are barbed and get ripped out of their bodies, leading to fatal injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do bees make honey?

Bees make honey by collecting nectar from flowers and storing it in their hives. Worker bees then fan their wings to evaporate the water from the nectar, turning it into honey.

Why do bees sting?

Bees generally sting as a defense mechanism to protect their hive. However, not all bees have the ability to sting.

Do all bees produce honey?

No, not all bees produce honey. Only certain species like the European Honey Bee are known for honey production.

What’s the role of the drone bee?

The primary role of a drone bee is to mate with the queen. After mating, the drone dies.

How can I help conserve bees?

You can help by planting bee-friendly flowers, avoiding the use of harmful pesticides, and supporting local beekeepers.

Are bees endangered?

The conservation status varies by species, but many are facing significant threats that could lead to endangerment.

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