Questions & Answers About Bees

We wanted to take some time to answer some of the most asked questions regarding bees and beekeeping. If you have questions you do not find here, please feel free to visit the Contact Us page and send us a message.

What role does pollination play?

The honeybee accounts for seventy-five percent of insect pollination and without it, the production of vegetables and fruits would be greatly reduced.   Pollination is the process in which pollen is transferred and enables the reproduction of plants. Agriculture depends upon honeybee pollination. We tend to think of flowers as a decoration for our gardens and home.   In fact, plants produce flowers for the sole purpose of producing seeds and perpetuation their species.   Many other plants produce flowers for the sole purpose of producing seeds and perpetuation their species.  Many other plants produce flowers with colorful petals, fragrances and nectar to attract pollinators.  Typically, pollinators feed on nectar or gather it.  In exchange, they move the sticky pollen of these flowers from one to another.   Once the pollination occurs, the final stages of fertilization take place and seeds begin to develop.


How much pollen does the average hive collect

An average sized bee hive collects between sixty and one hundred pounds of pollen per season depending upon the size of the hive. The Honeybee uses pollen as a food to feed the other bees in the hive.   Pollen is an essential part of the honey bee diet, providing a wide range of nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and other minerals.  Although a tough outer coating protects the pollen from environmental stressors, honey bees have enzymes in their digestive tract that split the grains apart at a weak point.  The interior is then digested and the empty husks are excreted.  Most of the pollen is eaten by nurse bees.  They use the nutrition absorbed from it to secrete royal jelly from their hypopharyngeal glands.  The jelly is fed to young larvae, including workers, drones and queens.


Did Honeybees originate in the United States?

Honeybees are not native to the USA they have come from many different parts of the world.  Honey bees are among the most recognizable and beneficial of the insects that live in North America.  Like most of the livestock associated with American farms, honey bees were imported by European settlers.   Prior to the arrival of the Old World settlers, honey bees were unknown to Native Americans.    The name was recognition that the appearance of honey bees in America was associated with the arrival of the Europeans.  There was a close association between the westward migration of Europeans and the establishment of wild colonies of honey bees.   Native Americans were said to have noticed shortly after colonies of honey bees were discovered, white settlers would not be far behind.   These bees probably came from England and arrived in Virginia in the sixteen hundreds.   By By 1669 colonies of honey bees were found throughout the woods in Massachusetts.  Some of the colonists who arrived at Plymouth likely brought bees,  sheep, cows and chickens on the trip across the Atlantic.

What is the environment in a bee hive?

Honeybee colonies represent a highly organized society.  The bees have different jobs throughout their life as a bee and some of the various jobs are nurses to the eggs, guards for the entrance of the hive, food shoppers essentially foraging of food, housekeepers, keeping the hive clean and sterile, construction workers, as the hive is in constant repair, there are also royal attendants who care for the Queen.   Bees also keep their environment nice and comfortable, typically averaging 93 degrees, year round.  Colonies of honeybees grow in population, both in the wild and in a man-made hive.  This a good thing because the larger the colonies the greater chance of survival by collecting more food. A large population of bees means more warmth during the cold winter and more cooling in summer months and Beekeepers want to encourage this growth.   The more bees in a hive, the more bees you have for pollination and honey production.  If you do not give a flourishing colony enough room they will likely swarm thus cutting the hive in half or more.


Why Does Smoking Bees Make Them More Manageable?

Bees assume that the smoke means there is a fire nearby. When the bees sense a fire, they start consuming honey because they think they will have to leave their home and find a new place to live. However, similar to humans that have consumed a large turkey dinner, bees become calm and lethargic after gorging on honey. They can also not bend over easily, which is why they appear drunk. Smoke also masks bee pheromones, which send out the alarm pheromones to alert other bees which agitates the entire hive. Honeybees rely heavily on pheromones to communicate throughout the hive. Smoke masks these pheromones and confuses the bees. This allows the Beekeeper to work in the hive and keeps the bees calm.


Is Pollen Healthy?

It is considered one of nature’s most completely nourishing foods as it contains nearly all nutrients required by humans.  Pollen is one of the richest and purest natural foods, consisting of up to protein, sugars, carbohydrates, enzymes, minerals, and vitamins A , B complex , C, H, and R.  Bee-gathered pollens are also rich in proteins (approximately 40% protein), free amino acids, and folic acid.  Clinical trials have been conducted to test the survivability of living on bee pollen alone and test candidates were found to be healthier as the end of the testing period than prior to the start of the clinical trial.  It is especially good at improving sports performance and relieving allergies.   Bee pollen is a complete food and contains many elements that products of animal origin do not possess.  Bee pollen is more rich in proteins than any animal source.   It contains more amino acids than beef, eggs, or cheese of equal weight.   About half of its protein is in the form of free amino acids that are ready to be used directly by the body.  Dr. Gabriel Cousens, MD, has listed bee pollen as one of his twenty-two most recommended food energies.   Bee Pollen can be used medicinally for a wide range of conditions from prostate health to skin conditions and can help correct specific nutritional imbalances within the body.

Is Honey Healthy?

Honey is used by the bees for food all year round.  There are many types, colors and flavors of honey much depending upon its nectar source.  The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants.  Honey is an easily digestible, pure food. Honey has antibacterial qualities and can be used to treat wounds and burns to rapid healing. Eating local honey can have tremendous benefit for those struggle with seasonal allergies. Honey is rich with nutrients, vitamins, minerals and enzymes all of which are beneficial.  Honey makes a excellent cough medicine is outstanding when used to treat wounds.   Since it is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, it can fight infection making it ideal for treating wounds.  Honey is also being used by many hospitals in the treatment of burns.   Honey can also improve the scalp when diluted with a bit of warm water it can improve seborrheic dermatitis often causing dandruff and itching.  After using every couple of days for four weeks marked improvement is seen.   Honey can also boost your energy especially before or after a workout, honey would work out perfectly.   Athletes looking for a time-released  fuel to provide energy over a longer duration, this will do the trick.

Are Honeybees typically aggressive?

The vast majority of colonies are quite docile, peaceful and usually their temperament is very good.  An aggressive queen can make for a much more aggressive hive.  With a more aggressive hive, you can re-queen the hive, this will often correct any problems with aggression. If bees sense danger they can attack and  Honeybees generally attack only to defend their colony but will also attack only if they are seriously disturbed outside the nest or feel individual danger like swatting or almost being injured.  Common sources of attack stimulus for honeybees include alarm pheromone, vibrations, carbon dioxide, hair and dark colors.  This makes sense because mammals, which are common predators of bees, are usually hairy, dark colored, and exhale carbon dioxide.  If you think about this you will realize that bees are drawn towards attacking sensitive areas around the head of a common predator.   Stinging is the ultimate final act of a honeybee because soon after, she will die.   First the bee becomes alerted; she takes on a guarding stance and protrudes the sting, which recruits other bees by releasing alarm pheromone. Secondly, the bee will search for the source of stimulus and orient towards it.  Finally she will attack; emitting a high pitched buzz and making body thrusts towards the source of disturbance.    If a sting does occur, the bee will die soon after stinging because the sting is left behind and the bee disembowels itself in flying away.  Once the bee’s sting is inside a victim, it pumps out more venom and emits alarm pheromones.  During this time, the stinging bee will spend its dying moments distracting its victim by flying around its head as if it were going to sting again.  Bad weather with thunder, lightening and rain can also cause a hive to behave aggressively.

What is Propolis?

A substance collected by honey bees from trees, the sticky resin is mixed with wax to make a sticky glue.  The bees use this to seal cracks and repair their hive.  It also helps hive to be one of the most sterile environments know to man. Propolis also has amazing health properties as anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory.   Amazing product of the hive and is often taken as a supplement for overall health enhancement.  Bees produce a compound called propolis from the sap on needle-leaved trees or evergreens. When they combine the sap with their own discharges and beeswax, they create a sticky, greenish-brown product that is used as a coating to build their hives.  Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations used propolis for its medicinal properties.  Greeks used it to treat abscesses.  Assyrians put it on wounds and tumors to fight infection and help the healing process.  Egyptians used it embalm mummies.  The composition of propolis can vary depending on the location of the bees and what trees and flowers they have access to. For example, propolis from Europe won’t have the same chemical makeup as propolis from Brazil. This can make it difficult for researchers to come to general conclusions about its health benefits.


How Do Bees Make Beeswax?

Worker Bees secrete from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of their glands, a shield or plate from each segment of the body on the abdominal segments.  Beeswax is used by the honeybees to build honey comb to cap larvae cells and to cap honey cells.  The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker and daily flights cause deterioration these glands and they gradually atrophy.  Beeswax is used by humans in drugs, cosmetics, artists’ materials, furniture polish and candles.  The extraction of ten pounds of honey will yield about one pound of beeswax.   Beekeepers often separate the wax from the honey and other products using devices that allows the wax to melt and separate typically using the sun.


What is Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly is a honey bee secretion used in the nutrition of the larvae as well as adult queen bees.   It is secreted from the glands of the hypopharynx of the worker bees.   All larvae are fed this during the first three days of life whether they are worker, drone or queen.   Beyond three days only the queen is fed the royal jelly.   The powerful, milky substance which turns an ordinary bee egg into a Queen Bee.  Queen larvae are “stocked” with royal jelly much faster than the larvae can consume it.   Therefore, only in queen cells is the harvest of royal jelly practical.   It is made of digested pollen, honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee’s head.  Often taken as a supplement it is considered to promote energy and can be a fertility stimulant. It is loaded with all of the B vitamins, which is great for the nerves and the nervous system. Also used aggressively to treat Parkinson patients successfully.


What about Bee Venom?

Apitoxin, or honey bee venom, is a bitter colorless liquid; its active portion a mixture of proteins, which causes local inflammation and acts as an anticoagulant.    A honeybee can can inject 0.1 mg of venom via its stinger. Although sharp pain and some swelling and itching are natural reactions to a honeybee sting, a small percentage of individuals are highly allergic to bee venom. “Bee venom therapy” is widely practiced throughout the world and by Apitherapist in the US to address health problems due to arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even Multiple Sclerosis (MS.) Bee venom has been used medicinally for more than 6,000 years.  Bee venom have been used to treat a number of ailments that vary between chronic pain to skin conditions.  Bee venom  (api-toxin) has been widely used in the treatment of some immune-related diseases, as well as in recent times in treatment of tumors.  Several cancer cells, including renal, lung, liver, prostate, bladder, and mammary cancer cells as well as leukemia cells.   US News also reported Bees could hold the key to preventing HIV transmission.  Researchers have discovered that bee venom kills the virus while leaving body cells unharmed, which could lead to an anti-HIV vaginal gel and other treatments.  Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that melittin, a toxin found in bee venom, physically destroys the HIV virus, a breakthrough that could potentially lead to drugs that are immune to HIV resistance.   The study was published Thursday in the journal Antiviral Therapy.


What is the life expectancy of a bee?

The three groups of honey bees are queen bee, which produce eggs, workers, which are all non-reproducing females.   Drones are the males and their only duty is to mate with a queen.  The queen lays eggs singly in the cells of the comb.   Larvae hatch from eggs in three to four days.  They are then fed by worker bees and develop through several stages in the cells.   Cells are capped by worker bees when the larva pupates.   Queens and drones are larger than worker bees so they require a larger cell in the comb for them to grow and develop.   A colony consists of tens of thousands of individual bees.   Queens emerge from their cells in fifteen to sixteen days, workers in twenty days, and drones in twenty-four days.  Only one queen is usually present in a hive and the average lifespan of a queen is three to four years; drones usually die upon mating or are expelled from the hive before the winter.   Workers may live for a few weeks in the summer and several months in areas with an extended winter.


How long have people been keeping bees?

Depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees date to fifteen thousand years ago; efforts to domesticate them are shown in Egyptian art around four-five thousand years ago.  Simple hives/smoke were used and honey was stored in jars, some of which were found in the tombs of Pharaohs such as Tutankhamen.  It was not until the eighteenth century when Europeans understanding of the colonies and biology of bees allowed the construction of the movable comb hive so  honey could be harvested without destroying the entire colony.  It is often recorded for its benefits and usefulness in the bible and other historical records throughout history.


How do bees survive through the winter?

Honey is also an excellent source of food for bees during the winter but it is also a excellent insulator, helping to keep the hive warm.  Honeybees head to the hive when temperatures drop to the fifty degree mark at the interior where the queen stays.  By self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain between forty and eighty degrees in the center of the” winter cluster” regardless of the outside temperature.   This is sort of like a group huddling together by a camp fire in late fall.    The only job bees have one main job in the winter and that is to care for the queen bee so the hive will survive until the next spring season.   This means they must keep her safe and warm.  In order to do so, worker bees surround the queen and form a cluster with their bodies.  The worker bees then flutter their wings and shiver.  This constant motion and continuous use of energy is how the bees keep the inside temperature of the hive warm.  In order to keep shivering, the bees must have enough honey.  This is how they get their energy and honey is also an excellent insulator.   One of the most important jobs of the Beekeeper in the winter is to make sure the honey supply stays full so the bees can keep shivering.   Though the queen is always at the center of the cluster, the worker bees rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster.   This rotating allows for none of the bees not to get too cold.


What is the role of the Queen Bee?

Typically, there is only one Queen per hive. The Queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries.  The average life expectancy of a Queen is 3-5 years.  The Queen is also much larger in size than any of the other bees.  The Queen mates only once in a lifetime with several male drone bees, and will remain fertile for life.  She lays up to two thousand eggs per day. Nursing bees determine what the hive needs to ensure survival.  Fertilized eggs become female Worker Bees and unfertilized eggs become male drone bees.  If the Queen dies, goes missing or becomes unproductive, the been colony knows within twenty-four hours the Queen pheromones are missing so the Nursing bee will “create” a new queen by selecting a young larvae and feeding the larvae diet of royal jelly.  It takes from seven to sixteen days from egg to emergence of a new queen.  Surprisingly, the queen does have a stinger and can sting for self defense but it does not result in her death as it does with the Worker Bees.

What is the role of the Worker Bees?

All Worker Bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live for four to nine months during the winter season, but only five to six weeks during the busy summer months.   Bees can be said they literally work themselves to death as they continue to work throughout their entire life.    Nearly ninety-nine percent of the bees in a hive are worker bees.   An average hive consists of twenty thousand to thirty thousand bees in the winter but well over sixty thousand to eighty thousand bees in the summer months.   The worker bees sequentially take on a series of specific chores during their lifetime including:


  • Housekeeper, keeping the hive clean and sterile.
  • Nursemaid, care for the young eggs and determine whether they become Queen, drone or Worker Bee.
  • Queen’s attendant, the workers bees bathe and feed her.
  • Construction worker, build the beeswax foundation in which the Queen lays eggs and the  workers  store honey.
  • Undertaker bees, carry the dead from the hive.
  • Guards bees stand watch at the door to keep out bees from other hives and other predators.
  • Foragers and must bring back enough pollen and nectar to feed the entire bee community. For Worker Bees,  it takes 21 days from egg to emergence.
  • The Worker Bee has a barbed stinger and the loss of their stinger results in her death following the stinging, therefore, she can only sting once. It takes a lot of bees to get all the work done.


What is the Role of the Drone Bee?

Drones are male honey bees which is the product of an unfertilized egg. Unlike the female worker bee, drones do not have stingers and do not participate in nectar and pollen gathering.   A drone’s primary role is to mate with a fertile queen.   The male bee technically has only a mother and no father  it has a genealogical tree that is rather interesting.   These male bees are kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin Queen.  The drone has a barbed sex organ so mating is followed by death of the drone.   In honey bees, the genetics of offspring can best be controlled by artificially inseminating a queen with drones collected from a single hive, where the drones’ mother is known.  In the natural mating process, a queen mates with multiple drones and these may come from other hives.  Therefore, in the natural mating process, batches of female offspring will have fathers of a completely different genetic origin.


How does a Queen Bee Mate?

A Queen Bee mates only once in her lifetime but it will usually mate with up to about 20 Drones. This takes place about a week after she emerges from the pupal cell. She stores the sperm in an organ called the spermatheca (sperm sac) and this sperm lasts for her entire laying life an average of 3-5 years. A virgin Queen will leave the hive on a mating flight when she is about a week old. She will fly up to approxomately one mile in the air. She will emit a mating pheromone which will attract Drones from quite a wide area. The Drones will pursue the Queen and eventually mating will take place.  Copulation with a single drone only takes a matter of a few seconds. The Queen will usually mate until her spermatheca (the sac in which she stores the sperm) is full. The Queen will then return to the hive and will not leave it again except, perhaps, with a swarm.  The Drone Bee will shortly die after mating. Copulation usually takes place a mile above the hive.  If a virgin Queen does not mate within 20 days, it is too late; she then loses her ability to mate for life and becomes useless to the hive.  It has also been said that queen bees and drones mate approximately one mile off the ground in the air.


Can there ever be more than one Queen in a hive?

As the young Queen larva pupates with her head down, the workers cap the Queen cell with beeswax. When ready to emerge, the virgin Queen will chew a circular cut around the cap of her cell. Often the cap swings open when most of the cut is made, so as to appear like a hinged lid. Often, when a new Queen is developed, the old Queen will likely leave with the prime swarm before the first virgin Queen emerges from a Queen cell. When a young virgin Queen emerges from a Queen cell, she will generally seek out, the old Queen or other virgin Queen rivals and attempt to kill them. Virgin Queens will quickly find and kill any other Queens by stinging them to death. Queen cells that are opened on the side, rather than the top is an indication the virgin Queen was likely killed by a rival virgin Queen.


How fast do bees fly?

Honey bees can fly at up to speeds of 15 miles per hours. That might seem fast, but in the bug world, it’s actually rather slow. Honey bees are built for short trips from flower to flower, not for long distance travel. Their tiny four wings must flap about 12,000 times per minute just to keep their pollen-laden bodies aloft for the flight home. This flapping in the hive helps to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.


What is Royal Jelly?

Royal Jelly is the substance that turns an ordinary bee into a Queen Bee. It is made of pollen which is chewed up and mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in the nursing bee’s head. This “milk” or “pollen mush” is fed to all the larvae for the first two days of their lives. It can be taken an used for humans to provide a strong energy source. It is considered especially beneficial because a Queen eats nothing else and she lives for years rather just a few weeks, like the average Worker Bee. There are tremendous health benefits. Royal Jelly is collected and sold as a dietary supplement for humans, claiming various health benefits because of components such as B-complex vitamins such as panothenic acid (vitamin B5) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine.) The overall composition of royal jelly is 67% water, 12.5% crude protein, including small amounts of many different amino acids, and 11% simple sugars (monosaccharides) sugars, also including a relatively high amount (5%) of fatty acids. It also contains many trace minerals, some enzymes, antibacterial and antibiotic components, and trace amounts of vitamin C but none of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K.


How Does a Bee Become a Queen?

The larvae chosen to become a queen continue to be feed only royal jelly.  The Queen grows one and a half times larger than the ordinary bee and is capable of laying up to two thousand eggs a day.  The Queen Bee lives forty times longer than the bees on a regular diet.  There is no difference between a queen bee and a worker bee in the larval stage.  The only factor which is different between the bees is a developing queen bee it continues to eat only royal jelly.


Can Royal Jelly Have Benefit to Other Species?

Scientists decided to try feeding Royal Jelly, queen bee’s diet to other animals with surprising results.  The life spa of pigs and roosters showed as much as a thirty percent increase.  Fruit flies fed royal jelly increased in size and in rate of production. Chickens given royal jelly laid twice as many eggs and older chickens no longer laying eggs  began to lay eggs again.

Can Royal Jelly benefit Humans?

  • In France, there have been reports of women fed royal jelly during menopause, showing complete remission of their symptoms. Some were even able to become mothers again. France also claimed that their studies showed royal jelly to have rejuvenating and sexually stimulating effects on both men and women. Canada has approved royal jelly as a natural dietary supplement for athletes. Royal jelly is not a drug, but a nutritious, quickly assimilated food.   


  • In Germany, Drs. Chochi, Prosperi, Quadri and Malossi in separate studies used royal jelly as an aid to badly undernourished and premature babies. The infants fed royal jelly increased in weight and health.
  • Another doctor, Telatui, reported that neuro patients given royal jelly regained normal weight, a more stable nervous system, and a greater degree of stamina for physical and mental work.
  • Chemical analysis of royal jelly found it rich in protein and the B vitamins (especially panothenic acid). However, analysis of royal jelly fails to break it down into all its different components. It cannot be synthesized.
  • Royal jelly has proven to be a potent bactericide. It also acts as a catalyst, stimulating intercellular metabolic activities without significantly modifying normal physiological activity. Thus, it hastens cell recovery with no side effects. Royal jelly has been known to speed up healing of wounds and to reduce the amount of scarring.
  • Since the action of royal jelly seems to be systemic rather than one which affects a specific biological function, it has been recommended for a great variety of purposes: to retard the aging process, for menopause, remedy under-nutrition, for arthritis, vascular diseases, peptic ulcers, liver ailments, nervous instability, skin problems, improvement of sexual functions, general health and well being.

How Do Honey Bees Communicate?

The honeybee uses the most complex symbolic language of any animal on earth, outside of the primate family.  Honey bees pack a million neurons into a brain that measures a mere cubic millimeter and they use every one of them. Worker Bees must perform different roles throughout their lives. Foragers must find flowers, determine their value as a food source, navigate back home, and share detailed information about their finds with other foragers. Karl Von Frisch received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1973 for cracking the language code of Honeybees called the “Waggle Dance. “


What is the “Waggle Dance?”

To how other workers the location of food sources more than 150 meters from the hive. Scout bees fly from the colony in search of pollen and nectar. If successful in finding good supplies of food, the scouts return to the hive and “dances” on the honeycomb. The honeybee first walks straight ahead, vigorously shaking its abdomen and producing a buzzing sound with the beat of its wings. The distance and speed of this movement communicates the distance of the foraging site to the others. Communicating direction becomes more complex, as the dancing bee aligns her body in the direction of the food, relative to the sun. The entire dance pattern is a figure-eight, with the bee repeating the straight portion of the movement each time it circles to the center again.


What is Bee Bread?

Bee bread is a fermented mixture of bee saliva, plant pollen, and nectar that the Worker Bees use as food for the larvae and for young bees to produce royal jelly. Bee Bread increases its’ nutritional value due to the fermentation process performed by Worker Bees. This is healthy for bees and humans alike. As with almost all the elements of the hive like, propolis, venom, pollen, royal jelly and or course honey, bee bread is also healthful and beneficial.


Berks and Schuylkill Beekeepers Association - Honeybee anatomoy showing all parts of the bee



Leave A Comment