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Honey bee

Apis mellifera

About the Honey bee

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Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Genus:  Apis
Species: mellifera

Our hive is buzzing with activity! Watch as bees come and go as they please, leaving the Center to gather pollen and nectar from outdoors, and returning to the hive to produce honey. You'll learn about the crucial role these pollinators play, both in our ecosystem and in our everyday lives. Don't forget to try and spot the queen bee!

Honey Bee Facts

About ½-inch long, honey bees are made up of three parts: a head, thorax and an abdomen. Their abdomens are striped and pointed at the tip, and they have two transparent wings. Bees appear fuzzy because of hair-like setals made of chitin (a hard substance found in the exoskeletons of most insects) that cover all three of their body segments.

Bees build elaborate nests, called hives, which are comprised of a dense matrix of hexagonal cells that make up a honeycomb of beeswax. Highly social, honey bees have a complex organization consisting of castes. Castes include queens, drones and workers. Larger than the other bees, the queen bee’s function is to lay eggs. She’s the only fertile female in the colony and rarely leaves the hive, except to mate. Male drones have no stinger, and their main function is to mate with a queen bee. Worker bees, the queen’s daughters, are infertile. They make up the majority of the beehive, tending to the beehive, building new wax honeycomb cells, and foraging for pollen and nectar.

Honey bees feed on pollen and nectar. As they collect this from plants, they disperse pollen from plant to plant. This process fertilizes flowers, which then produce fruits and seeds. About 80 percent of all flowering plants and over 75 percent of staple crops that feed humankind rely on animal pollinators. Pollination is truly a partnership because neither the plant nor the pollinator can exist in isolation.

We’re told that pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat!  Of all the animal pollinators, the most economically important in the world are managed honey bees. A U.N. report states that of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 rely on cross-pollination. In the U.S. alone, the honey bee’s economic contribution is over $19 billion.

Bees in Crisis: Colony Collapse Disorder

The European honey bee’s conservation status has not been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, since 2006, bee populations have been declining worldwide.

In 2006, we first heard about the bee crisis, as beekeepers around the country reported massive loss of honeybees—in some cases, more than a third of hives and in the worst up to 90 percent. Bees were flying away and simply not returning; keepers found boxes empty except for a live queen; no bee corpses remained. The name CCD—colony collapse disorder--has now been given to this mysterious killer condition. Each year since, commercial beekeepers have reported unprecedented losses double what they consider normal --about a one-third annual loss. Though experts say we’re unlikely to experience a food security crisis as a result, the variety and nutritional value of our food system is threatened since most fruits, many vegetables, almonds, alfalfa and other crops all depend on honeybees for pollination.

The European Union announced a two-year ban on the use of neonicotinoids, the pesticide group of chemicals suspected of causing the honeybee decline and routinely used in our country on wheat, corn, soy, and cotton crops. Although a group of beekeepers and environmental groups sued the EPA for not acting, the U.S. has not sanctioned a ban here.

How can we help?

Beekeepers in Italy, Germany and France and other parts of the EU where action has been taken against harmful pesticides say that their bees are recovering. Bees need your help here at home to bring the same result.

  • Urge your Congress representative to pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act and to protect the Endangered Species Act.
  • Support a ban on the use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoid pesticides. Home gardeners and backyard beekeepers can join the movement and provide a honey bee haven with access to pesticide-free food, shelter and water. 
  • Become a beekeeper or plant a bee-friendly garden with native wildflowers and plants. Only a little space is needed– a few containers of the right kinds of plants tucked into your garden, on a balcony or front stoop, and you’ve created a little bee-haven.
  • Write your local newspaper and urge action. Help build momentum to protect bees. Decision-makers read the opinion pages of their local newspapers to “take a pulse on public opinion.”
  • Learn how to go green, protect the environment and fight global warming with our 45 easy-to-follow tips.

Honeybees Gallery