Archives for category: Fun Facts
Some graffiti of a stenciled bee with stinger

Image used under Creative Commons license. Provided by Manuel Faisco.

My cousin asked me recently if bees die when they sting. I had a short and a long answer for her. (People who know me realize this is often the case).

The short answer: Yes, a typical honeybee will die when she stings you. A worker bee’s stinger is barbed, similar to a fish hook, and when she stings, it  remains in her victim’s skin. When she pulls away, her venom sac and part of her abdomen are ripped out of her tiny body. This, in turn, causes her to die.

The much longer answer: Well the above fact is true for all female worker honeybees, I must clarify the statement because not all bees die when they sting. In fact, not all bees can even sting.

Only female bees can sting. Male honeybees (drones) have no stinger at all. This is because a bee’s stinger and venom sac are associated with the female bee’s reproductive system. Drones do not have this same anatomy and are missing their stingers altogether.

Secondly, even though a female worker bee’s stinger is barbed, I should note that her barbs will only stick in skin that is fairly thick and rubbery, like a mammal’s. If she stings through a much more delicate surface, she may be able to pull her stinger out without damaging her own body. This is a case where she can sting but not die.

Lastly — and far more interestingly — the female queen honeybee does not die after stinging. She is obviously a female bee, and therefore has a stinger, however it is not barbed like the other females in the hive. The queen’s stinger is smooth and can sting and be retracted from a victim without doing any harm to herself. There are several theories as to why she has evolved this way. One plausible explanation is that she must be able to defend herself against rival queens repeatedly, and that it’s her last line of defence against an intruder who has made it into the hive.

I will finish by mentioning that honeybees are the only types of bees/wasps/hornets etc. that have strongly barbed stingers. Therefore they are the only insects in the order hymenoptera that die when they sting. All other types of bees, wasps and hornets that you encounter will likely be able to sting repeatedly without committing suicide. This applies to bumble bees and yellowjackets as well. If they’re not a honeybee, they can sting you as much as they want.

A swarm of bees in a treeIt’s that time of year when bees are swarming. This past weekend I received two emails from people who had swarms of bees near their homes and were trying to find a beekeeper in Kitchener or Waterloo to come take them away.

If you have stumbled upon my blog because you have a swarm of honeybees near you, here’s a bit of information that you should hopefully find helpful.

First and foremost: Contrary to what the word ‘swarm’ usually implies, swarms of honeybees are very docile and not dangerous. These bees have left their old home in search of a new one. They are storing their energy so that they can survive away from their hive. They have no food or young to protect so it’s unlikely they will sting. In fact, many people have been known to stroke swarms or stick their bare hands right into the the middle of them.

Bees typically swarm as a means of macro-reproduction. This is the way the entire colony splits and forms a new hive. Most swarms happen because a new queen is born and the colony splits in half. There are approximately 25,000 bees in an average swarm.

When a swarm is preparing to leave their home, they stock up on honey in their tiny bellies and typically fly up into an elevated area, not too far from their original home. This is usually a tree. They’ll camp out in a watermelon-sized ball for a day or two, but it could be as long as a week. During this time, scout bees are sent out to try and find a new home for the colony, and if a suitable home is found, the entire swarm will leave and begin to set up their new digs.

The probability that a swarm of honeybees will be able to survive on their own is quite small and it’s usually best for everyone if a beekeeper comes and rescues them. This is usually done by shaking them off the tree or cutting a branch to lower the bees into a box. The box is then left until nightfall to ensure all bees go inside. They will follow their queen’s scent, so as long as the queen makes it into the box, the rest will follow.

Contact me

If you know of any honeybee swarms or if you have one near your house, please feel free to contact me. If I cannot retrieve the swarm myself, I will try and refer you to another beekeeper in your area that can.

Your Name (required)

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Your phone number (very helpful)

Photo of swarm (optional):

Location of swarm and description:

 

A photo of a vee hive smoker on black background

I was testing out my smoker tonight to make sure it was ready for when my bees arrive, and I thought I should explain one of the most basic concepts of keeping bees.

Just about everyone has seen pictures of beekeepers using smokers to smoke the hive while doing inspections, but what is the purpose of using smoke on bees? There are two main reasons beekeepers use smoke on their bees:

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’ll 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.

Smoke masks bee pheromones. Honeybees rely heavily on pheromones to communicate throughout the hive. When bees think their hive is under attack, they release an alarm pheromone to alert other bees which agitates the entire hive. Smoke masks these pheromones and confuses the bees. This allows the beekeeper to work in the hive and keeps the bees calm.

Now you know. (And knowing is half the battle).

A queen honeybee with a green dot on her back

Photo provided by Steve Burt and used under Creative Commons license.

Did you know that many queen bees are painted soon after emerging from their queen cells? There are two main reasons that breeders paint their queens:

The first reason queens are painted is because it allows beekeepers to quickly and easily find their queens on frames during hive inspections. More importantly however, the paint colour indicates the bee’s age. A typical lifespan for a queen bee is 2-5 years, so 5 colours were chosen as a standard and are cycled every 5 years.

For example, a queen bee born in 2012 is painted with a small yellow dot. Those born in 2011 were painted with a small white dot. Here’s a chart that can help you determine what year your queen was born:

Years that end with: Queen colour:
1 or 6 White
2 or 7 Yellow
3 or 8 Red
4 or 9 Green
5 or 0 Blue

As reported today on Time.com, a recent study has shown that honeybees have distinct personalities and that not all bees are cut out for all jobs within the hive. This is not talking about the difference between male bees (Drones) and female bees (Workers), but rather the difference in personalities of individual females.

The research, published in the journal Science gives the example that only about 5% of the colony is cut out for being nest scouts. That means that out of approximately 50,000 bees, only 2,500 are the thrill-seeking bees that will venture out of the hive to scout out new locations to set up a hive. The researchers also published that there are differences in the brains of these thrill-seeking bees compared to the timid bees that would rather stay at home. The more adventurous bees’ brains are stimulated by these risk-taking activities.

To read more about the research, visit the article on Time.com.