Taking the Sting Out of Bee Myths

Bees often get a bad rap as a merciless, stinging mob dead-set on protecting their precious honey. But there’s far more beneath the surface. Each bee would rather be doing its job: protecting the hive, warming it up, building a nest, collecting pollen and nectar,  or raising their young. With this in mind, let’s clear the air about our little buzzing buddies.

Most bees live in hives

Most people picture honey bees in a hive, which is generally true. Unless they’re out and about pollinating, honey bees tend to live as a tight-knit community. But the vast majority of bees – over 90% – are solitary, living in their own little nests and raising their own young, so they have no need for either hives or honey.

All bees make honey

Quite the contrary: most bees actually don’t make honey. Of the more than 20,000 known species of bees, only a few hundred make much honey at all. Among these are the seven species of honey bees, including the Western honey bee, which is the go-to for pollinating crops and producing local honey for humans all over the world. Many species of bumble bee also make honey, but don’t stock up on the stuff, choosing instead to make just enough to feed themselves and their young.

All bees sting

A bee’s stinger is actually a part of its reproductive system and is used to lay eggs long before it ever stings – if it ever stings at all. As a result, only female worker bees and queens can sting. But over 500 species of bees don’t sting at all. They’re called meliponines, or more fittingly, stingless bees. Surprisingly, most of these stingless bees still have a stinger, but it is far too small to inflict any damage. Bees that do use their stinger, sting for defense only and save it for a last resort when they feel that their nest is being threatened.

Bees work hard

The old cliché “busy as a bee” isn’t quite as true as you’d think. Sure, some bees are very busy, but others can be a little lazy. In hives, most male bees’ job is simply to spread the genes of the colony. These males can make up about 15% of the total hive population and are especially abundant during swarm season. Meanwhile, female honey bee workers really are busy: they have the future of their hive riding on their backs. They spend day after day foraging for pollen and nectar to carry home. Pollen is fed to the queen and developing young, while nectar is made into the honey.