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For humans, bees are among the most important creatures on Earth. And while we often associate the danger of an unpleasant sting with bees—fleeing our seats at an outdoor cafe!—there’s so much more to bees than their sting. These 10 facts about bees (did you know there are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven recognized biological families?) will blow your mind.
- Let’s get what we fear the most about them out of the way: their sting. The first thing you should know is that it actually has some benefits! A toxin in bee venom called melittin may prevent HIV, according to scientists at Washington University in St. Louis. The melittin can kill HIV by poking holes into the virus’s protective envelope.
- Bee stings may also ease pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, according to researchers at the University of Sao Paulo. The team found that molecules in bee venom increase the body’s level of glucocorticoid, an anti-inflammatory hormone.
- Now let’s move on to another common thing we associate bees with: honey! Globally, there are more honeybees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, making them the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. There are three kinds of bees in a hive: Queen, Worker and Drone. The worker bees are all female, and perform all the work for the hive.
- A beehive in summer can have as many as 50,000 to 80,000 bees, with 556 worker bees required to gather a pound of honey. Also, bumblebees are round and fuzzy; honeybees are smaller and thinner, and while honeybees have a clear distinction between head and abdomen, bumblebees are “all of one piece.” Honeybees also have two clear sets of wings: a larger set in front and a smaller set in back. Interested in beekeeping? Check out these 14 tips for doing it in your backyard.
- The average worker bee makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
- Beeswax is produced by worker bees thanks to the special glands on their stomach that secrete wax into little pockets that she chews with her mandibles and forms into a honeycomb. Here’s how to make beeswax candles in glass yogurt jars.
- Bees are the only insect in the world that make food humans can eat. Check out these bee-friendly plants to add to your yard.
- Now, as far as how relatable they are to humans, there are quite a few things of which to take note! First of all, according to Bee America, bees make out faces the same way we do, taking parts like eyebrows, lips and ears to make out the whole face. This is called “configular processing.”
- They’re mighty mathematicians, capable of solving what mathematicians call the “traveling salesman problem,” that even stumps some computers. The traveling salesman problem asks the following question: “Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the origin city?” Researchers at Royal Holloway University in London found that bumblebees fly the shortest route possible between flowers, making them the only animals known to able to solve the problem.
- Bees have incredible Viking-like super-vision. The Vikings are thought to have navigated with sundials. On cloudy days, they used chunks of calcite as polarized filter to keep them on track. The calcite was placed in front of their eyes in order to darken skies, manage reflections, or suppress glare from the surface of lakes or the sea. Bees, too, use the sun as a compass, so when it’s cloudy, they navigate by polarized light, using special photoreceptors to find where the sun is in the sky.
Pretty cool stuff, huh? Unfortunately, bee numbers are falling across the world due to things like pesticides and habitat loss. Help protect the bees that pollinate all those plants by creating a bee hotel.
There are many other ways you can help bees, too. Avoid using pesticides in your garden, plant some herbs and bee-friendly plants, and shop for certified organic food, since on average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms.