Bee Facts

There are seven species of honey bee in the world, but the most common one, domesticated for honey production and crop pollination, is the European honey bee (Apis mellifera).

The species, which may have originated in Africa or Asia, can be found on every continent except for Antarctica and is responsible for most agricultural and horticultural pollination globally.

There are three types of honey bees that live in a beehive: a queen beeworker bees and drones

  • The worker bees and the queen are the female bees, but only the queen can lay eggs, which will be nurtured and develop into young bees.
  • The drones are the male bees. Their only job is to mate with the queen, and the queen’s job is to lay eggs. In summer, the queen bee can lay as many as 1,500 eggs every day.
  • The worker bees have lots of jobs, including finding pollen from flowers, collecting nectar and water, building new honeycomb (which holds the honey and pollen), taking care of larvae (developing young bees), and grooming and feeding the queen.
  • The worker bees are the only bees which sting, and they will only do so if they feel threatened.
  • In an average beehive during the summer months, you can expect to find one queen bee and about 250 drones, 60,000 worker bees, 7,000 eggs, 10,000 larvae and 20,000 pupae
  • Hives also have guard bees and nurse bees. Guard bees are responsible for making sure only honey bees that belong to the colony enter the hive, while the nurse bees feed, clean, and make food for the larvae, queen and drones.
  • Honey bees start off as eggs which hatch into larvae (also known as brood). They then go through their non-feeding stage, where they are called pupae, before emerging as a young honey bee.
  • Honey bee workers only live four to eight weeks. Drones can live up to four months and the queen bee lives for two to three years, some living for even longer.
  • The development of a bee from egg to adult takes 16 days for a queen, 21 days for a worker and 24 days for a drone.
  • On the head, the honey bee has five eyes, a pair of antennae, and a tongue for sucking syrups or nectars.
  • Honey bees have two stomachs: one is an ordinary stomach, and the other is called a honey sac.
  • The honey bee has two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs.
  • Insects like bees have an exoskeleton (on the outside,) while we humans have bones on the inside.
  • The honey bee’s brain is only about the size of a pinhead, but it has an amazing capacity to learn and remember things. A honey bee can make extremely complex calculations on travel distance, and foraging.
  • A worker bee’s brain has the densest neuropile tissue of all animal species, which means they are very intelligent.
  • Honey is the main food source for the bee. In the warmer months, honey bees are busy collecting nectar from flowers to make enough food stores for the bees in their hive during winter. This is because it’s too cold for the bees to go out and find honey in winter.
  • Pollen is another vital element. It provides the vitamins and minerals that help sustain the hive population.
  • Bees love fruit trees and flowering plants – you can help honey bees by having bee-friendly plants in your garden.
  • Bees get very thirsty on their foraging trips. It is fun to provide water for them in your garden, perhaps in a saucer with pebbles or twigs so that they have something to stand on and drink.
  • The honey bee collects nectar from flowers and turns it into honey. It does this by sticking its long tongue, or proboscis, into flowers to collect the nectar.
  • The honey bee stores the nectar in its tummy (honey sac), to carry it back home. While the nectar is in the bee’s tummy, it mixes with enzymes and proteins, which turns the nectar into honey.
  • To thicken (cure) the honey, bees put it into the honeycomb where they store the honey and pollen and evaporate off the water in the honey by fanning their wings.
  • Worker bees produce about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime.
  • Bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years.
  • On one flight from the hive to collect honey, a honey bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers.
  • A honey bee must visit about 4 million flowers to produce 1kg of honey.
  • One beehive of honey bees can produce up to 150kg of honey per year.
  • Bees use their antennae to smell. They can detect nectar 2 km away.
  • Honey bees communicate by ‘dancing’. They do a waggle dance which tells other bees the distance and direction of food.
  • The honey bee is the only insect which produces food eaten by humans.
  • A honey bee flies at approximately 24 kph.
  • The honey bee beats its wings 11,400 times per minute, which makes their buzzing sound.

History of beekeeping in New Zealand

Honey bees have been kept in New Zealand for more than 150 years. In that time, beekeeping has moved from being a home craft or lifestyle choice, into a progressive industry. New Zealand is now recognised as one of the world’s most advanced beekeeping countries and is a leader in several important fields.

Mary Bumby, the sister of a Methodist missionary, is considered the first person to introduce honey bees to New Zealand. She brought two hives ashore when she landed at the Mangungu Mission Station at Hokianga in March 1839.

While New Zealand already had native species of bees, they were not suitable for producing honey, their role was as pollinators. More bee species were brought to New Zealand in 1843. In 1848, William Cotton wrote a manual for New Zealand beekeepers, describing the basics of bee husbandry and production of honey.

The New Zealand bush proved a hospitable place for bees, and the number of wild colonies, through swarming, multiplied rapidly, especially in the Bay of Islands. Isaac Hopkins, regarded as the father of beekeeping in New Zealand, observed that by the 1860s, bee nests in the bush were plentiful, and considerable quantities of honey were being sold by Māori – the country’s first commercial beekeepers.

The commercial production of honey in New Zealand began during the late 1870s, following the introduction of the Langstroth hive, the boxed-framed beehive model still used today.

Source: Honey bees brought to New Zealand (Ministry for Culture and Heritage).