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Busy, Buzzy Bees

by Ellen Lambeth; art by John Dawson

Bees May 2016 RR

“Busy as a bee” is more than just a saying. As you’ll soon discover, honey bees have a lot going on.

Think of what might be on your dinner plate. Of every three bites you take, one probably comes with a little help from honey bees. That’s because these bees pollinate the flowers of many plants that people grow for food. (See “Pollination Explanation” below.) These crops include apples and almonds, beans and  broccoli, cucumbers and cherries, and so much more. So, every time you eat a meal, you can thank a bee!

Honey bees don’t pollinate just food crops for people. The ones above, for example, are doing their part to keep this field alive with colorful flowers. Read on to find out what they’re so busy doing. 

A bee travels to a flower to collect its sweet nectar. As it does, sticky grains of pollen get caught on its hairy body. The bee then visits other flowers of the same kind, where some of the pollen grains rub off. The pollen fertilizes the other flowers, which causes them to make seeds. Some of these seeds then grow into new plants. 

Bees May 2016 RR

A hive buzzes with activity. It's where honey bees live, store food, and raise their young. Here's an inside look!

DRONE: Male bee. Drones don’t have stingers. Their job is to mate with the queen.

QUEEN: Each colony has one queen. Her job is to lay eggs—up to 2,500 a day!

WORKER: Female bee. Most of the bees in a hive are workers.

HONEYCOMB: Worker bees build it out of wax that they produce in their bodies. They form the wax into little spaces called cells. Some cells are for raising young. Other cells are used to store honey (made from nectar) and pollen. The pollen is for baby food. The honey is the bees’ winter food supply.

WAGGLE DANCE: When a collector bee finds a good source of nectar and pollen, she returns to the hive  and tells other collectors about it. How? By dancing! The bee in the top photo above is doing the waggle dance. Other bees gather round to watch. During the dance, the bee moves in a figure-8 pattern with a “waggle” up the middle. The path she takes tells where the food supply is in relation to the sun. The waggle part tells how far away it is.

Worker bees have many different jobs. Here are some of them:

Collector bees gather nectar or pollen from flowers.
Transfer bees take nectar or pollen from the collectors and put it in cells.
Guard bees keep out (or remove) intruders.
Nurse bees take care of the eggs, larvae (LAR-vee, young), and queen.
Builder bees produce wax to make the comb and to cap cells with honey or developing young.
Housekeeper bees clean and repair the honeycomb.
Fan bees beat their wings to control the hive’s temperature and humidity.

Bees May 2016 RR 

Bees make life a lot more livable for both plants and animals (including people).

Animals such as badgers and bears have a sweet tooth for honey. And so do people! Beekeepers are people who raise honey bees and harvest the honey to sell. Some also sell beeswax, which can be made into products such as lip balm, candles, or polishes.

About 10 years ago, beekeepers started finding hives without honey bees. No one was sure what the problem was. Scientists figured out that it was a combination of problems, including chemicals sprayed on plants, bee pests, and diseases. People have been working hard to help save these important pollinators.

You may know honey bees best. Early settlers from Europe brought them to America, where they’re now found far and wide. But there are many other kinds of bees—about 4,000 species—that are native to (naturally belong in) the United States alone. Like honey bees, some are social bees. That means they live and work together as a colony in one big nest. But most are solitary bees, which make and live in individual nests. Both social and solitary bees are important pollinators. Here are just a few:

BUMBLE BEE: Like the honey bee, is social. Is big, round, and very fuzzy.
CARPENTER BEE: Looks a lot like a bumble bee. Gets its name because it often carves into wood to make its nest.
MASON BEE: Named for its habit of using mud to build little rooms in its nest hole.
LEAFCUTTER BEE: Chews off bits of leaves and uses them to “wallpaper” its nest.

Because bees do so much for the environment and for people, why not return the favor? Here’s how to make your yard THE place to BEE:
• Plant bee-friendly flowers. Choose ones that are native to your area. Also plant ones that bloom at  different times to provide bee food all season long.
• Don’t use chemical pesticides.
• Leave some bare ground and dead wood for nesting places.
• If you see a swarm, don’t panic. Call a beekeeper to come and relocate the bees.
• Put up a bee house. (Visit for tips on making your own.)

"Busy, Buzzy Bees" originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a closer view of the photos.


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