Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
The honeybee is found throughout southern Canada and the rest of North America.

Did you know?

In order for the honeybee to make just half a kilogram of honey, it must collect the nectar of more than a million flowers.

Scientific name: Apis mellifera
Average length: 18–20 mm
Average lifespan: 1–5 months for workers; up to 4 years for queens
A close-up of a honeybee perched on a flower.

About

Biology

The honeybee carries out an important job: ensuring the propagation and survival of a significant portion of the world’s plant life. And this insect is well outfitted for this vital task, which amounts to carrying pollen from one flower to another.

On its head the honeybee has a pair of antennae, two large (compound) eyes and three simple eyes. The compound eye is six-sided and is composed of thousands of facets called ommatidia. Despite all this, its vision is only thought to be sharp for up to one metre. It is also able to see in ultraviolet light, because some markings on flowers are only visible in that spectrum.

The honeybee’s hair-covered body is divided between its thorax and abdomen by a thin “waist.” It has not one, but three pairs of legs, as well as two pairs of wings with tiny hooks called hamuli that lock together when the bee is in flight. The honeybee also has a barbed stinger, as opposed to a bumblebee’s smooth one. This means it can use it only once and then dies after stinging.

There are three types of honeybees: the queen is the only reproductive female in a hive and usually has a longer and leaner abdomen than the other bees; the worker is the non-reproductive female in the hive; and the drone is the reproductive male. In general, drones have broader abdomens and larger eyes than the rest of the hive.

Habitat and behaviour

About 80 percent of flowering plants depend on pollinators such as the honeybee to transfer their pollen, setting in motion their fertilization. Thus it follows that a wild honeybee lives in areas where there is an abundant supply of flowering plants, such as meadows, open wooded areas and gardens. It can only survive in deserts, wetlands and grasslands if there is enough water, food and shelter. The honeybee needs cavities such as hollow trees, where it can make nests.

Bees are very social animals, accustomed to working together within the hive to produce honey, beeswax, pollen and royal jelly. It is only the extra honey that beekeepers collect, and a single beehive can make more than 45 kilograms of it. Royal jelly is a powerful food and not a lot is known about it. However, it is the only food the queen consumes.

Communication between bees is based mostly on chemical signals, called pheromones. Whether the honeybee is communicating to another of its species or foraging for a flower, most of its perception is based on scent and taste. Each hive has its own distinct chemical tag that honeybees can use to recognize one another or identify interlopers from rival colonies, who are subsequently ousted. Bees have also been known to “dance” to alert others when they have found a large food supply.

Range

The honeybee is not native to Canada. It was in the 17th century that humans first started spreading the species throughout the world from Europe, western Asia and Africa. Now honeybees can be found on every continent except Antarctica.