Bee history stretches back to long ago, with fossil records dating back approximately 100 million years1. Bees are descendants of wasp-like ancestors. Like bees, these wasps built and defended their nests, gathering food for their offspring.

While most bees today feed on flowers, their wasp ancestors were carnivorous, stinging and paralyzing other insects to feed developing offspring in the nest. Over time, bees have evolved and adapted, developing unique bee behavior and characteristics to thrive in diverse environments.

Today, bees remain vital for pollination, agriculture, and the ecosystem. Take a look at the bee facts below to learn more about bee history and some characteristics of these remarkable insects.

Bee history

Modern-day bees evolved from ancient predatory wasps over millions of years. This evolution led to the emergence of various species, each adapting to different ecological niches and environmental conditions. Today, there are over 20,000 known bee species in the world.

The evolution of flowering plants played a significant role in shaping bee evolution. Bees co-evolved with flowering plants, forming intricate relationships based on pollination. Today, bee behavior continues to evolve in response to environmental changes and human activities.

Bee hierarchy

A bee hive functions as an organized society. Each member has a distinct role. The beehive has a queen, worker bees, and drones.

Drone queen and worker bee

Queen

The queen bee is the reproductive center of the colony. Her primary role is to lay eggs, which are fertilized by drones. She releases pheromones that influence bee behavior and regulate the development of other bees in the colony. The queen is typically larger than other bees and can lay up to 2,000 eggs daily during the peak season.

Worker

Worker bees make up the majority of the colony. They are sterile female bees responsible for various tasks within the colony. These tasks include nursing larvae, cleaning the hive, foraging for food, guarding the hive, and producing beeswax.

Drones

Drones are male bees whose primary purpose is to mate with a queen from another colony. They do not have stingers or other tasks like worker bees. After mating, drones die, or they are expelled from the hive before winter to conserve resources.

How a bee spends its day

A worker bee fulfills various tasks, serving as nurse bees, housekeepers, foragers, and scouts. Their tasks evolve as they age, from tending to the young and cleaning the hive to producing royal jelly for the queen and collecting pollen and nectar.

Bee on a pink flower

Another essential role they have is building and repairing honeycombs within the hive. Honey bees secrete wax from glands on their abdomen and use it to construct the hexagonal cells of the comb, where honey, pollen, and larvae are stored.

Throughout the day, bees alternate between these tasks, responding to the hive's needs and the changing environmental conditions. This division of labor ensures the hive's survival and efficiency.

Why bees are important

Bees play crucial roles in ecosystems and agriculture that are vital for human and environmental well-being. They are primary pollinators for many flowering plants, shrubs, trees, and crops. All of which provide habitat and food for other animals.

The economic value of bees and their pollination services is immense, supporting agriculture, horticulture, and beekeeping industries. Additionally, bees produce valuable products like honey, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly, which have been used for centuries.

More bee facts

Below we’ve listed out more bee information, covering everything from bee characteristics to details of bee behavior, providing insight into these incredible pollinators.

Not all bees produce honey

Honey production is unique to honey bees. They collect and process nectar into honey, storing it in wax honeycombs as their colony's food. Unlike honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees have different lifestyles and do not produce honey on the same scale due to varying food storage behaviors.

Social bees vs. solitary bees

Social bees, like honey bees and bumblebees, live in colonies with a queen, worker bees, and drones. They work together to build and maintain a hive, care for the young, and defend the colony. Solitary bees, on the other hand, live alone, and each female constructs and stocks her own nest without the help of a colony.

Bees have short lifespans

Bees have relatively short lifespans, with worker bees typically living only a few weeks to a few months due to their intense workload and environmental factors. Queen bees live longer, while drones have the shortest lifespan, living only a few weeks.

Not all bees can sting

Female bees are the only bees with stingers, although not all can harm humans. Only specific species have stingers that can pierce the skin and deliver venom, while male bees don’t have a stinger.

1 Based on research from the Paleontological Research Institution.