Take this quick quiz and see how much you know about bees—our favorite essential pollinators working around the world.
Got extra smarts? See how much you know about hummingbirds.
When I was in high school, someone gave me a science book about bees, simply because the name Melissa comes from the Greek word μέλισσα (mélissa), “honey bee”. Despite a severe allergy to bee stings and a dislike for the taste of honey, I read the book. Turns out, it was a quite a page turner, and I’ve been interested in them ever since.
This quiz is intended for fun, in a random-facts-can-be-cool kind of way. Bees have made headlines in recent years for unfortunate reasons. One good side effect of this is an increased interest not only in their survival (and ours) but their incredible abilities as well.
The entire topic of bees (behaviour, anatomy, societies, communication, nesting, mating, hive management, habitat, etc.) is incredibly rich, and, even with all we know today, there is still so much more to be studied and understood. If you share this interest, there are many good books available. I have listed a few favourites in the Resources section below.
A First Look at Bees
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The Bee Quiz
You’re going to have to go old school here and keep score manually.
This quiz is out of 10. Write down how many you answer correctly and share your score in the comments.
I have done my best to double-check all the information for accuracy and avoided topics where there does not seem to be a consensus yet. Do let me know if you think anything is not as clear or accurate as it should be. The goal is share my love of bees.
The answer to each question is listed below the image for that section–scroll slowly so you don’t accidentally reveal it before you choose your answer.
No cheating or you’ll get stung.
1. How many different species of bees are there?
There are 20,000 known species of bees.
Of these, there are approximately 800 native bee species in Canada. The United States has 4,000. Some of these numbers overlap, of course. Australia has approximately 1,500 and Great Britain has 250. I haven’t been able to find a reliable source that quotes numbers for the rest of the world.
2. Of these 20,000 species, where do most bees nest?
A. In the ground.
B. Inside flowers.
C. On tree branches.
A: In the ground.
Watch your step! A majority of bees are what we call solitary bees and nest in small openings (often just an inch deep) on the ground in soil, sand, and other crevices.
3. How many species of honey bees are there?
There are just 7 species of honey bees.
Of the 20,000 bee species, here are some of the main families:
- 7 species of honey bees (genus Apis) and 44 subspecies| Everywhere except North Pole and Antartica.
- 250 bumble bee species (Bombus) | All continents except Australia and Antarctica.
- 500-600 stingless bee species (Melipona) | South America, Africa, and other tropical regions.
- 18,000+ solitary bee species (90% of bee species) | Everywhere except North Pole and Antarctica.
Honey is produced by some species of both wild and domesticated bees. There are also other species of bees, not in the honey bee family group, that also produce honey. Another insect, the honeypot ant, also produces a honey-like substance.
4. What is the most common species of honey bee?
A. The cowboy honey bee
B. The western honey bee
C. The pollen honey bee
B. The western honey bee (Apis mellifera), also known as the European honey bee, is the most common species of honey bee and one of the first domesticated insects. This is the domesticated bee that many beekeepers keep. The cowboy honey bee and pollen honey bee are names I made up.
The word ‘apis’ is Latin for ‘bee’. ‘Mellifera’ means ‘honey-bearing’.
Our earliest records of humans collecting honey from wild bees date back 15,000 years. Approximately 9,000 years ago, beekeepers in North Africa used pottery vessels to obtain honey. Bees and beekeeping are also depicted in Egyptian art dating back 4500 years.
Today, the western honey bee is an important pollinator for agriculture around the world.
Overall, the most common bee of any type in North America is the sweat bee (Halictidae), a small solitary bee often mistaken as a wasp or fly.
5. True or False? Bumble bees do not sting.
Here’s what we know. Not all bee species sting and only female bees can sting, not males. Those that can sting include various bumble bees, honey bees, and a small number of solitary bees. As we noted, the majority (over 90%) of bees on earth are solitary bees, and an overwhelming majority of solitary bees do not sting.
What we really want to know is, will this bee right here right now try to sting me? And, unless you are good at recognizing the species in your area, you will have to judge by behaviour not appearance. The most common reason for stinging is perceived threat against the nest. In other words, back off, don’t threaten resources, and don’t swat.
Bees may die after stinging because the sting barb gets lodged in human skin and tears off the bee’s abdomen as it tries to fly away (ouch). Male bees experience a similar fate, losing their penises after mating (ouch again).
6. The female bee’s stinger is located:
A. In the mouth
B. On the front legs
C. At the lower tip of the abdomen
C. At the lower tip of the abdomen.
The stinger on bees is located at the lower tip of the abdomen on the underbelly. The stinger is a modified egg-laying organ which is why some female bees have stingers that can’t actually sting. Males do not have this body part.
7. What color can bees NOT see?
Bees cannot perceive the red end of the spectrum but, unlike us, they can see ultraviolet light. Because of this, they see the world as more blue and purple than we do. The two main eyes see movement. The additional 3 smaller eyes (on the forehead) detect the intensity of light.
8. Which common insect eats bees?
C. Ladybirds / ladybugs
While they are more likely to catch flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, dragonflies also eat bees. One of a dragonfly’s greatest tricks is to catch prey in flight, grabbing them with their hairy legs.
Spiders also eat bees but they are arachnids not insects.
9. What is the shelf life of honey? How long does it last?
A. 3 months
B. 3 years
C. 30 years
C. 30 years or more
With proper storage, honey lasts indefinitely. While the appearance and consistency can change from liquid and golden to white and hard, that is usually crystallization or granulation. Placing a honey jar in a warm bath (100-120F / 37-48C) can return it to its original form.
10. Why do queen bees live longer than other bees in the hive?
A. Because they practice positive thinking
B. Because they have a glass of wine with dinner each night
C. Because they are fed more than the other bees
C. Because they are fed more than the other bees.
The development of queen bees is an intriguing topic. The bees that become queens actually have the same DNA as other bees in the hive. The difference is good nutrition. The larvae chosen to become queens are given extra rations of nutritious royal jelly secreted by the worker bees, and this allows their reproductive organs to full develop. The queen bee becomes significantly larger than the other bees and can survive years longer.
Something else I find interesting: when a new queen honey bee emerges from her cell (the baby nursery), she takes flight with the sole purpose of mating. In some cases, during this first trip out in the world, the queen will receive sperm from dozens of male bees. With the sperm safely stored, the queen returns to the hive for the rest of her life, unless crowded conditions induce swarming and the relocation to a new hive. That one time outside might just be her only flight! From that day forth she is laying eggs for future generations. Being queen is not it’s all cracked up to be.
Mini Review So You Can Impress Your Friends
- There are 20,000 known species of bees. Over 90% of these are solitary bees.
- Most bees are solitary bees and nest in the ground.
- There are 7 species of honey bees and 44 subspecies.
- The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common honey bee species.
- Only female bees sting. These include some bumble bees, honey bees, and a small number of solitary bee species.
- The stinger on a female bee is located on the lower tip of the abdomen and is part of an egg-laying organ.
- Bees cannot see the red end of the light spectrum. Unlike humans, they can see ultraviolet light.
- Dragonflies eat bees by catching them mid-air with their hairy legs. Such a pretty description.
- With proper storage, honey lasts indefinitely.
- Queen bees are long-living and larger than other bees in the nest because they are fed royal jelly by worker bees, providing the nutritional boost needed to allow their sex organs to fully mature.
So how many correct answers did you get?
1-3: Honey Bee Award ???
Totally beelievable! Unless you’re a bee geek, this information was probably new to you. Her Majesty appreciates your honesty and awards you 3 golden pots of honey.
4-6: Beeginner Geek Award ??????
Impressive. You must have a mind for details, or, you liked your high school biology teacher.
7-8: Beereader Award ????????
Who’s been reading about bees? You have. Well done.
9-10: Apiology Award ??????????
Let’s bee real. Did you really get this score? You, apiologist, you!
If you are new to bees, consider which aspect you want to focus on such as the science of bees, bee conservation, gardening for bees, or beekeeping.
Bees of the World by C.D. Michener
The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich
Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees by Lori Weidenhammer
Bees: Their Vision, Chemical Senses, and Language by Karl von Frisch
Magazines & Journals
Watch Bee TV
Get Creative with Beeswax
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~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛