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Five Surprising Facts About Bees

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Five Surprising Facts About Bees

Bees are being trained to sniff for bombs. 

Researchers at the Los Almos National Laboratory are training honeybees to find bombs. The Stealthy Insect Sensor Project trains the bees like how Pavlov trained dogs. Honeybees are exposed to the smell of bomb ingredients and are then given sugar water as a reward. Researchers say the bees catch on pretty fast, only needing to be exposed a couple of times.

After training, the bees stick out their proboscis when they smell bomb ingredients. This behavior lets researchers know when the bees smell the bomb. 

Bees have traveled to space!

Over 3,000 bees were sent on the April 1984 Challenger flight. They were housed in a special box and adapted perfectly to zero gravity. But they didn’t go to the bathroom. Since bees only excrete outside the hive, they held it in for seven days! A NASA spokesperson said the space hive was “just as clean as a pin.”

Rural farmers in Africa use bee-fences to protect against elephants.

Like farmers in Wisconsin, farmers in Africa deal with crop-raiding wildlife. The Elephants and Bees Project uses African Honeybees to reduce crop damage by elephants. The elephants have a natural instinct to avoid bees so the project works with farmers to create beehive fences. 

The hives are strung together so when an elephant bumps the hives or the string, it releases the bees, driving the elephants away. When testing the hives, they had a success rate of over 80%. The hives also help with crop pollination and provide honey for the community. 

Male bees (drones) have no father but they do have a grandfather.

Male bees (drones) develop from unfertilized eggs. Since no sperm is used to create their egg, they do not have a father. However, they receive their genetic material from their mom, who had a mother and a father. This means they would receive genetic material from their grandfather.  



Honeybees are one of the only species that will die after stinging you once.

A honeybee usually dies after stinging because its stinger has barbs. This does not allow them to yank the stinger back out when they sting a human. As the honeybee tries to pull out the stinger, it breaks its lower abdomen. It leaves the stinger, a string of digestive material, muscles, glands and a venom sac behind. Other bees, like bumblebees and carpenter bees, have smooth stingers. This allows them to sting more than once without dying.


To learn more about bees and how they affect you, visit our new exhibit Bees!

James Peth
Research Technician 



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