In 1985, the honeybee was made Missouri's official state insect, and most people know how to identify it. This social insect is unquestionably a friend to humanity and has been for millennia. Today, more than ever, we rely on honeybees to pollinate our crops, as well as for the sweet honey that only they can make.
To distinguish honeybees from the many other types of bees in our state, note the following: Workers carry pollen in pouches on their legs, and they have hair on their head and eyes. Their stingers are barbed and can only be used once; when the bee flies away, part of her abdomen tears out and remains attached to the stinger, and she dies within minutes.
The honeybee is the major pollinator of many field crops and almost all tree fruits. It is the world's most beneficial insect and in 1985 was named the official state insect of Missouri.
Learn more about honeybees and other apid bees (family Apidae) on their family page.
Length: ½ to ⅝ inch (workers); drones and queens are larger.
Statewide. Wild populations occur throughout Missouri.
Habitat and Conservation
Honeybee workers are usually seen as they forage in flowers for pollen and nectar. Nests are usually located in tree cavities or in beekeepers' boxes, not in the ground. The nest comb is suspended vertically and consists of parallel double-layered sheets of hexagonal cells. These are made from wax secreted by worker bees. A nest may be active for many years.
Foraging workers drink nectar and collect pollen from flowers, storing it in their leg sacs. Returning to the hive, they regurgitate the nectar, which other workers store and process into their food, honey. The nutritious pollen is unpacked and fed to the larvae. Cross-pollination of flowers occurs when pollen clings to the hair of bees as they forage. Bees usually visit flowers of the same species during a foraging trip, so the extra pollen usually fertilizes a new flower of the same species.
Nonnative but extremely valuable insect introduced to North America long ago. Many, many crops require pollination by honeybees. They are also important for producing honey, beeswax, and other products.
It's not completely understood, but since the 1970s, bee populations in Europe and North America have been declining rapidly. Called Colony Collapse Disorder, this complicated syndrome seems to involve mites, viruses, pesticides, and other factors. This is especially worrisome, as more than $15 billion of US crops are completely dependent on honeybee pollination. Stopping this syndrome is extremely important.
Each honeybee colony has a single queen, which lays eggs for the entire colony: females (which develop into sterile workers or into new queens, depending on what they are fed as they develop); and drones (fertile males). Most bees seen outside the hive are workers: They collect nectar and pollen, feed the young, and build and maintain the hive. When mature, virgin queens fly away and mate; then they return to the hive. Queens depart with a swarm of workers to begin a new colony.
The single queen's only function is to lay eggs. She may live several years and produce many thousands of eggs. New queens are produced annually in healthy colonies. At this time the old queen leaves the nest with a swarm of workers to establish a new colony, while the new queen stays in the old nest with the remaining workers. Honey and pollen stored in nest cells nourish the adult bees in winter.
Humans rely on bees (directly or indirectly) for about a third of our food supply. They provide us with honey and beeswax. Pollination by honeybees is crucial or beneficial for a great many crops. Alfalfa needs honeybees, and livestock, including dairy cattle, need alfalfa. Simply put, plants need pollinators, and animals need plants.
Honeybees are an Old World species and were introduced to North America by Europeans in the 1600s. For thousands of years, humans have provided homes for bees and they have provided honey while pollinating domestic and wild plants. Thus bees have expanded across the globe.