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The Children's Questions about Beekeeping

Questions on bees asked by the fourth class (in 2001) taught by Mrs Daphne Reid of ??? school. The questions, 78 in all, were collated and grouped together. The questions themselves and the answers that Sr. Catherine gave are as follows:-

As a preamble to the answers a few terms were explained to help the children understand the detail.

Species...  Another word for the family a bee belongs to.
Caste...  Means the male or female or the queen in that species or family.
Colony...  The group or batch of bees that live together in a hive or nest.
Cluster...  Means all the bees that huddle together tightly, in the winter, in order to keep warm.

For the purpose of answering, the questions were generalised and grouped into the following categories:- (each of which can be accessed by the links)

1,  Bees in General 2,  Questions relating to Hives
3,  Questions relating to Queens 4,  Questions relating to Honey
5,  Questions relating to Water, Nectar,
Pollen & Pollination
6,  Questions relating to Stings
7,  Miscellaneous Questions

Bees in general

1. How many types of bees are there?
2. Are there different families of bees and can you name four of these families?
3. How do you tell the difference between the different types of bees?
4. Is the worker bee a female/male or a mixture of both?
5. Why do adult female bees collect pollen?
6. Why is a drone always lazy?
7. Where do bees come from?
8. Are there bees in every country of the world?
9. In how many countries are there bees?
10. How many bees are there in a hive?
11. Do bees stay alive in the Winter?
12. Do many bees die (over Winter I suppose)?


1, & 2, Yes, there are various families (different species) of bees:- e.g. Solitary bees, Bumble bees, Stingless bees, Honey bees. Remember, in this project we are dealing with Honey bees only.

3, & 4, In a colony there are different castes of bees (not different types).

The Worker bee is about 13 mm (1/2") long (head, thorax and abdomen).
The Drone is somewhat the same length or a little longer, but is much fatter and has strong wings.
The Queen is about 18 mm (3/4") long quite slim, with an abdomen that is nicely tapered.
For the appearance of all three castes see the diagram.
The worker bee is very definitely a female. (women do all the work!).

5,   Adult female bees collect pollen because it is the protein food which is necessary for the development of the baby bees.

6,   We say that the drone is lazy because he never goes out to collect pollen, nectar, water or propolis. (Propolis is the glue which the bees collect for polishing up the inside of the hive. They get it from buds of trees, like the Horse Chestnut). Drones are not useless, because being big and fat, they keep the colony warm. However the main work of the drone is to mate with the Queen.

7,   As to where bees come from - Sr. Catherine presumes they are part of God's work of creation. Bees have been on the earth for millions of years before we humans appeared.

8, & 9, As far as I know bees are in every country in the world - they are all over Asia, Europe, Africa, America, Australia and New Zealand.

10,   At the height of Summer there can be 40,000 to 60,000 bees in anyone hive. The numbers drop from the end of July or August, and the least number is in the hive in January and February - about 10,000 at that time.

11, & 12, Bees do stay alive in the Winter. Some colonies may die, especially if they are not properly cared for, in the Autumn. As well, bees are exceptionally clean, and will never soil the hive, so if they go out for toilet purposes on a cold day, they might not return - they could die of cold.

Hives, Nests & other characteristics

1. Do bees make their hive?
2. How do bees and wasps make their hive?
3. What do bees use to make their hive?
4. What is a beehive made from?
5. How are new hives formed?
6. How do bees decide where to build the hive?
7. Why are bees that yellow and black in colour?
8. How far can a bee travel?
9. Do bees fly backwards?
10. How did scientists know that bees cannot see red? (6 children asked this!)
11. What work do bees do the whole year round?
12. Does the Bumble Bee do the same work as the honey bee?
13. What do bees use their legs for, since they can fly?


1, 2, 3, 4  Now we must remember that a Hive is man-made:-
Timber is cut into lengths and made into a type of box. (At this point samples of hive parts are passed around.)

2, 3, & 5  In the wild the bees form their own 'home' - it can be a nest anywhere. They choose a place with a small entrance (this helps to keep out robbers). They like a place that is more or less closed up, for they live in the dark mostly. When they choose a site and get into it, they immediately build cells of wax produced by their own bodies. The cells will be for their young (eggs and babies called Brood) and for storing honey.

6,   Bees are strange and wonderful. We people, get Builders and Architects to plan our houses. A Colony has a special number of bees called Scouts who fly around and search for a home, and when they choose one, they come and call all the others.

7,   I can't say why some bees are more yellow or black than others. Think of it, we in Ireland are white skinned, people in Africa are black, people in India are deep brown and so on. The same with bees - the colour is different in different climates.

8,   Bees can travel quite a distance - they can travel North, South, East and West of their home for miles, and yet make their way back to the spot they set out from.

9,   Bees can fly up, down, over under and whirl around in any direction, but I don't think they fly 'backwards'. If by 'backward' the questioner means reverse like we do in a motor car.

By doing a lot of experiments, scientists discovered that bees can't see red. A man called Von Frisch did a lot of experiments with coloured papers and perfume. (Note... there is a spectrum of the bees eyesight on the page that discusses exposure to light.)

11,   A colony of bees are like a well run house, where all the children have their own little jobs to do. In a colony there are the bees that do the cleaning, the bees that feed the young ones, the bees that examine everyone that comes to the entrance of the hive, the bees that carry out every bee that dies and so on. 12,   (answer missing)

13,   Yes, the bees use their legs quite a lot, especially for collecting and storing Pollen. The worker bee has a very special 'extra'. She has what is called a 'Pollen Basket' on the third pair of legs.

Queen Bees

1. How did the Queen bee get its name?
2. How is the Queen bee chosen?
3. How do bees pick a Queen?
4. How do bees know a Queen from a normal bee?
5. How do bees know who the new Queen is?
6. Why is the Queen more important than the male bee?
7. When a new Queen is born, how does the old Queen know when to leave?


1,   The queen is considered to be the most important bee in the Colony (note that I did not say 'in a hive'). Long, long ago people believed that whatever bee ruled in a colony must be a King. At that time they did not know that the 'Ruler' laid eggs, but since scientists discovered this to be true, the 'Ruler' is called a Queen.

2, & 3, The colony decides what bee will be the Queen. When the eggs are laid and the grubs are being hatched, the bees choose the best and feed it in a special way, and rear it up to be the next Queen.

4, & 5, The bees have no trouble in knowing their Queen from all the others. The Queen has a longer body than any of the others, but that is not the real reason that they know her. Her body is covered with a stuff that the bees lick off her, and pass it around among themselves. This stuff is called 'Queen Substance', and it really controls the bees. It helps the Queen to rule in the colony.

6,   The Queen is normally the only bee that lays eggs. (When, or if things go terribly wrong in a colony then a worker bee might lay - a study of that is for an older class - maybe Leaving Certs.) The Queen is very important and since she lays the eggs, she is the one responsible for the next set of young bees, and from March to June she might lay 1000 eggs per day. The male bee, that is the drone, his only work is to mate with the Queen.

7,   When a new Queen is hatched out, the old Queen lines up a batch of bees and away they go with her to find a new home, (this is called a swarm). The new home might be in a tree, under a roof, or in an empty hive. After this the new young Queen is the Ruler in the original colony. Life and work continues until the bees again decide to change their Queen.


1. Is it true that bees make honey from flowers?
2. How do bees make honey?
3. How is honey made?
4. How long does it take for the bees to make honey?
5. How long does it take for the bees to find the right stuff to make the honey?


1,   It is true that the bees make honey.

2, & 3, They collect Nectar from flowers and plants. They suck it up with their proboscis and carry it back to the colony. You might ask how they carry it. Well, a bee has a second stomach which is called the Honey Sac and when the bee sucks up the Nectar, she stores it in her Honey Sac until she reaches home. While it is in the Honey Sac, vitamins are added to the Nectar. In the hive other bees get working on the Nectar, and they evaporate any surplus moisture from it, and then drop it into the cells for storage.

4,   If the temperature is right, the Nectar would be changed into honey in a few days.

5,   It doesn't take the bees very long 'to find the right stuff' to make the honey. Bees have a very powerful sense of smell and they have eyes with thousands of facets so they can find their food quite quickly - inside of a few minutes.

Water, Nectar, Pollen & Pollination

1. What do bees drink, that is if they do drink?
2. Do bees drink water?
3. How does nectar get into the flowers?
4. How did bees find out that Nectar made honey?
5. From what kind of flowers do bees collect Nectar and Pollen?
6. How do bees carry the Nectar back to the hive?
7. What do bees depend on as protein?


1, & 2, Yes, bees drink and they drink quite a lot especially in hot weather. They drink any water that comes their way even drops that might drip from a clothes line. The wonderful thing about their 'drinking' - one can train them to come to a special place for water. I have a special bucket and tap on it from which they can get all the water they wish for. Bees can drown in water unless they have something to grasp. By having a dripping tap, drowning does not occur.

3, & 4, Nectar in flowers is part of God's plan. He gave us wonderful earth and every day we can learn from it.

5,   Bees and flowers depend on each other - the bees help to pollinate the flowers by spreading or carrying their pollen, and in doing that work, they find that they can get food for themselves from the sap/Nectar in the flowers. From some flowers, bees get Nectar and Pollen, from others they may get only Pollen or Nectar. Simple flowers that have a perfume and are of any colour other than red, are best liked by the bees. (Later on we will make a list of flowers rich in Nectar and/or Pollen.)

6,   The same way as for Nectar. (2 & 3 in Honey answers above)

7,   The Pollen is the protein food and the Nectar is the carbohydrate/Sugar needed for the bees.

Stings and Stinging

1. Why do bees sting us?
2. Which has the worst sting, a bee or a wasp?
3. Why do wasps sting more than bees?
4. Which sting is the most dangerous, a wasp's or a bee's?
5. Would a bee or a wasp give a bad sting?
6. What is the best thing to soothe a bee or wasp sting?
7. What happens to a bee after it stings you?
8. Do bees just aim for someone who annoys them, or are there other reasons?
9. Do animals get hurt by bee stings?
10. What is the stuff that goes into your skin from a bee's sting?
11. In other countries is the sting stronger, weaker or the same as it is here?
12. Is there a bubble for the poison to get where you are stung? (mixed wording)
13. What is the bubble called that holds the poison?
14. If I were old and got a sting and did not know it would I die?
15. Is it possible to find a bee sting in a hurry?


1, & 8, Bees sting if they are annoyed by people tampering with their home. If people were to do something to destroy our homes, we would have some way of dealing with them. Occasionally too, people come in the flight path of the bees and then thy collide with us and might sting us.

2, 3, 4 & 6, A bee's sting is pretty sharp and sore, but the pain only lasts for a few minutes. Different people have different ways of soothing the pain, and I'll give a few methods of dealing with it later on. Bees' stings and wasps' stings are different (both are sore!).

7, & 5, The bee dies after it stings (I'll explain why later on) so anyone bee can sting only once. The wasp on the other hand, can sting again and again. Either sting can be serious if a person is allergic to stings. I have got hundreds of stings and I'm still alive and interested in the bees.

9,   Yes, some animals can get stung by bees. In a way bees have their likes and dislikes. They don't seem to like horses and dogs, but they never bother with cats.

11,   Sting strength varies a little from bee to bee, but the variations are about the same in all countries.

12, 10,& 13, When one is stung, a certain mixture (bee venom) is pumped into the skin and flesh. The mixture is quite complicated, and later on if the class is able to understand it, I will explain. This mixture or poison is stored in what is called the Bulb (poison sac). It is a bit, in shape, like a miniature half-filled balloon.

14,   Don't worry about getting stung and not knowing it - you surely will know.

15,   There is no trouble about finding the spot that has been stung. The actual sting looks like a small thorn in the area that is painful. Never, ever try pulling it out. Instead just scrape it off with the nail of your finger.


1. Why or how are people or animals enemies of bees?
2. Why are some people allergic to bees?
3. Can a bee sting kill people who are allergic to bees?
4. Some of the people die and others live why is this?
5. How can you kill bees without sprays?
6. Is it true that there is a mite killing bees?
7. Are there any of these mites in Ireland?
8. Are the mites killing only honey bees or are they killing all kinds of bees?
9. How long are you (Sr. Catherine) interested in bees?


1,   To say that people are, or can be enemies of bees, is too strong maybe. However, if people use sprays or insecticides on crops that are being visited by bees, they are responsible for the death of these bees. Anybody, young people or people not so young, who tamper with hives when the bees are in cluster, can be responsible for the death of 10,000 or more bees in a hive. Animals such as badgers, sometimes, especially in the Winter, attack beehives and destroy them.

2, 3, & 4  I can't say why people are allergic to bee stings and others are not, nor can I say why some allergic people live and others die. This is a question for the medical profession, but from Beekeeping I know that if one suspects that he or she might be allergic, a Doctor can do a test which will clarify the matter. I also know that there is treatment to be had for allergic people who still want to continue Beekeeping. As well in the past few years, Laboratories are testing "sting mixture" in an effort to find a cure for Rheumatism, so maybe being stung is a good thing!


6,   Yes, there are mites which are responsible for the death of bees. These mites are called Varroa.

7,   They arrived in Ireland in 1999. They can be controlled if we all do what we should do.

8,   Varroa mites are specific to honey bees.

9,   How long am I interested in Bees? I have been interested since I was a child. As far back as my grandfather's time there were Bees and hives in the place, but I have my own hives only since 1980.

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Written... 12 & 13 May 2002