Five surprising facts you might not know about bees

They make honey. They live in hives. They have a queen. Right? Not always! Learn more about wild bees.

Save the bees


Dave Angelini | Used by permission
A bumblebee looks for pollen in nodding lilac flowers.

Take Action

You might see bees buzzing about while outside in the spring and summer, but what do you know about them? Most bees in the United States actually live very different lives than you may have heard.

Here are five surprising things to know about bees:

  1. There are thousands of unique bee species in the U.S. 

Throughout the United States, about 4,000 unique bee species can be found buzzing through the air.

They are differentiated based on their size, color and favorite flowers. The tiny yellow Perdita minima is the world’s smallest bee at just 2 millimeters (about the size of the point of a crayon), while the carpenter bee grows to the size of a grape.

Other bees are known by their particular taste in flowers. The squash bee specializes in pollinating zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkins and other gourds.

Several vibrant, colorful bees deviate from the classic striped pattern of black and yellow. Bees can be metallic blue, brilliant green and golden amber. Sweat bees are one group of bee species that tend to be metallic green or blue.

  1. Bees don’t eat just pollen and nectar, and they don’t all make honey

We rely on bees to keep our ecosystems and agriculture thriving. Bees pollinate 80% of flowering plants and their pollination is essential to more than 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food.

Some bees have saddlebags that they fill with pollen to bring back to their hives, like a minuscule cowboy saddling up to explore new frontiers and find the best pollen in the Wild West. But some bees eat flower oil, and the sweat bee actually drinks human sweat to fill its belly.

Though bumblebees can make small batches of a honey-like substance and the cellophane bee brews a beer-like beverage from fermented pollen and agave nectar, no native bee produces the kind of honey that we eat. Not all bees live in a beehive, either. About 70% actually live underground.

  1. Bees love to dance 

Honeybees get a lot of hype for their waggle dance, which they use to communicate about pollen sources, potential threats and even possible new beehives to call home. 

But bumblebees vibrate their bodies to shake pollen loose in a process called “buzz pollination.” Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and more require buzz pollination to produce fruit. 

What’s more fun than a dancing bee?

  1. They don’t all hail the queen

Just 9% of all bee species are social like honeybees. These bees share a nest, hold specialized jobs, and are headed by a queen bee. Queen bees have a big role in the hive. She births all the baby bees (up 10 1500 in one day!) and serves as the mother of the hive, making sure all the worker and drone bees are doing their jobs. 

But they’re more of an exception — more than 75% of all bee species are solitary. A solitary female bee builds and defends her nest, lays her eggs, and gathers nectar and pollen all on her own, without help from any other bee.

  1. Wild bees face extinction (unless we take action)

Wild bees may be wildly diverse, but they all deal with the same triple threat of climate change, habitat loss and the widespread use of bee-killing pesticides. 

Bees buzz in all kinds of habitat, from your home garden to farms to fields of wildflowers. But when our landscapes are saturated with bee-killing pesticides, safe havens for the bees are few and far between.

Because of these threats, more than one-quarter of North American bumble bees are facing risk of extinction. The American bumblebee has declined by 90 percent and has vanished completely from eight states — but it hasn’t been granted endangered species protections.

We want to see this bee flourish again, buzzing through our gardens for generations to come. But to make this hope a reality, we need to give American bumble bees endangered species protections. 

Sign our petition calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the American bumblebee as an endangered species. 

Save the Bees canvass campaign summer 2023
Marc Olivier LeBlanc | Used by permission
Save the bees Oakland office