Pollinator Prose – 10 Debunked Myths

March 27, 2023

Bee on Lavender

“Lavender Bee” by Bennilover CC BY-ND 2.0

By Beth Rigby

Spring is finally upon us! With the return of spring, we see a plethora of pollinators emerge to begin their important work. As you observe the bees this season, you might be wondering where they live, where royal jelly comes from, or if they sleep. Check out the below list for “10 Debunked Myths” to answer some of your questions.


“Bee” by Holly Occhipinti CC BY 2.0.

1. Most bees are honeybees
According to the US Geological survey, more than 20,000 species of bees have been identified, 4,000 of which are native to the United States. Of the 20,000 species, less than 4% make honey. That means that over 19,000 species of bees do not make honey!

2. All bees eat pollen and nectar
It is true that most bees are herbivores, feeding on nectar and pollen found in angiosperm plants. However, there are several species of bees that are carnivorous. For example, a few stingless bees in the Neotropics scavenge for food and feed on vertebrate carcasses. Reverting to carnivorous patterns is rare for bees, but still found in nature today.

3. All bees live in beehives
Beehives are often comically portrayed in cartoons, and on honey packages, but there are several other habitats that are suitable for the immense variety of bee species. Bee- habitats can be found in marshes, wetlands, quarries, sand dunes, soil, mud, and wood. Several bee species are ground nesters, creating unique tunnels in sand, soil, and mud. Some will take advantage of pre-existing holes in dead wood, often made by other insects. Examples of hole-nesters include mason and leafcutter bees. Other species of bees will create their own burrows using their strong jaws. Carpenter bees are well known for their burrowing behavior; they will create holes in soft wood.

Honey bee

“Honey Bee & Gray Nickerbean” by
Bob Peterson CC BY 2.0

4. Most bees are aggressive and will sting
Generally, most bees will harass predators to ward them off, instead of stinging. A recent study has shown that only 25% of pursuing bees ended up stinging their provoker. Bees typically sting as a last result, as a bee will die several hours after losing a stinger. There are many species of bees that will not sting you if left unprovoked, examples include solitary bees and male carpenter bees. In general, it’s best to leave bees alone; try not to swat at them aggressively or provoke them.

5. All farmland is good for bees
Although bees pollinate a plethora of crops, not all farmland has the biodiversity to encourage the survival of bees. In Iowa, for example, less than 0.1% of prairie grassland remains of the original 85% statewide coverage. The monoculture of crops like corn have drastically reduced the biodiversity, which has caused a decline in the pollinator population.

6. Honeybees are the best pollinators
True to their name, honeybees are the best at producing honey. They are not, however, the best pollinators. Many native species of solitary or bumblebees are better. Bumblebees cause increased pollen release and are active for more of the year.

7. Bees remain in one role for life
A worker bee will have different responsibilities during different phases of its life. The worker bee will begin by performing duties inside the nest. Once the bee is middle aged (13 to 16 days old) the bee will begin guarding activities, about 10% of a colony’s workers serve as guards. After 1 to 3 days of guarding, the bee will perform foraging tasks.

Honey Bee

“July Honey Bee” by MattX27 CC BY-SA 2.0

8. The Queen Bee produces royal jelly
Royal jelly is secreted from the hypopharyngeal glands of worker bees and nurse bees. The hypopharyngeal gland can be found along the side of a bee’s head. Nurse bees have the largest hypopharyngeal glands and consume large amounts of pollen and nectar to secrete more royal jelly.

9. All bees are inactive in winter
The vast majority species of bees are inactive during the colder months. According to a Tufts University article from 2020, “Honeybees are unique in that they are the only insect pollinator that is awake and active throughout the entire winter.” This is partly due to the massive colony size of the honeybee. To stay warm, honeybees slowly and continuously flex their wings. The vibrations from this repeated action will keep the bees and their hives warm.

10. Bees don’t sleep
In 1983, Walter Kaiser discovered that honeybees do in fact sleep. Kaiser noted that for 5-8 hours a day, the honeybees would bring their head to the floor as their antennae stopped moving. Honeybees, bumble bees, and solitary bees all sleep for several hours.