The Book of Bees

Inside the Hives and Lives of Honeybees, Bumblebees, Cuckoo Bees, and Other Busy Buzzers


By Lela Nargi

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Filled with more than 150 beautiful, crystal-clear photos and bee fun facts, The Book of Bees is the ultimate guide for kids to explore the lives of these stunning insects and learn about their critical role in fostering a sustainable, healthy Earth.

Did you know there are blue bees and green bees? Or that one species of bee nests in snail shells? Or that many bees don’t live in hives? With more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide, there’s more to bees than just honey!
The Book of Bees gives curious kids a close-up view of busy buzzers from around the world. From the familiar Western honeybee to the extra-large Himalayan giant honeybee and Australia’s vibrant neon cuckoo bee, these pages are packed with detailed photos and fascinating facts on more than 50 species of bees. In-depth species profiles help you identify bees, learn about bee-havior, and find your favorites! And special features examine topics like hive life, nest cells, and other pollinators. The world of bees is exciting and surprising—and The Book of Bees will leave you buzzing!


A western honeybee collects nectar and pollen from a coneflower.

This beekeeper is dressed for success (in collecting honey from the hives, that is).

The Wide World of Bees and How We Identify Them

In a lot of ways, the 20,000 species of bees worldwide are alike. All bees have four wings. They all have a head, a thorax, and an abdomen that are clearly separate (see Bees at a Glance, here). They have two compound eyes on the sides of their heads. They have three simple eyes on the tops of their heads. They have antennae, mouthparts with a tongue, and jaws called mandibles. They might have a few teeth or a lot of them.


How can you tell one bee from another? This can be tricky. Even scientists sometimes have a hard time telling them apart. In the bee profiles throughout this book, you’ll get to look at the similarities and differences among species of bees. But sometimes, we need to do more research on hard-to-identify bees. One way is to practice—researchers spend lots of time studying bee species around the world. Another way is to get to know their taxonomy. A taxonomy is a system for arranging living things into smaller and smaller groups. It’s kind of like a family tree.

INSIDE THE HIVE: What Happens in a Honeybee Colony

Bees certainly keep busy, but a lot of their activity happens inside the hive or nest. Mason bees are solitary, but peek inside the hive of communal bees, and you’ll find hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bees all working together to support their colony. To do that, each bee has a job:

Queen: In each colony of bees, there is one queen whose job it is to lay all the eggs for the hive. Some queen bees will lay up to 2 million eggs in their lifetime!

Drone bees: In a hive with tens of thousands of bees, only about 100 are males, also known as drones. You can pick them out in a crowded hive by their bigger bodies and huge eyes. These guys have just one job: mate with the queen. That’s all they do—they’re otherwise fed and cared for by worker bees.

Worker bees: Every single bee in a colony that’s not a queen bee or a drone is a worker bee. All worker bees are female, and they do everything but lay eggs or mate. Worker bees will have several jobs in their lives:

Dwarf honeybees (Apis florea) resting on the outside of their hive.

Cleaner: Someone needs to keep the hive tidy!

Nurse: These worker bees take care of eggs and larva.

Fanner: They help transform nectar into honey by fanning it with their wings.

Nectar mover: These bees take nectar from foragers and deposit it in cells.

Wax maker: When they’re about two weeks old, worker bees’ bodies start producing wax flakes. They use this to build new cells and seal off the ones filled with honey.

Guard: These workers defend the hive from invaders.

Forager: These worker bees fly out in search of pollen and nectar, then bring it back to the hive.

Honeybees inside their hive. Can you spot the queen?

Busy worker bees.


Family: Apidae

Genus: Apis

When people think of bees, they usually think of honeybees. In fact, the Latin word for a honeybee—apis—means “bee.” Humans and honeybees have a long history together. For thousands of years, we have domesticated them, raising them for honey. Archaeologists have even found honey in ancient Egyptian tombs. For about 100 years, commercial beekeepers have raised honeybees too. They rent them to farmers to pollinate crops.

Ancient cultures, such as the Mayans, kept other types of bees for honey, especially some of the 500 species of stingless bees. But most of us today get our honey from two species of honeybees called Apis mellifera and Apis cerana.

There are six other species of honeybees. Two are medium size, just like Apis mellifera and Apis cerana. Two are huge (Megapis), and two are tiny (Micrapis). In total, there are 44 subspecies of honeybees. Not one of them is native to North America.

Honeybee species are a lot alike. They all have queens, worker females, and male drones. Female workers have barbed stingers. Queens have ovipositors—used for laying eggs—instead. Male drones have no stingers and no ovipositors. Instead, each one has an endophallus for mating with the queen.

All honeybee species are social and live together in colonies in wax hives. They also have hairy bodies and even hairy eyeballs to help them collect pollen. They are superorganisms. That means the colony itself is like one big organism made up of bees. One bee cannot survive without all the other bees.

Western honeybee (also known as the European honeybee)

Apis mellifera


If you are from North America, you often see Apis mellifera in gardens and parks. They are the only honeybees around. But these bees are immigrants. They were brought over by Europeans back in the 1600s. Why? Because they are great pollinators. A colony of honeybees can pollinate a lot of food crops. They also make a loooot of honey. It is their main food. But they can make enough for beekeepers to share.

One honeybee queen makes all the babies in the colony. She lives for two or three years. A few thousand male drones live for three months. They have one job, although only 5 or 10 of them are lucky enough to do it. They mate with the queen. Up to 60,000 female workers do everything else for the colony. They protect it. (That is why workers have stingers—ouch!) They raise the babies. They clean. They feed the queen. They collect pollen and nectar. A worker can fly eight miles in a day and visit 1,000 flowers.

All these bees live together in a hive built of wax. This comes from wax glands in a worker bee’s abdomen. A bee chews the wax to soften it, and then she spits it out and forms it into a honeycomb. Workers in the wild build honeycombs inside tree hollows or caves.


Europe, Middle East, Africa


Female worker: 0.4–0.6 inch (10–15 mm) long

Queen: 0.8 inch (20 mm) long

Male: 0.7 inch (18 mm) long

How many differences can you spot between a male drone (bottom) and a female worker?

Asiatic honeybee

Apis cerana


For 9,000 years, humans have eaten honey from honeybees. We’ve collected their wax to make things like candles and lip balm. We raise them to pollinate our crops. Our lives would be less sweet—and we would be a lot hungrier—without honeybees.

Asiatic honeybees are the same shape and color as western honeybees (Apis mellifera). They have other things in common too. For example, workers collect pollen on their bodies and legs and eyes. They collect nectar by slurping it with their tongues. They roll pollen and nectar together into balls, then carry the balls home in “baskets” on the backs of their legs. The scientific word for this basket is corbicula.

Asiatic honeybees live all over Asia. They can survive in hot places and cold places, in dry places and wet places, and at high and low altitudes. The higher up in the mountains the bees live, the bigger they are.

Honeybees build nests out of wax inside tree cavities. Each nest contains a special room shaped like a peanut. Only queens are raised inside it.

Like all honeybees, Asiatic honeybees forage in many types of flowers. They are generalists. They are important pollinators of coconuts, spices, mangos, cashews, and guava. Yum!


Southern Asia into Russia, Australia


Female worker: 0.3–0.35 inch (7–9 mm) long

Queen: 0.4 inch (11 mm) long

Male drone: 0.35–0.4 inch (9–10 mm) long

A female Apis cerana has a longer abdomen than a male.

Asian giant honeybee

Apis dorsata


Apis dorsata isn’t just bigger than other honeybees. It does cool stuff others don’t.

For starters, these bees don’t bother to hide their nests inside hollow trees. Instead, they build honeycombs on tree branches and underneath cliffs, right out in the open. The combs hang like big droopy drips. Sometimes there are 50 big droopy drips hanging from the same “bee tree.” Sometimes the combs are 75 feet (23 m) in the air.

The brood of baby bees is snug inside the comb. Honey and pollen are also stored inside. Thousands of worker bees cover the whole outside of the comb. This protects the contents of the comb, even from wind and rain. Also safe: as much as 33 pounds (15 kg) of honey.

Beekeepers tried for a long time to domesticate this species. It did not work. So instead, locals climb a bee tree in the middle of the night to harvest wild Apis dorsata honey. It is dangerous for the humans because of the height and because they are sometimes attacked by tigers. And it is dangerous for the bees because sometimes the humans knock down whole hives.

Apis dorsata bees live in tropical places. They forage in many kinds of tropical plants. They are very important pollinators of mangos and litchis, lemons and star fruit, squashes and radishes, coconuts and coffee, and pepper and macadamia nuts. Are you getting hungry yet?


India, Southeast Asia


0.7–0.8 inch (17–20 mm) long

Apis dorsata is huge and hairy. Note the bulging compound eye of the male (bottom).

How Honey Happens

Oh, honey. That delicious golden stuff that you drizzle onto breakfast cereal or ice cream. It just makes life sweeter! You might know that bees make honey. But how, exactly, does honey happen?

It starts with a forager bee (see Inside the Hive here for more on the different roles bees have). Forager bees fly out from the hive to collect nectar, that sugary liquid made by plants, and pollen. When a forager bee finds a delicious flower, it slurps up the nectar with its proboscis and stores it in its crop. The crop is a special nectar-holding pocket in the front of the bee’s stomach. It allows the bee to drink the nectar but not digest it.


On Sale
Mar 8, 2022
Page Count
128 pages

Lela Nargi

About the Author

Lela Nargi is the author of science books for kids, including The Honeybee Man (Schwartz & Wade, 2011, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker), Absolute Expert: Volcanoes and Absolute Expert: Dinosaurs (National Geographic, 2018), and two upcoming books of opposites for Templar. She's also a journalist and her work has appeared in The Washington Post KidsPost, Science News for Students, Highlights, Muse, and many other publications for children (and adults). She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her family and two bunnies. 

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