bee biology

Is a honey bee a single-celled organism?

I try to operate under the assumption that there is no such thing as a dumb question, so I usually think hard about what a person is trying to ask. I almost wrote this one off until it occurred to me that talk of a honey bee colony being a “superorganism” might be the problem.

Some people describe the honey bee superorganism by comparing individual bees to individual cells. They draw an analogy by saying an individual bee cannot live without the colony just like an individual cell from your body cannot survive without the rest of you. I’m sure that comparison has confused more than one person.

Assuming that is the case, the answer is simply “no.” Like any other insect, a bee is a complex organism with many cells differentiated into various tissue types, each of which do different things. For the best description of the honey bee as a superorganism, see The Buzz about Bees by Jürgen Tautz (2008).



  • Hi Rusty:

    I was just painting my new supers this afternoon and wanted to get your opinion on something:

    I will be receiving three queen packages of Georgia bees on 13 April and plan on installing them the same day. I am wondering if feeding them dry sugar on uninked newsprint paper would be an alternative to sugar water. I would put it on the inner cover and put slits in the newsprint. I have used the Boardman feeder and that has worked well but it would seem like the dry sugar would be a bit easier and a bit more convenient. Any thoughts?


    BTW, I am in NE Massachusetts in case that makes a difference.

    • Rich,

      Sugar syrup in the ratio of 1:1 is intended to simulate nectar. This syrup or “nectar” encourages brood rearing because the bees believe that plenty of nectar is now available so it is safe to raise a large family. I don’t think sugar crystals have the same effect. Granulated sugar works fine for winter feeding, but in winter very little brood is being raised. The granulated sugar certainly won’t hurt your bees and they might even consume it, but I doubt it will stimulate brood rearing, which is what you really want.

  • In our third year. Nursing just two and a half hives through a long, cold, English ‘Spring’. Had enough variation in behaviour (both bee and human), environment, weather etc to convince us that there is no end to this learning.

  • I am about 6 months into beekeeping and I can’t begin to tell you how much I have learned. I read all I can about the subject and find bees to be the most fascinating thing I have encountered in my 67 years. If I can get anyone to sit still I either tell them about my bees or ask them to tell me about bees if they have any working knowledge.
    I always remind my wife that I could have taken up golf cheaper but it would be nearly as much fun.

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