What’s the buzz
about bees?

We all know the bee basics.
They’re important pollinators. They make honey. They buzz. They like to join you at picnics.

But did you know that they also provide us with medicines and even help keep our planet beautiful and healthy?

Let’s look at these incredible insects and at the diverse range of beekeeping systems used around the world and earn Bee Medals in the process!

Bee diverse: Bees come in all shapes and sizes

Having adapted to local environments, you can find a wide range of bee species and races living in different regions of our planet. Several species (and subspecies) are kept by humans for honey production or pollination services, including:


Western honeybees (Apis mellifera)

This species is standard in Europe, Middle East, Oceania, Americas, Africa and West Asia. It is likely the most well-known type of honeybee.

Photo: ©Aleš Gregorc


Eastern or Asiatic honeybees (Apis cerana)

This is the only other honeybee managed by humans. It is native to East and South Asia.


Stingless bees (Melipona spp.)

This social bee, with limited adaptation to cold conditions, is found in the tropics.

Photo: ©B. Taubert


Bumblebees (Bombus spp.)

This prolific, brightly colored bee can be found in almost all regions around the world and is a very important crop pollinator.

Photo: ©D. Roubik

Way more than just honey

It’s not just the diversity of bees that’s amazing, so too are the huge range of services they provide.

Together with wild pollinators, bees play a major role in maintaining biodiversity and ensuring the survival and reproduction of many plants. They also ensure forest regeneration, increase sustainability and adaptation to climate change and improve the quantity and quality of agricultural production systems. And that’s just the start!

We have so much to thank bees for

Bees provide us with a huge range of products, whether via pollination services or directly from the hive. In fact, you might be surprised by how many products bees have a hand in creating. As well as honey, some of the most well-known hive products include:



Produced by worker honeybees, beeswax is used in a multitude of products from candles to lip balm and beyond.

Photo: ©FAO/TECA


Royal jelly

Royal jelly is produced by nurse worker bees to feed larvae and the queen bee. It is harvested by beekeepers and, due to its curative properties, is sold as a health food.

Photo: ©D’Ascenzi C., Pasini B., Palmieri C.



A mixture of tree resin and bee secretion, propolis is valued for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Propolis has the highest commercial value of all hive products because of its potential use in apitherapy.

Photo: ©Sjøgren P.

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Here’s to the beekeepers

As we have seen, bees enrich our lives. But beekeepers also deserve a round of applause.

Beekeeping is a worldwide activity and hundreds of thousands of small-scale beekeepers depend on bees for their livelihoods. It also represents a viable means to improve the resilience and livelihoods of rural and indigenous communities.

Because beekeeping can be done with locally available material and limited resources, it offers decent working opportunities and income generation to people in extreme poverty, women, young people and even persons with disabilities.

While the diversity of bees is amazing, so is the variety of systems and innovations developed to keep them, including beehives ranging from various local-style to complex contemporary hives.


Local-style hives

Local-style hives are made with locally available materials, which usually means they are affordable to make. Many types have been developed in the different regions of the world. They can be highly profitable, are ecologically viable, and can form the basis for large, healthy and genetically strong bee populations.


Movable frame hives

Movable frame hives can be opened, allowing beekeepers to see what is happening inside and therefore, letting beekeepers intervene in the hive and conduct activities like treatments of diseases without destroying the honeycombs. However, these types of hives require more money and other resources compared to local-style hives.

Photo: ©Paolo Fontana

Contemporary hives

Several new hives have been designed in recent decades. Some of these hives are inspired by a desire for greater harmony with nature, while others are based on innovative technologies. One example of a natural beehive is the rotating hive. Such hives are often complex and expensive, and not always based on scientific evidence.

You can find out more about the variety of beekeeping systems and technologies at FAO’s Technologies and Practices for Small Agricultural Producers website.

But challenges are looming

Unfortunately, both bee diversity and bee populations are under pressure on multiple fronts.

Unsustainable agricultural intensification, pesticides, pests and pathogens have a negative impact on bee populations. So too does the displacement of locally adapted bees by exotic bees, habitat destruction, and climate change.

A decline in bees could have disastrous effects for the future of food. Nutritious crops like fruits, nuts, and many vegetable crops will be increasingly substituted by staple crops like rice, corn, and potatoes, resulting in an imbalanced diet.

Now you know the A-Zs of bees and beekeeping!

By taking part in our quiz, you've earned out of 5 Bee Medals.

Let's call it a bee minus. Good start, maybe you can do better next time!

Now invite your friends to take part too and show the world why bees and beekeepers deserve our appreciation for all their hard work.

Curious to know more?

FAO's Good beekeeping practices for sustainable apiculture takes an in-depth look at the diversity of bees and beekeeping systems. Take a look and find out all there is to know about our fascinating flying friends.

You may also be interested in the following FAO resources too: