Bees are flying insects related to both ants and wasps. They are famous all over the world for the part they play in pollinating plants. Bees are a critical component in most ecosystems and highly valued in their own right.
Types of Bee
Like most species, bees come in a variety of subtypes.
Bumblebees are instantly recognisable for their large size, extensive “fluff” and intense buzzing sound while in flight. There are two dozen species of bumblebee in the UK, including the red-tailed, tree and white-tailed varieties. Most live in colonies ranging from twenty to several hundred. They are social bees, but rarely form giant nests like other species of bees and wasps.
· Mason bees
Mason bees are solitary bees that like to make their homes in small cavities. You will often find this bee species buzzing around old brick walls because of the small gaps in the brickwork where they lay their eggs. Mason bees are recognisable for their boxy heads and powerful, grasping jaws. The red mason bee is the most common. It has a brown thorax and orange abdomen and typically feeds on fruit trees, rapeseed crops and sallows.
· Mining bees
If you’ve ever stumbled across a hole in your lawn surrounded by excavated earth, it is probably the work of mining bees. While there are more than 67 types of this species worldwide, you’re only likely to see a couple. The most common is the tawny mining bee, famous for its coppery coat. This variety likes to feed on maples, fruit trees and dandelions. You may also come across the ashy mining bee, notable for its black and white markings. It typically lives on coastal grassland, moorland edges and open woodland.
· Honey bees
The honeybee is just one species in the UK. Most bees you find buzzing around in the wild are the product of domestication over hundreds of years. Today, it is rare to find a proper wild colony. Most honey beehives comprise up to 20, 000 individuals and are part of commercial production activities. Honey bees thrive on raspberry flowers, orchard trees and willow.
Bees also come in a variety of roles.
· Queen bee
The queen bee is at the centre of hive life. It is a female bee that produces most, if not all, of the offspring in the hive. Other bees will fiercely protect her if the colony comes under attack. Some hives have multiple queen bees. Thus, the term “queen bee” can sometimes apply to any group of dominant female bees that produce larvae. Some species even have dwarf queens ready to take over the task of producing offspring should anything happen to the queen.
· Worker bee
A worker bee is a member of the colony that lacks the reproductive capacity of the queen bee. Its primary role is to support the hive in non-reproductive ways, such as collecting nectar to turn into honey for the winter.
· Drone bee
A drone bee neither collects pollen nor has a stinger. Its primary role is to mate with the unfertilised queen. It only carries only one type of allele at each chromosomal position.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
Bees begin the process of making honey by visiting flowers in their environment. Typically, species have preferences for the type of flowering plants they choose.
To attract bees, flowers secrete a sweet substance called nectar. Bees use their mouths to consume these substances and store in a separate honey stomach, separated from their central alimentary canal.
Bees then travel back to the colony where they chew on it for a while and regurgitate it into the mouths of other worker bees who chew on it in turn. This process eventually leads to the breakdown of certain compounds in the nectar to produce what we call honey.
At the same time, bees construct honeycomb cells using wax secreted from their bodies. They then deposit the honey in these structures and fan them with their wings, encouraging them to dry out a little. Once the process is complete, the bees construct a wax lid, and the honey is ready for storage.
Why Do Bees Make Honey?
Flowering plants don’t usually produce nectar between December and February, providing bees with relatively few feeding opportunities. Bees make honey as a way to store the energy they need to sustain themselves over the winter. Honey acts as a larder, ready to provide calories when they need them.
Bees don’t make much honey throughout the year. A honey bee can work all summer and only produce about a teaspoon - enough to support around eight bees over the winter.
Interesting Bee Facts
- Bee nests are made of thousands of female worker bees, hundreds of male drone bees and a queen bee (sometimes more than one)
- Bees help pollinate the 90 per cent of plant species that depend on animal pollination of one kind or another
- Bees live in many different habitats including marshes, dunes, cliff edges, forests, heathlands, wetlands, chalk grasslands and even quarries
- Bees that appear to be struggling on the ground may just be resting
- Bees benefit from wild spaces, so many people turn a part of their garden over to nature to encourage the species to thrive
- Bees love traditional flower gardens containing marigolds, primrose and buddleia
- Bees have four wings, but they hook together while they are not flying, giving the appearance that they only have two
- Honey bees do something called the “waggle dance” which is a way that they communicate with other bees telling them that they’ve found a source of food
- Bees are highly intelligent because of their large brains - so much so that scientists have managed to train them in the past
- Bees have smelly feet that create footprints signals on flowers other members use to tell them if nectar has already been harvested
What Is A Killer Bee?
A killer bee - also called an Africanised bee - is a crossbreed of the western honey bee and the East African lowland bee. The species arrived in Brazil in the 1950s but escaped soon after and spread throughout the continent. It is more aggressive than the traditional honey bee, and researchers estimate that it may have killed more than 1, 000 people.
What Is the Difference Between A Wasp And A Bee?
Wasps and bees are part of the same insect family - Hymenoptera - a group that contains some 20, 000 species. There are, however, some crucial differences between them.
Wasps can sting multiple times with no adverse effects on their health. Bees, on the other hand, can only sting once. After they do, it begins a process that ultimately results in their death.
Bees and wasps differ visually. Most bees have a furry coat and appear fatter throughout the length of their bodies. Wasps, on the other hand, have smooth thoraxes and have a narrow waist where the lower half of their bodies attach to the upper section.
Wasps are adapted for raiding attacks on their prey and, therefore, have aerodynamic jackets that allow them to zip around quickly. Bees do not have the same manoeuvrability and tend to avoid airborne acrobatic displays.
Do Bumble Bees Sting?
Bumblebees can sting, but, in general, they are peaceful creatures and will not attack unless provoked.
How Long Do Bees Live?
Worker bees typically live around five to six weeks in the active summer season and perhaps as much as four to six months during the overwintering phase of the bee life cycle. Worker bees typically dedicate their lives to their jobs and will work without pause. Some researchers believe that they may literally work themselves to death.
What Are Solitary Bees?
Solitary bees don’t live in colonies but instead, make nests as their homes. While hive-dwelling bees - such as honey bees and bumblebees - are the most famous, the majority of bee species are solitary bees. In Britain, for instance, there are 270 bee species, with 250 of them choosing to live isolated lives.
What Do Bees Eat?
Bees typically eat nectar collected by foragers and stored in their honey stomachs. They also eat pollen that they pack into special baskets on their rear legs.
Bee-eaters are a group of birds that have evolved to eat bees. Most species of bee-eater are native to Africa.
Why Are Bees Important?
Bees are the world’s most important pollinator of commercial crops. It is estimated that these insects are responsible for the pollination of around one-third of the food that people eat. Examples include sunflowers, cherries, kale, cucumbers, almonds and blueberries.
Would you like to attract more bees to your garden? Here are some bee-friendly plants:
- Apple blossom
- Pussy willow
How Do You Remove Bees from Your Garden?
To remove bees, you’ll need to contact local removal experts. They use special bee equipment for bee nest removal, ensuring that the colony survives at a new location. In many parts of the world, bees are a protected species and cannot be exterminated.