Bees belong to the insect Order Hymenoptera
which include wasps, ants and sawflies. There are believed
to be between 10,000 to 20,000 different species of bees.
Some bees are social insects like the honey bee, while
other bees live very independently of each other. Bees
carry pollen by the fine hairs on their legs and body. The
Honeybee is one of the most important insects
on the planet. Some plants need bees to pollinate,
without bees there would be no fruit, vegetables
or seeds. It is estimated that nearly a third of our
daily diet comes from crops pollinated by bees. The most
agressive and deadly of all the bees is the Killer Bee, aka the African Honeybee.
The first thing that usually comes to mind when
thinking about bees, is their sting. Well, interestingly
not all bees sting. No, some bees have no sting at all.
But the bees that do, can delivery a nasty and painful
sting. Branched body hair is one of the main
features which distinguish a bee from a wasp, wasps
have little or no hair on their bodies. The hair, along
with an electrostatic charge, enable the pollen to stay
attached to the insect. Hair isn't
just confined to the bee's body, its mouthpart
also consist of a hairy tongue (unlike other
members in Hymenoptera). The hairy tongue is used
for sucking up nectar from flowers. The Honeybee has hair
protruding from its eyes. The bee's mouthpart also has two
strong mandibles (jaws) which function like hands. The
mandibles are used for eating pollen, building nests,
fending off other insects and feeding the larvae. Bees can
identify members of their own colony by an odor. The odor
is picked up by a scent organ located on the
bee's antennae. Any bee not smelling right is
killed instantly. Bees don't have ears so they communicate
through a series of dance moves. For more info
click the dance of the bees.
Bees can be found on every continent of the
world except Antartica. Bees live in hives (man-made) or
nests which can be found in trees, on branches or in
burrows underground. The hives have chambers for storage
of nectar & pollen and for their larvae. There is
usually only one queen per hive, though in some species
there can be more than one queen in a colony. The
role of the queen is to produce baby bees known as larvae.
Also inside the hives are hundereds of drones, which are
males, and thousands of worker bees which are female. Bees
provide their own airconditioning for the nest. To cool
their house down, the worker bees stand inside the
entrance to the nest and fan their wings.
Love them or hate them, bees play an important
part of the eco system. As a pollinator of plants,
they carry the pollen from one plant to
another, helping the plants to cross pollinate, ensuring
the plants survival .
So how do the bees do this? Well they are infact hairy little
creatures, covered in fine hairs. The
hairs virtually cover their entire bodies, from head
to foot. Whilst the bee is busily drinking up the nectar with
its tongue, pollen sticks to the fine hairs aided greatly
by an electrostatic charge. If you watch a bee closely,
you can sometimes see the female bee enter a flower
and roll around in the pollen trapping it onto their
hairs. You can often see them use their legs to groom
themselves, thus rubbing the pollen around their head and into the storing basket
on their hind legs (corbiculum). The bee then flies off to
another flower and then another, pollinating as it
goes. The pollen rubs off the bee's body and hairs, onto
the flower's pistils making the pollination process
complete. Bees are such an essential part of the
pollination process that some plants rely solely on the
bees for their reproduction.
In some cases farmers have had to rent or hire bees from
keepers to help in the pollination of crops such as cherry
So what's in it for the bee?
Well, bees need the pollen and nectar from flowers for food,
especially during the winter seasons when most of the flowers
are dead and the bees are bundled up in their nests,
hungry and cold. Secondly the bees need nectar and pollen to
create honey to feed their young.
It isn't all smooth sailing for the bee, they have many
predators. A queen must lay up to 2,000 eggs a day just to keep
up with the casualty rate. Birds, bugs, spiders,
dragonflies and humans are the bees greatest enemies.
Birds and dragonflies love feeding on
bees, picking off unsuspecting workers in
flight. Whilst the bee has to be watchful for flying
predators, it must also be wary of enemies on the ground.
Lurking in the foliage, waiting for a bee to come in for the
sweet nectar, are the Assassin Bugs and Flower & Crab
Spiders. They just love ambushing prey and the bee is one of
their favourite insects on their menu. Pesticides and
insecticides are also one of the bees worst enemies. Spray on
flowers and plants can kill the bee or worse, contaminate the
pollen which will later be consumed by the colony and sadly
result in multiple deaths.
Friend and Foe
The honeybee is the bee with a sting. If you have ever been
stung by a bee you know how painful it can be. The sting is
a defence mechanism which is probably designed to protect
not the individual bee (as the bee dies after inflicting the
sting) but more the nest in which the bee is working hard to
support. The bee tries to avoid using its sting on its day
to day activities of looking for pollen but has no qualms about
using it if it thinks its nest is in jeopardy. The sting
releases attack pheromones and may trigger a dangerous
anaphylactic reaction that is potentially deadly to us humans.
The pheromones let other bees known of the potential
threat to their nest and if you hang around long enough you may
find yourself under attack by more angry bees. Bees can
sometimes be found low to the ground in search of their
precious pollen. Flowers like dandelions are an attractive food
source to the honeybee. Unfortunately for anyone walking
barefooted they are potentially at risk of accidently
treading on the bee, resulting in a sting.