One of our most iconic and well loved insects must surely be – the bee. Although we probably know quite a bit about them, still there is some interesting stuff on these guys…
Bees are part of the Apoidea family – their cousins being ants and wasps. Like their relies, bees often live socially as a colony; but there are quite a number of these little buzzers that prefer to go it alone – and these are the solitary bees.
There are lots of kinds of bees in the world – about 20,000 species in total. We can split these into social bees – these are: honey bees, bumble bees and stingless bees. Then there are the solitary bees – these are: mason bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees (so called because they’re attracted to perspiration – mmm well each to their own!)
Bees come in a range of sizes from the tiniest being a mere 2mm (0.08 inches) up to a much meatier 39mm (1.5 inches). They’ve busily spread themselves all over and live on in every continent except antarctica (wise!)
As we all know, bees need flowering plants from which they harvest nectar – which is the turbo fuel they need to power them along; and pollen, which gives them protein. They also use this tucker to feed their young larvae and not forgetting the iconic honey bees, who perform the neat trick of turning some of their nectar into the sweet delight they take their name from
As the name suggests, social bees live in a colony and this gives them the benefit of being able to work together – spreading the workload and benefiting from strength and safety in numbers. It’s a mainly female affair, with a queen bee, who lays all the eggs; worker bees (yes girls again) and a few drones (males) that are for mating purposes (the guys have their uses!) As well as keeping each other company, the colony can share information – the famous waggle dance where a worker bee shakes her booty to tell other bees where to find the best stash of nectar – far more entertaining than a sat nav!
Have you ever looked closely at a bee? If you did, you would see they have 5 eyes! 3 simple eyes that detect light and two large compound eyes. They have 4 wings and 2 multipurpose antennae, which bristle with technology to allow the bee to taste, smell and hear – great design! Also, on their heads you’d find their jaws and their tongue (proboscis) which is all important for sucking up that yummy nectar.
As well as all this kit, many bees also sport specialised combs on their legs – when they decide it’s time for a tidy up, they collect pollen from their hairy bodies and pop their collected stash into pollen baskets on their legs. Speaking of hairy bodies, bumble bees are particularly hirsute – having a snuggly coat helps keep them warm on cool days and they’re often the first to brave it in the early spring.
You’d think there wouldn’t be too many creatures who’d want to put bees on their menu – but there are some hardy souls who do; namely certain types of birds and primates, and some wasps, spiders and dragonflies.
As for us, we’ve long had a close relationship with bees – one bee in particular, of course, the honey bee, has lived alongside humans for thousands of years. When we think of honey bees, naturally we picture a busy hive, buzzing with activity; but as well as providing us with food, bees have bumbled their way into our folklore, religion and psyche. The symbol of a bee has long been seen as one of wisdom, industriousness and positivity – most recently, it was used to symbolise hope and peace in the wake of the Manchester bombing
Bees have inspired music, painting and stories. Even today, many beekeepers will make sure they tell their bees all the latest family gossip – it’s very important to keep these guys up to date!
Bee keeping can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt – did you know that honey has been found in Ancient Egyptians tombs? And it is thought it would still be edible because honey that remains sealed doesn’t go off! (not too sure I’d want to try it though!)
Honey has also taken its place in our traditions – after all, it was how we sweetened things before sugar reared its head. In ancient times, it was very precious and if you had honey, you were in the money! Nowadays, many folks still swear by honey, believing it has numerous health benefits and healing powers.
When you’re spreading a bit of this golden treasure on your bread, give a thought to our buzzing bounty providers – it takes one bee its entire life (which is a mere 7 weeks) to produce just 5grams (not quite 0.2 oz) – no wonder they’re always so busy!
Speaking of buzziness (!!) bees (along with other insets) provide an invaluable service of pollinating plants. This not only ensures the plants are fertilised, but helps to sustain, entire ecosystems. Indeed, bees pollinate at least one third of all the crops we eat and sustain many other creatures. It’s believed that humans would not be able to survive without our buzzing buddies.
As hopefully we’re all aware by now, bees are struggling. They’ve taken a massive hit from climate change, loss of habitat, pesticides and diseases like bee mites. So, there are many campaigns running to raise awareness and encourage us all to give them a boost.
If we’ve a garden, we can grow bee friendly plants (usually open flowers like daisies); we can let a bit of our patch become wilder again to support wild plants and we can even put up bee hotels to provide them with a homestead.
Let’s hope we can lend a hand to our benevolent and beautiful buddies.
After all, amongst insects, they’re surely the bee’s knees?
Ever wondered how bumble bees fly? Find out in next week’s blog – The Flight of the Bumblebee!