Bee

The bee is primarily known for producing honey and pollinating flowers. They are found worldwide wherever insect-dependent pollinating plants occur. Bees are closely related to wasps but are easily distinguished due to their hairy bodies compared to the smooth, thin-waisted wasps and the diet of both their offspring. The former feed their larvae a mix of pollen and nectar, while wasps provide their young with insects and spiders for food.

Scientific Classification

Animalia
Arthropoda
Insecta
Hymenoptera

Scientific Classification

Animalia
Arthropoda
Insecta
Hymenoptera

These insects make a characteristic buzzing sound – generated as a result of moving their wings rapidly. This is important in the delivery of pollen from different flowers. Bees are often raised for their honey – this process is called apiculture or beekeeping.

List of the Common Types of Bees

Bees can be broadly classified into two types – the social bees, which form colonies consisting of a fertile queen, workers, and drones, and the solitary and communal bees, where every female bee is fertile and lacks the same hierarchy as the social species.

Social Bees

  • American Bumblebee
  • Western Honeybee
  • Common Eastern Bumblebee
  • Killer Bee
  • European Dark Bee
  • Italian Bee
  • Cape Honeybee
  • Golden Northern Bumblebee
  • Western Bumblebee
  • Brown-Belted Bumblebee
  • Russian Honeybee
  • Buckfast Bee

Solitary Bees

  • Violet Carpenter Bee
  • Eastern Carpenter Bee
  • Tawny Mining Bee
  • Red Mason Bee
  • Mignonette Yellow-Face Bee
  • Banksia Bee
  • Wallace’s Giant Bee
  • Valley Carpenter Bee
  • Golden-Green Carpenter Bee
  • Small Scabious Mining Bee
  • Orchard Mason Bee
  • European Wool Carder Bee
  • Pigmented Miner Bee

Bee

Physical Description and Appearance

Size: Length: 0.08-1.54 in (2-39 mm)

The smallest known bee are the workers of the dwarf stingless bees, which is 0.08 in, while the largest is Wallace’s giant bee at 1.54 in.

Eyes: Bees have 5 eyes – two compound eyes, which cover the surface of their heads, and three simple eyes.

Body and Coloration: They have a segmented antenna, consisting of an elbow joint, the number varying in both sexes. The males have 13 segments, while in the females, it is 12. Their mouthparts have a pair of mandibles for chewing and a long proboscis for sucking up nectar.

The thorax is segmented into three parts, each having a pair of legs, with a total of six. There is a pair of wings on the last two segments. The forewings and the hindwings are synchronized in flight, connected by a row of hooks along their margin. The abdomen has nine parts; the last three are modified into a sting.

While commonly perceived as black and yellow because of the coloration of the honeybee, bees come in various hues like black, blue, green, orange, purple, red, and white.

Bee Eyes

Distribution

Bees can be found in every continent, with the sole exception of Antarctica.

Habitat

These insects live wherever flowering plants grow, including gardens, meadows, orchards, and woodlands. They build nests in places hidden from predators like tree boles or cavities, underneath the grass, or underground.

Bee Nest

How long do they live

In the case of social species, workers have a lifespan of 6 weeks, drones for 8 weeks, and the queen can live for several years.

Solitary bees thrive for much shorter periods than social ones, 4-6 weeks only.

What do they eat

Most bees are nectarivorous and palynivorous, their primary diet consisting of nectar and pollen. However, some, like the vulture bees, consume carrion and larvae of wasps.

Bee Images

All bees make honey as a food reserve for harsh periods, like the colder seasons when there aren’t enough flowering plants.

Behavior

  • Despite common assumptions, most bees are, in fact, not social. The majority of them are solitary, like the carpenter or mining bees, followed by parasites, such as cuckoo bees, while the remaining of the lot are eusocial in nature.  The social bees form a colony to survive, while solitary wasps build nests only for themselves and their offspring. Parasitoid wasps lay eggs in the nests of solitary species, with hatch and kill the larvae of the parent.
  • Bees communicate with the help of dance. Waggling helps the swarm by providing directions towards good food sources while trembling indicates receiver bees in the hive to accept the nectar brought by the foragers.
  • These insects only sting to defend themselves and their nests against intruders. Some species, like the honey bee, are altruistic, not afraid to die while saving their nests from predators.
  • During winter, the social bees stop flying, and the workers and drones will cluster around the queen and shiver to keep her warm. They become active again in the spring.
Bee Photo

Predators

Bees have several different predators. Birds like  bee-eaters, flycatchers, and shrikes hunt them mid-flight, while the honey buzzard directly attacks the nest. The greater honeyguide, as its name suggests, guides humans towards beehives. After the hive has been broken and the honey taken away, it then feeds on the larvae and wax used to build the nest. Among mammals, badgers will dig up bumblebee nests in search of larvae to eat.

There are many invertebrates that prey upon bees. Insects like praying mantises and predatory bugs, and arthropods like crab spiders specifically target bees who come to pollinate flowers. Other predatory insects include wasps like the beewolf, and graveflies, and robber flies.  

Male Bee

Adaptations

  • The females of most bees carry a sting, except for stingless and mining bees. These are used in self-defense and to protect the nest.
  • Like other insects, antennae on bees act as a sensor for multiple key senses like smell, taste, touch, and feeling vibrations.
  • Most bees are brightly colored, acting as a warning to deter predators.
  • Bees have several adaptations to carry pollen, including hair on their hind limbs that act as “pollen baskets”. They also generate an electrostatic charge to attract pollen towards them.

How do they reproduce

The reproduction of bees is sexual, with the queen mating with male drones from other colonies. Drones immediately look for a mate after emerging and die shortly after mating.

Female Bee

Life Cycle

All bee species hatch from an egg, go through a larval stage which is whitish, oval, and bluntly pointed at both ends, overwinter as a pupa, and then emerge in the spring as an adult.

The queen controls the gender of the eggs laid, as it can control the sperm stored in it and release it to fertilize certain eggs. Fertilized eggs develop into females, either workers or queens, while unfertilized eggs become males. The eggs and larvae are initially cared for by the queen and later by the workers. Males tend to hatch first and search for females to reproduce with.

Bee Larvae

Video

Conservation

The IUCN lists many species of bees as vulnerable (western bumblebee) or critically endangered (rusty patched bumblebee).  There are several reasons for this decline in their population, including loss of habitat, disease, pesticides, invasive species, and climate change.

Bees – FAQs

1. How do bees make honey?

Forager bees collect nectar and store it inside their bodies. This is then passed on to collectors, who then share it among the rest of the colony until the moisture content of the nectar drops to around 20%. Finally, the dehydrated nectar is stored in cells in the nest, forming honey.

2. Do bees die when they sting?

Only honey bees die after stinging, as their stinger gets embedded in the victim’s body. When the bee attempts to remove it, the abdomen ruptures, leading to its death.

3. What do bees symbolize?

Bees symbolize hard work, dynamic behavior, and community spirit.

4. Why do bees sting?

They do so to deter intruders and as a form of defense.

5. What types of bees live in the ground?

Some solitary species live in the ground, including digger bees, leafcutter bees, mason bees, and sweat bees.

6. Do bees sleep?

Yes, they tuck their legs into the body and stop moving their wings and antennae while resting at night.

Bee Picture

Interesting Facts

  • The fear of bees is referred to as apiphobia or melissophobia.
  • Bees are decently fast, reaching speeds of 20mph.
  • Humans have collected honey from bees over  15,000 years ago, depicted through Egyptian art of ancient people raiding their nests for honey. In modern times, beekeeping is used to collect honey, beeswax, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly.
  • Prominent literary works that include the bee are The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse (1910) by Beatrix Potter and The Lake Isle of Innisfree  (1888) by W.B Yeats.