We all know bees as those small animals that can use their sting to defend themselves, that go from flower to flower to feed themselves and that make the nutritious and delicious honey that is consumed all over the planet. However, as soon as we delve into the fascinating world of beekeeping, there are many questions that may arise. For example: where do bees live and what do they eat? How long do they live? How is its reproduction? And more importantly, what if bees didn’t exist? Is it true that bees are in danger of extinction?
Physical characteristics of bees
We begin this article by describing the physical characteristics of bees , that is, how is the body of a bee in terms of its shape (morphology or anatomy), what are the parts of bees, etc.
- The honey bee (that is, the one that makes honey) is an arthropod, as it has jointed legs. It belongs to the class of insects and, in addition, it is a hymenopteran insect, since it has membranous wings. The main parts of the body of bees are: head, thorax and abdomen.
- In his head, the existence of three simple eyes or ocelli between the two compound eyes stands out , the latter formed by thousands of simple eyes in turn.
- Interestingly, the antennas house the senses of touch, smell and hearing.
- Also of great interest is the proboscis, which is a tubular and elongated structure with which they ingest the nectar contained in the flowers.
- In addition, in their legs they have a kind of baskets where they accumulate the pollen that they collect when they visit the flowers.
- In their abdomen, we can find different glands that allow them to make wax, communicate with each other, etc., and the stinger with which they defend themselves.
We recommend you read this other article to know the Difference between bee, wasp and bumblebee and this other to learn more about what insects are and their characteristics .
We continue this article by telling where bees live. The bees are grouped in colonies called swarms and these inhabit the hives . The hives are made up of honeycombs , where they store their food and also breed, as we will see later. Do you know how many bees can live in a hive? A hive in full swing can host up to 60,000 bees, it’s impressive!
We can find bee hives all over the planet except in Antarctica, since there the climatic conditions are not suitable for them or allow the development of vegetation with which to survive.
In addition to the areas of the natural habitats of bees , we can also find hives located in certain types of crops, since both beekeepers and farmers obtain a benefit from the pollination carried out by bees in these.
Bees can be classified based on several criteria. So we have, for example, these types of bees :
- Social bees and solitary bees.
- Bees that build their honeycombs in holes (which are, therefore, susceptible to being exploited by humans) and others that do so outdoors (generally on plant branches).
- Honey bees or honey bees and non-honey bees.
In total it is estimated that there are more than 20 thousand species of bees and only a few have the ability to produce honey. The latter are of the genus Apis and we name them below:
- Apis mellifera , western honey bee or European bee.
- Apis cerana , oriental honeybee or asian bee.
- Apis nigrocincta , honey bee from the Philippines.
- Apis dorsata , large Asian honey bee or large honey bee.
- Apis florea, Asian girl honey bee or girl honey bee.
- Apis andreniformis , Asian honey bee, dark girl.
- Apis koschevnikovi , Koschevnikov’s bee in Indonesia, Borneo and Malaysia.
The most emblematic is, without a doubt, the European bee ( Apis mellifera ) and it is the one that is mainly discussed in this article. Within the hives of the European bee we also have several types of bees:
- Queen bee: there is only one queen bee per hive, it is always female and its size is larger than that of the rest of the bees. Its most important task is to lay eggs, although it also organizes the colony by releasing pheromones that act as chemical messengers.
- Worker bee: the workers are also female, they are the most numerous and perform innumerable tasks both inside and outside the hive.
- Drones: they are the males of the colony and do not have a stinger. Its only function is to impregnate the queen. If they fertilize it, they die later (which prevents consanguinity) and those who have not fertilized it will be removed from the hive by the workers when food is scarce.
We are going to see, next, the behavior of the bees . In the case of the European bee, we have a social behavior in which a very clear organization is presented. This means that each member of the colony performs a characteristic role. The same happens in other insects such as termites, ants, etc. Social behavior is known as gregariousness and here we talk about gregariousness: what it is, examples and characteristics .
This social behavior of bees can not only be observed among different types of bees (queen, worker and drone), but also among worker bees themselves. Thus, depending on the age of a worker bee (in days), it will perform some functions or others. Let’s see what they are:
- From the 2nd to the 3rd day, she is in charge of cleaning and giving heat to the eggs.
- From the 4th to the 12th day, feed the larvae (they are nurse bees).
- From the 13th to the 18th day, she builds the combs with the wax that she produces herself.
- From the 19th to the 20th day, he is in charge of defending the hive, standing at the entrance.
- From the 21st day on, it collects nectar, pollen, propolis and water for the colony (they are called foraging bees).
Finally, we comment on the interesting behavior of foraging bees when they return to the hive. Did you know that through a kind of dance they tell their sisters where they can find the best flowers or where they can find water to drink, etc.? In this sense, thanks to the studies of the Austrian scientist Karl Von Frich, we can know part of this language of bees , thus, we know that:
- If their dance is with the head upwards, they are indicating that the flowers are facing the Sun.
- If their dance is head down they are expressing that they must look in the opposite direction to the Sun.
- If they dance in circles it means that the flowers are close.
- If they dance drawing eights they are communicating that the flowers are far away.
- As they do the dance more or less fast and shaking their abdomen more or less they can also indicate the distance and if they have found few or many flowers.
Have you ever wondered what bees eat ? Basically four different types of food are consumed in hives:
- Nectar: it is a watery and sweet substance produced by flowers to attract pollinators. Here you can read more about What is nectar and its function .
- Honey: it is a viscous substance that bees make from nectar. Here we tell you how bees make honey .
- Pollen: they are microscopic grains produced by the male organs of plants to reproduce.
- Royal jelly: a substance that worker bees make by digesting pollen with the help of certain glands.
However, the diet of bees depends on the type of bee in question and whether they are larvae or adults.
- The worker bees are fed with royal jelly for the first three days of their life and also with honey porridge and pollen in their larval stage. Later, they go on to eat honey, nectar and pollen when they are adults.
- Drone larvae feed on honey and adult drones eat the same food as worker bees.
- The queen bee eats only royal jelly throughout its life.
Surely the type of diet influences its life expectancy, since the queen bee can live more than 5 years. Also, if you wonder how long worker bees live, their life expectancy will depend on the time of year in which they were born: if they are born during the spring, they will work more and live less, not exceeding three months on average. As for the drones, their life expectancy is only slightly higher than that of the workers.
We continue talking about the characteristics of these insects, counting now how bees reproduce . Once the queen bee reaches sexual maturity, which occurs when it is about 5 days old, it leaves the hive to carry out the fertilization flight, also called the nuptial flight . When flying, the drones go to meet it and fertilize it, this happening two or three times over the course of a week or so.
Later, the queen bee will no longer leave the hive for this reason, as it will already have all the necessary sperm stored in a bag inside its body, which is called spermatheca .
Is the bee an oviparous or viviparous animal? Bees are oviparous insects , that is, they lay eggs as we mentioned earlier. The queen bee is responsible for laying up to 1,500 eggs a day throughout its life. However, sometimes the queen has some physical limitation that prevents her from laying a sufficient volume of eggs to regenerate the population of the hive. In these cases, the workers make a new queen.
What is the function of bees
Ecologically speaking, the most important function that bees perform is to pollinate flowers . In fact, bees pollinate a large part of all the plants that exist. Pollination is the process by which pollen is transmitted from the stamens (male part) to the stigma (female part) of the flowers, thus allowing their fertilization and the subsequent formation of fruits and seeds. It is something that bees do not do on purpose, because their job is to collect pollen to store it in the combs of their hive, but as they go from flower to flower part of that pollen falls and is deposited in the different flowers allowing its reproduction. Thus, pollination by bees is essential, as it allows biodiversity to be maintained. of the planet and life on Earth in general.
On the other hand, economically speaking, we can also ensure that bees play an essential role. Not only because of the benefits that beekeepers can acquire from them (which could go into the background), but because it is estimated that around 70% of agriculture and, therefore, a large volume of the food we consume, depend on of them, that is, mainly of their pollination.
Unfortunately, bees are in danger of extinction . There are several threats to bees around the world, but the main ones are climate change , invasive species such as the Asian hornet , the varroa mite, monocultures and the excessive use of pesticides and neonicotinoid insecticides . In this other post you can learn much more about why bees are in danger of extinction .
So why is it important to protect bees ? Because without the action of bees and other pollinating animals such as butterflies, bumblebees, hummingbirds or bats, not only would biodiversity decrease but, in addition, it would be impossible to maintain life on our planet as we know it. This is so because without pollination the birth of new individuals of a great variety of plant species would not be possible and, therefore, the entire trophic chain would be affected.
As for us, why do we depend on bees? Mainly, because in a matter of a short time we would stop being able to benefit from a large volume of products with which we can feed ourselves and our livestock, with which we would suffer great global famines with terrible consequences.
Can the extinction of bees be prevented? How can we do our bit to help them? To finish this article, we leave you some indications about what can be done in this regard:
- Substitute certain chemicals such as neonicotinoid pesticides and insecticides and use instead natural products that have the ability to give the same results, but without adversely affecting the bees. A good alternative is biopesticides.
- Bet on agriculture without monocultures and establish polycultures, which to some extent imitate the diversity existing in natural ecosystems.
- Try in our day to day to have a carbon footprint as low as possible so as not to worsen climate change.
- Plant plants in parks and gardens (both private and public) with a suitable flowering for them. Some plants that attract bees are lavender, thyme, rosemary, heather, various species of rockrose, daisies, sunflowers and a long etcetera.
- Another good idea is to support organizations and associations with projects aimed at protecting bees.
- Making beehives on city rooftops and gardens can also help