The importance of bees on the environment

Insects... always a dilemma whether to hate them or love them. On one side where caterpillars are ugly, adults mesmerize us. It’s hard to tell how many species we have and how many we are still trying to discover. Just like their not-so-clear love we still lack a clear vision for them. And one the most important out of them are none other than sweet Honeybees.

Before looking more into the facts I would like to clarify a lot about honey bees and their sweet honey stories that we see in most of our homes. Most of us know that a honey bee is a small insect that flies flower to flower collecting nectar going back and producing honey. But now the question is…

1. Do all honey bees produce honey?

2. How do they make honey?

3. What is the real use of honey for honey bees?

Honey bees have taken earth along before we can imagine. The Genus Apis include all different species of honey bees which represent approximately 20,000 known species of bees. Only 8 surviving species are recognized with a total of 43 subspecies (Wikipedia). When it comes to the size they can be the smallest (Perdita minima- 2mm long) to the largest Apis laboriasa (Himalayan Giant Honeybee- 3cm), and they all prefer different habitats and survival tactics depending on their sizes and behavior.

Photographs © Reema Singh

Social Honey Bees

All most all of the honey bees are social except a few. Social as they live in a colony and co-ordinate with each other. The work in a honey bee colony is divided respectively and every individual is well aware of their responsibilities. Fun fact is honey bees live in a female dominating world. And Men are only taken into consideration when it comes to increasing the colony size otherwise females do not prefer to feed them and kick them out of the hive.  In a colony of honey bees, all the workers are female but the question is then what makes the Queen unique?

Welcome Home

We all have seen honey bee hives at least once in our life. As we mentioned Honey bees are very social insects, and hence all the work in a hive is divided equally among everyone. But just like a kingdom is nothing without its king, a hive is incomplete without its queen. All beehives have 1 queen which must be protected at all costs.  The colony is distributed between a queen, workers, and drones, all females except drones (Fertile Male). In a hive, all females are sterile females except the queen. Sterile which means they lack reproductive organs, and all this starts from our Sweet HONEY.

  • WORKER Worker honey bees perform different work. There are as many as 60,000 workers honey bees in a hive. They perform all kinds of work like nursing, cleaning, guard duty, receiving nectar, and foraging. Scientifically when a queen lays eggs she can decide which egg to be fertilized and in which cell it needs to be laid. All the females are born from fertilized eggs along with the larvae which will be the future queen. Workers complete their life cycle in 21 days. The food that use to feed the nurse bees to the developing larvae makes a big difference. The worker larvae were initially fed royal jelly but later they were given pollen and honey. Once the nursing bees seal the cell with wax the larvae undergo pupation and a sterile (infertile female) emerges.
  • QUEEN Just like the worker larvae queen larvae are also formed from fertilized eggs. The only difference is the cell size in which the queen lays future queen larvae are bigger and the only food they are given is the royal jelly. Larvae take 16 days to develop and become complete adults.

Drone Bees – Photographs © Reema Singh

DRONES are fertile males and hold the lower position in beehives. They are only needed when the queen is ready to mate. No hive wants to spend its energy and food on drones hence if not needed (cannot mate) they are kicked out of the hives. Drones are only meant for reproduction reason being they eventually die once the mating ends.

The mating pattern in honey bees is quite unique. Once near incubation, the female leaves its hive and flies mid in the air, and this is the place where mating takes place. During mating, the male genital (copulatory organ) comes out of his body and he starts the mating. Later because his genitals being cut off from his body caused his death. The part that remains inside the queen’s body called the “mating- sign” is removed by another drone. Female mate with approx. 6-12 drones, which last for 18 min.

So frankly only 2 Members play the most important role and if personally, I have to rank them it would be none other than the infertile females that play a major role in a hive. From the time they emerge from their cocoon they start foraging. Have you ever noticed a very tiny bulged pert on the hind leg of the bee? We call it the pollen basket. When honey bees travel from flower to flower they carry pollen as food for the hive, and this is where pollination comes into play. While visiting from one flower to another they pollinate them and as a reward from the flower, they get the nectar.

Photographs © Kai Wenzel, Unsplash

Photographs © Shaun Bell, Unsplash

Types of honey bees

Well for normal people it’s just a bee, for an insect lover it’s a European bee, bumblebee, carpenter bee, or ground-nesting bee. Honey bees are of different types and their honey too.

  1. Rock bee (Apis dorsata) These bees are ferocious and largest among bees and produce around 36kg of honey per year per comb. Because of their ferocious nature, these bees are hard to rare.
  2. Little bee (Apis florea) Another bee on the list that produces half kg of honey per hive per year. This is again hard to rear as they frequently change their places.
  3. Asian Bee (Apis mellifera) Being imported from European countries they are also known as European Bee. They produce 20-25 kg of honey per year per hive.

Not all honey bees produce honey like carpenter bees or ground-nesting bees. In fact, out of 20,000 species of living bees in the world, most of them are solitary bees that do not make hives or honey.

BEE FACT 1

Have you ever heard a term called nectar guide? In this sense, the flower imparts colors of different wavelengths that only bees and butterflies can see. To make the process easier and efficient flowers guide the bees to the place where they can exactly get the nectar (Isn’t it cool?).

Photograph © Dejan Zakic, Unsplash

Photograph © Leandro Fregoni, Unsplash

BEE FACT 2

The other cool fact about bees is that they are soul dancers. Dancing is a way for them to communicate. Communication could be about warning, danger, food availability, or rebelling. Except for queens, no other worker would prefer to come and sting until and unless it’s a matter of life and death, but they prefer to warn before attacking by dancing. The reason not to attack first is that once they sting their stinger ruptures the lower abdomen pulling all the muscles resulting from a hole in the abdomen and causing their death.

BEE FACT 3

A ruler likes a bee. When a queen honey bee lay its eggs for the future queen the race starts from there itself. After 16 days the newly hatched queen bee realizes its first job, “kill the competition”. The first emerged bee finds the other queen cell that is yet to have emerged and stings them to death, and those who have already emerged sting each other to a point where one ultimately dies.

Once all the rivals have been eliminated the queen bee secret a pheromone called “queen substance” and starts gathering her followers. Once the hive realizes that they have a new queen the hive calms down and begin its daily normal routine.

BEE FACT 4

A honey bee hive is basically immortal. As the older bees are constantly replaced by the newly emerged bees the hive never dies.

Last but not least: I can go on with lots of facts without stopping but the coolest fact that I believe till now is face recognition. Honey bees are one the most mysterious yet magical creature that has been living on this planet without changing themselves. From making a prominent hexagonal hive to flying with a wing stroke of 11,400 times per minute they never cease to amaze. But the most amazing thing is facial recognition. Honey bees can recognize individual human faces, well this is beyond imagination.

Photographs © Reema Singh

Why Bees?

Coming to the main fact why understanding bees. Till now one thing we understood is that bees play a major role in pollination. But do you know that approximately 80% of crop pollination is done by honey bees?

  1. Honey is known for its anti-microbial properties that deter the growth of certain bacteria, yeast, and mold.
  2. Honey is the only food that includes enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water- All in one product.
  3. The most interesting fact about bee importance is bees can save Elephants. Sounds crazy right? Well in Africa bees are actually saving animals from human-animal conflicts. Elephants avoid trees taken over by bees and hence a bee fencer is been used to keep Elephants away from humans.
  4. Surprisingly bees are used to sniff out explosives and landmines

This is just a glimpse of all the hard work of this tiny creature that led us to the discovery of honey that we enjoy every morning in a warm cup of water or tea. As we say use it while saving it for the future, we need to limit the exploitation of honey bees for a better earth.

I’d rather prefer to be called honey, Then being deadly”….Once Said a bee…..

About the Author: 

Reema Singh is a Naturalist who loves traveling, photography, reading, and research. Reema focuses on imparting as much knowledge to people about the importance of forests and animals.

Follow Reema @ https://natureimpress.blogspot.com/