Bees are some of the most wonderful creatures in the world, and especially in the UK. If it weren't for these little fuzzy guys, pollinating insects would take a huge hit, meaning that plant life might take a huge hit too.
In this article, we're going to talk all about bees, helping you to learn everything that you might need to know to be sure that you're ready to help out all the bees that come to your garden. Wonder items such as bee hotels have been popping up in gardens all over of the UK to help assist these wonderful creatures.
About Bees - What is a Bee
Bees are, at the most basic level, small insects that you're likely to see in your garden from early spring to late autumn. They help to pollinate plants throughout the world - flying little insects that flit between plants, transferring pollen as they go.
They're typically black and yellow, with the body of the bee being striped in most cases. Sometimes, they may have a slightly different colored bum, such as white or red, and they may only have one or two stripes overall.
There are a huge number of different species of bee, from the honey bee to the mason bee, and from the bumblebee to the mining bee. They all have different roles in the ecosystem around us, from carrying pollen to creating royal jelly.
While we might not get to all of them in this article, we're going to run through some general knowledge about our fuzzy friends.
Bee stings can be a frustrating part of summer, but the important thing to bear in mind is that stinging you is the final resort of a frightened bee. Generally, if allowed to look around, they'll be happy to leave in their own time. Most bees you want to interact with only want to take a look at the nearby flowers - they aren't interested in people.
Bee stings are quite a straightforward thing. At the basic level, bees have a barbed stinger on their bum. This stinger is a way of injecting venom into prey and enemies. The bee will typically land on you, sting you, and fly away, dying shortly thereafter - the stinger is left in you, which means that the bee takes some fairly intensive damage.
A bee sting is evolved to be damaging to creatures that bees consider a threat - there aren't very many of them. Mostly, these threats are other insects and spiders. The skin of these creatures is fundamentally different from human skin, meaning that the stinger may not be torn out in another insect.
Furthermore, these insects are tiny, though about the same size as the bee, or a little larger. This means that the venom has evolved to be fatal to the insects - in humans, it causes little to no actual damage, other than a little swelling at the site of injection, and some redness.
If you're stung, remove the stinger by scraping along the skin in the opposite direction to the way the stinger is in you - use a credit card or something similar for the best results. Don't use tweezers, as this can squeeze more venom into you.
Wash the site of the sting with soap and water, being sure that it's as clean as possible, before applying a cold pack to bring down the swelling. If it's particularly painful, over-the-counter painkillers should take care of it.
The only time a bee sting could be particularly dangerous to a human is if the human is allergic. In that instance, a person will typically go into anaphylaxis, which must be treated at a hospital.
The crucial thing to bear in mind is that bees don't want to sting you - they're aware that it's the last resort for them. Even if a bee lands on you, simply allowing it to sit for a few moments before flying away will be perfectly fine - the bee likely won't sting you.
Types of Bee
There are several different types of bees in any hive around the world. From worker bees to the queen bee, they all have their role in making a hive work perfectly well.
In this short list, we're going to talk about two species of bee, honey bees, and bumble bees. We're also going to talk about two roles in the hive, the worker and the queen.
Within the UK, there's actually only one species of the honey bee - that's quite astounding when you consider how much honey people can get through!
The honey bee in the UK is probably best identified by how skinny it is. While it's not quite flat, it is quite noticeably different from other types of bees, almost resembling a wasp in some ways.
The thorax of honey bees is slim and sandy - their abdomen is black and has a number of golden bands that wrap around it. They're furry on the upper portion of their body (the thorax) and smooth on the lower portion (the abdomen).
Since honeybees have been domesticated for centuries, it's quite rare to find wild bees that make honey. Therefore, the vast majority of honey bees in the UK live in hives. These hives contain up to twenty-thousand individual bees. Typically, they're seen on open flowers that aren't too deep - they only really have short tongues, meaning that they can't collect pollen or nectar from deeper flowering plants.
Honey bees can noticeably be found around willow trees, as well as fruiting options like orchard trees or raspberry flowers. It's hard to be too precise, but it seems likely that honey bees are enticed by the aroma of the sweet plants, as well as some herbs and shrubs.
To say that any one bee is a bumble bee is quite a statement - there are twenty-four species of bumble bee in the UK! Bumble bees are typically characterized by being clumsy, small, and very fluffy indeed. They shoot between flowers on fluffy days and have large colonies. The colonies themselves can have a few dozen bees, or several hundred!
A characteristic species of bumble bee in the UK is the white-tailed bumblebee. These wild bees are bright yellow in color, carrying a collar of that color as well as a matching abdomen. They have a bright white tail, unsurprisingly, and some black bands across their body too. They look similar to a number of other bumble bees, with their main difference being their size - they're quite large, for a bee, and are easy to spot.
These bees can be found almost anywhere in the UK, flitting from flower to flower all summer long.
Worker bees are hardworking creatures that spend all of their time serving the good of the hive. They're genetically all-female, and, combined with the fact that they appear to fly around light as a feather, they have long been compared to light breezes or gentle sunshine. Instead, they're rather more like Rosie the riveter - a powerful person doing hard work to keep the hive going.
When worker bees are young, they're typically a nurse bee. These bees feed larvae within the hive, as well as ensure that fertilised eggs are safe and secure within the hive.
During this time, nurse bees can also process incoming nectar, as well as feed the queen, and make and cap honey within the hive structure.
When they're a little older, and typically a little stronger, these worker bees will leave the hive from sunrise to sunset to collect assorted different resources. These bees die quite often since their job can be dangerous, but it's also entirely essential.
Worker bees will go through a huge number of different jobs throughout their lives. When they're first out of their cell, they work as mortuary bees - removing the dead from the hive, and depositing them far away to reduce the risk of disease.
Their final role is as a foraging bee - collecting resources for the hive. Before that, they work as guard bees, being sure to protect the hive as much as possible. Most interesting is the pairing of water carriers and fanning bees.
Water carriers collect water from a nearby source and spread it over the back of fanning bees. Then, the fanning bees fan the hive with their wings, making use of the water on their back as it evaporates, blowing the vapor through the hive. Functionally, these bees are the air conditioning unit for the hive. They ensure that cool bees are not only cool, but they're pleasantly cold, too.
The role of the queen in the hive is, of course, utterly essential. This is obvious, considering that she's the only queen bee in a hive of sixty thousand, or more.
The role of the queen, really, is to be sure that there are enough eggs in the colony. She will lay eggs on a regular basis, engaging in a mating flight before laying a large number of eggs in one go. After laying, worker bees will take the eggs to hatch, and tend to the larvae as they grow.
Interestingly, queen cups are specialized cells where the queen has laid an egg intended to be a queen. A queen cup is a dome-shaped cup, slightly different from other regions of the hive. The queen cups will typically contain an egg, and white liquid - this is something beekeepers look out for to keep tabs on the inner workings of their hives.
A newly born queen will either replace the queen in a hive after the queen bee dies, or they will go and form another hive, taking a number of worker bees with them.
Typically, the new queen bee will stay in the hive, killing any larvae that may become queen (the larvae in the queen cups) and then continuing as though she were always the queen.
Understanding Male Bees & Female Bees - What is the difference?
Male and female bees have a number of small differences that make for quite an interesting mini-society. For example, native bees in the UK will only have stingers if they're female, while male bees do not have stingers.
The only male bees in a hive are the drone bees. These bees typically have particularly large eyes, which is probably the easiest way to tell them apart from other bees near them.
Male bees don't stick around for long - they're pretty much exclusively around for a few months in the year. Their huge eyes help them to spot queens while they're flying around, before going to them and attempting to mate. Their entire function in the hive is to seek out new queens and spread their genetic material. This means that all bees, from carpenter bees to honey bees, have drones that only do that.
The vast majority of bees in a hive are female. The queen is female, of course, and the workers are also female. These female bees carry out a number of tasks throughout the hives. From carpenter bees to mining bees, every queen out there lays eggs every day and produces royal jelly for the larvae in the hive to eat.
The workers carry out a huge range of tasks, from fanning the hive to keep it cool, to tending to larvae, to leaving the hive to gather different resources if needed. They do everything that needs to be done, they carry pollen, and they carry water - they're busy bees!
Each hive out there only has a single queen. That queen lays up to 1500 eggs every single day, as well as patrols around the hive a little, searching for another queen bee that may have hatched. If a new queen bee has hatched, then those bees will typically fight to the death, with the victor being allowed to remain in the hive as the queen.
Whoever the queen is, each individual bee in the hive will be her son or daughter - they lay such a large number of eggs that it's inevitable.
Are Bees insects?
Yes, bees are insects. They are also animals, functionally working as both of these classifications.
For something to be an animal, there are a few things that we might consider reasonable. For example, they must be multicellular, they must eat, and they must move. While there are other criteria that, perhaps, should be adhered to, these are some good starting options.
To those criteria, then, bees are animals - they are made up of many cells, they bring food into their body rather than making their own, and they crawl and fly around the world.
For something to be an insect, there are other things that it must have. For example, an insect typically has an exoskeleton, three pairs of legs (this is a big one), three main body sections, and usually antennae and external mouthparts.
Bees fit this list of options exceptionally well, too. They do have an exoskeleton, which is to say that they have a hard exterior instead of bones. They also have three pairs of legs, and three body sections - the head, thorax, and abdomen. They do have antennae, too, and most types of bees have some form of external mouthparts. For example, mining bees have quite noticeable external mouthparts.
So, to sum up, yes - bees are insects. They are also considered animals since insects are typically considered a sub-type of animals as a whole.
How many Bees are there in the world?
There are a vast number of bees in the world. Whether solitary bees or hive bees like carpenter bees, these furry little insects have a life cycle that they carry out quickly and dependably - they will almost always be perfectly capable of producing young and rearing them in their hive.
While it's tough to say how many wild bees there are, we can put a rough range on the number of managed colonies that there are in the world. Colonies typically consist of honey bees, though they can consist of carpenter bees, for example, if the local ecosystem demands it.
Around the world, there are somewhere between eighty and one hundred million managed hives. Within each of those hives, there can be anywhere between ten and sixty thousand bees - this is a vast number of insects, which makes their impact on the planet all the more interesting. While each individual bee does very little in the grand scheme of things, bees as a whole have an enormous impact on the world.
So, doing some quick calculations and taking the middle number of both those sets, there are roughly thirty-five thousand bees in a hive, and roughly ninety million managed hives around the world. This means there are roughly 3,000,000,000,000 bees in the world - which would be approximately three trillion.
Bear in mind that the vast majority of these bees are female, with the ability to lay eggs, and queens lay eggs at a rate of 1500 per day. These facts mean that bees are a huge, constantly shifting, part of our ecosystem, and must be minded with care.
Are Bees endangered?
This is a bit of a vague question, so the answer is: sort of. It's like asking if bears are endangered - while panda bears are endangered, brown and grizzly bears are not.
There are some types of bees that are endangered, such as the bumblebee. This is quite concerning since bees do have a huge impact on the world around them.
With that said, though, the number of non-wild bees isn't decreasing. This means that those bees are quite safe since they're looked after well and a close eye is kept on them.
Instead, the concern is around wild bees, particularly bees native to parts of the world where large swathes of housing and industry have been built. A great example of this is the UK bumblebee - these bees love wildflowers, meadows, and native plants. As more and more houses are being built, and as cities grow more and more, this land is being eliminated. Over time, this has had a noticeable negative impact on bees.
Bees and the planet
Bees have a direct hand in the health of the planet since they're an integral part of the way that plants reproduce.
Plants reproduce in a fairly simple way - female plants need pollen from male plants to fertilize their seeds, allowing for those seeds to be planted and new plants to grow. This is fairly standard throughout the world of plants, and it is also a pain for hayfever sufferers - this pollen is often released into the air, leading to hayfever symptoms.
As a plant gets rarer and rarer through land being industrialized or used for construction, that plant has less of a chance to spread its pollen to another plant of the same species through quirks of wind currents. Instead, it needs a bee, or another pollinator, to come and carry its pollen to another plant. This fertilizes the plant, leading to fertile seeds.
Bees and other pollinators are incentivized to do this as plants typically have nectar inside them. For bees, this sweet liquid makes a great refueling spot, allowing them to continue to go from flower to flower.
If bees and other pollinators were to disappear tomorrow, a huge amount of different plants would simply stop being able to breed. Before long, plants would die in large numbers. The only way to pollinate plants would be for humans to do it manually, painting the pollen onto different flowers and trees.
Since plants are the only way to actively reduce the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and bees are largely responsible for pollinating most plants, bees have a direct hand in the process of helping the health of the planet.
How many different types of Bee are there?
There are a huge number of types of bees. Around the entire world, there are roughly 25,000 species that have been discovered and documented. There are likely to be more out there, with the most solitary bees living undiscovered in their own hives out there.
Within the UK, there are 250 species, which might seem like a small portion of the overall number. Considering the size of the UK relative to the rest of the world, though, it's quite impressive!
Where do Bees live?
Bees can live in a whole host of different environments. For example, they can live in either natural environments or domesticated, where they will be tended to by a beekeeper.
Bees in the wild can live in gardens, woodlands, orchards, meadows, and anywhere else - the determining factor is the number of flowers that are present: bees adore flowers! In the wild, they'll typically make their nests and hives within trees or under some form of shelter - this hides them from predators and inclement weather alike.
Domesticated bees can be kept in the same environments that bees are kept in. The main difference, however, is that domesticated bees are kept within apiaries - particular boxes or containers that are designed to hold bees in an optimum way.
How to attract Bees into your garden
Attracting bees to your garden is a hugely important thing to do - they're vitally important to the ecosystem, and having them in your garden can be great for both flowers and crops that you might be growing. On top of that, they can be wonderful for encouraging all sorts of microbes that may be healthy for your garden. These could be bacteria for the soil or yeast that works well for a sourdough colony.
Bee hotels are a relatively modern concept that has been introduced as a method of helping out solitary bees. These bees may be caught away from their hive in situations that are less than favorable for them. In order to ensure that they're safe, people recommend using small tubes to give them a home for a short while.
Commonly, hollow bamboo stalks are used as they are the perfect size for bees to wiggle into, as well as being light enough for someone to craft an aesthetically pleasing craft out of. Commonly, people may bind a number of tubes together within a large piece of pipe or small birdhouse-style construction. These tubes can then be used by several bees in a single space.
Bee-friendly plants are the ultimate way to attract bees. Wild plants are what you need to incorporate above all else - native, wild plants will be the perfect diet for local bees to come and take up residence in your garden. Whether they set up their own nests or use your bee hotel, you'll be in for a treat in no time.
An interesting rule of thumb is that bees like a pink flower. They like purple flowers too - with these two colors being shades that tend to attract bees for pollination.
It's tricky to say why this is, but it's likely that colors in this range of the electromagnetic spectrum are slightly more observable to bees.
Five facts about Bees
We love some good bee facts, and we're going to share five of our favorites with you now.
The vast majority of bees are female.
Eggs that are intended to be queens will be laid in slightly different cells than regular eggs.
A queen bee lays around 1500 eggs every day.
Fanning bees and water-carrying bees team up to make an air-conditioning-like system for their hive! Water-carrying bees put water on fanning bees, who buzz their wings to blow the cooling vapor through the hive.
There are only one species of honeybee in the UK, though there are twenty-four species of bumblebees in the UK.