Did you know?
- A single bee can visit up to 1000 flowers every day.
- When flying, a bee's wings beat up to 180 times per minute
- Bees never sleep
- Honey bees from commercial hives can travel thousands of miles to pollinate crops
- Honey bees have 5 eyes and can see ultra-violet light
- The oldest know bee fossil is 100 million years old
It is only the bumble bee and honey bee that are truly social species, with each colony comprising of a queen and a caste of smaller, sterile females called workers. The queen lays all the eggs and the workers care for the larvae, with the older workers foraging for nectar and pollen.
Honey bee colonies have a much more complex infrastructure. There are much more structural and behaviour differences between the queen and the worker bees. The main role of the honey bee queen is to produce eggs. Colonies can produce over 100,000 workers. The workers produce a large amount of honey which can enable the colony to survive through the winter, in the absence of other nectar resources.
Unlike bumblebees, honeybee males are produced in the spring and after mating with the new queens, these males will be expelled or killed by the workers
In spring, Bumblebee queens emerge to forage on flowers and search for suitable nest sites. These include old mouse burrows, cavities in hedge banks and compost heaps or above ground in grass tussocks. The colony produces a small amount of honey to feed on in periods of bad weather.
During late summer or autumn males and new queens are produced. They fly off to mate with bees from other colonies. At the end of the colony cycle, the queen, workers and males will die, with only the new queens over-wintering to start the cycle all over again the following year.
Over 90% of our bee species are solitary, and although these solitary species may often nest in dense populations, each nest is the work of a single female.
The offspring of those solitary bees active in spring complete their development in the late summer and over-winter as adults, emerging the following year. Offspring of the later-appearing species over-winter as full grown larvae and mature the following spring.
There is a selection of common solitary bees that can be found in Britain's gardens. These can be formed into two groups, the Mining Bees and the Cavity Nesting Bees.
Cavity Nesting Bees
Cavity nesting bees don't excavate nests of their own. These species, such as masked bees, masons, leafcutters and carders, use existing cavities. This may be hollow plant stems or beetle borings in dead wood. Some species of mason bees may even use empty snail shells, dividing them into compartments with walls of mud or chewed leaves.
Mining bees excavate nest tunnels and cells in the ground. Most species prefer light, sandy, often disturbed soils but some have preferences for firmer clays and some also nest in vertical clay or chalky cliffs.
Some species may share a single entrance, where each female will enter and go to her own main nesting tunnel.
Some bees have evolved to parasitise the nest of another bee. A female cuckoo bee will lay an egg on the pollen store of another bees nest. This egg will hatch before that of the host and the larva will eat the host egg and the pollen. Because cuckoo bees do not need to collect pollen, they have no pollen sacks or baskets.
The Importance of Bee Conservation
Bees are the principal pollinators of flowering plants and as such play a crucial role in food production. Without bees, many fruits, vegetables and other produce would not be produced and many wild flowers would disappear from the countryside.
Despite their crucial role in pollination, bees are declining across Europe, with Bumblebee populations in Britain declining massively in the last 50 years. One factor is the loss of many wildflowers in the countryside due to intensive farming methods, including the use of insecticides and the honey bee has been drastically affected by the varroa mite.
Helping Bees in the Garden
Honey bees, Bumble bees and Solitary bees all feed on nectar and pollen. Providing a wide variety of plants, shrubs and trees that flower at different times through the spring and summer is one of the best ways to help bees and other nectar feeding insects, providing them with a constant food supply.
In fact, without bees, there would eventually be no us!
Planting for Bees
Many popular varieties of flowers have been hybridised for features that benefit gardeners, such as disease resistance, enhanced colour, flower size and bigger or longer blooms. The result of this is a reduction of nectar and pollen produced by these hybrids. So, where possible, it is best to offer native plants for bees.
Top flowering plants for bees include: aubretia, alysum, aster, balsam, broom, buddleia, busy lizzie, candytuft, clover, coneflower, cornflower, crocus, dandelion, hebe, honeysuckle, hyacinth, hydrangea, lavender, laveteria, leopards bane, ling heather, lobelia, lupins, marjoram, michaelmas daisy, mint, oregano, phlox, poppy, primrose, scabious, sedum, sweet rocket, snowdrop, tree poppy, thyme, viburnum, wallflower, single flowered varieties of flowering cherries, almonds & apricot.
- Plant a range of flowering plants that flower at different times of the year
- Plant varieties that have a mixture of deep and shallow flower cups to accommodate different species of bee.
Habitats and Nesters for Bees
Bees need a variety of habitats for nesting, and in the absence of natural nest sites, an artificial nesting site can be offered.
Wildlife World produces a range of bee habitats for both bumble bees and solitary bee species, offering purpose-built nesting habitats for different species
Useful Bee Contacts
The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust - http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk/
The Beekeepers Association - www.britishbee.org.uk