Order: Hymenoptera (bees, ants, and wasps)
Geographical location: Every continent except Antarctica
Over 10,000 species of bee exist and are classified into two groups: Social Bees (Honeybees for example) live in groups of over ten thousand, and Solitary Bees (Carpenter and Leaf-cutter Bees for example) live in smaller groups. Wild bees live in trees, bushes and in the ground where they build hives out of beeswax, leaves, wood or clay.
Given that there are over 10,000 species of bee, I need to eventually narrow down to a handful of species or just the one, probably the Honeybee.
Honeybees are the best known specie and were imported to the US during European colonisation. They produce beeswax hives, each holding over 10,000 bees. Carpenter Bees tunnel into wood, such as trees or even fence posts and have colonies that contain about 100 bees. Leaf-cutter Bees tunnel in wood and build from leaf bits joined by secreted glue. Miner Bees live in sandy tunnels in groups of several thousands.
Bees are 0.1 – 3 inches long and there are 3 types of Honeybee: workers, drones and queens. 95% of the bees in a hive are immature female workers, 5% are male drones and there is only 1 queen.
Worker Bee’s main body parts are the head, thorax and abdomen. The head has 5 eyes, 2 antennae and a mouth. 3 small eyes sit on top of the head arranged in a triangle and 2 compound eyes, which contain many six-sided facets, sit at the front of the head. This arrangement gives the bees keen eyesight. The antennae are the smell organs and protrude from the head. They are used to find food and to recognise bees that do not belong in their hive. The mouth consists of the tongue and jaws. The tongue is a long and slender lower lip and is rolled in a tube used to sip nectar from flowers. The scissor-shaped jaws cut and shape things or are used to bite defensively.
The thorax holds the wings and legs. The four wings beat over 10,000 times a minute and the front wings are hooked onto the back wings to work as synchronised propellers. This wing speed and synchronisation allows bees to fly precisely and carry more than their body weight in food. They have three legs on each side of the thorax which end in claws and sticky pads that allow bees to attach to flowers and walk upside down. Their legs and bodies are covered in fine hair that allow pollen to become attached to them, which is then transferred along their bodies using leg combs into pollen baskets on their hind legs.
The abdomen contains the most organs. Beeswax is made in the abdomen and collects on abdomen wax plates harvested by mouth and is used to build hives. At the rear of the abdomen is a stinger; it is 30% of the length of the bee’s body. In worker bees the stinger is barbed so that it will remain in the animal it stings. This is fatal to bees as most of it’s abdomen is ripped away when it frees itself from its victim. Queens have barb-less stingers and “stingless” bees and drones lack functional stingers.
Bees pollinate most flowering plants and thousands of plant species could not survive without them. In addition, the bee industry earns $60,000,000 a year through honey and beeswax. Even the beestings have their uses: it is believed that they can cure arthritis and rheumatism.
Sources used in this blog post:
Singer, S.S. (2016) ‘Bees’, Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science