What’s all the fuss over bees about?
What’s all the fuss over bees about?
A lot is written on bees, especially honey bees, and the terrible crisis that exists for these important creatures. What does the crisis means to us? How we can do our small part in creating a bee-friendly environment?
Bees are pollinators and play a major role in our food production. Without pollinators, our food resources would be drastically reduced. Pollination is required to produce seeds and fruit in up to 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including two-thirds of the world’s food plants.
It would be difficult to imagine our food choices without food plants!
Honeybees are not native. They came from Europe in the 1600s as the early settlers brought their hives. We now rely on these bees for crop pollination. But our reliance on these bees has endangered the many native bees in the United States due to competition for forage resources, and some native bees are on the verge of extinction.
Honeybees are known as social bees and live and work together in a hive that is ruled over by a queen bee. Most honeybees are female workers while a few are males called “drones.” The queen is the largest bee in the hive and the only female to reproduce. The drones are there for mating and will die shortly afterwards. The female workers care for the baby bees (larvae), make wax, build the honeycomb, clean the hive, collect pollen and nectar, store the pollen, make the honey, and guard the hive.
An interesting aspect to bees is their ability to communicate. They give directions and distance information to one another for flowers and water. This remarkable skill improves their productivity and helps them to make the best use of foraging time.
Honeybees typically leave people alone and are not aggressive while they are out foraging for food or water. They may be attracted to your sweet soft drink or follow you a bit, but once they realize that you don’t have nectar, they will fly away.
They only sting if they or their hive is endangered.
The nutritional needs for honeybees are nectar, pollen, and water. Water sources include ponds, streams, leaky faucets, and birdbaths. Nectar and pollen both come from flowers, and bees and flowers have a unique, much-needed relationship. Bees cannot live without plants and many plants cannot live without bees.
What’s the difference between nectar and pollen?
Nectar is the liquid in a flower (honey is made from the nectar). It’s almost 80% water with some complex sugars and serves as the primary source of carbohydrates. Bees use their long tube-like tongues to suck the nectar out of the flowers. The nectar is stored in the bees’ “honey stomach,” which is their second stomach. The honey stomach holds nearly 70 mg of nectar when it’s full and weighs almost as much as the bee. To collect that much nectar, honeybees visit between 100 and 1,500 flowers.
Pollen is the powdery substance carried and transferred from one flower to another to produce fruit. It is produced by the stamen (male reproductive part) portion of the flower. Bees transfer the pollen from the stamen of one flower to the stigma (female part) of the same or different flowers, and it’s the act of pollination that ensures the next generation of plants.
In the hive, pollen is mixed with nectar to create a protein-rich food used to feed the young larvae. Protein is required for their growth and development.
All blooming flowers are not attractive to bees, and many ornamentals do not contain sufficient amounts of pollen and nectar for the bees to visit. Some flowers produce nectar but not high amounts of pollen. For beekeepers, it’s important to know both nectar- and pollen-producing plants in their area and to provide a variety of the plants to meet the bees’ nutritional needs.
Also, stop using pesticides.
Bees find blue, purple, and yellow flowers most appealing. Daisies, zinnias, asters, and Queen Anne’s lace will attract the largest variety of bees. Long-tongued bees are attracted to plants in the mint family, such as catmint, salvia, oregano, mint, and lavender. Other good nectar flowers are Bee Balm, columbine, aster, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, and pink coneflower.
The relationship between honeybees and flowers is complex. While we enjoy the beauty and scent of flowers, nurturing and tending to them in our gardens, the purpose behind the beautiful blooms is really higher than our pleasure. The beauty and color of the flower calls the bees, and in so doing, the flower ensures its future.