Honey Bees live in hives of up to 80,000 bees: one queen, hundreds of male drones and thousands of female workers. The hive is ruled over by the queen bee, who is larger than the workers and is the only female who mates. Drone bees compete for mating with the queen and only about 20 or so will succeed.They do no work and in the early autumn they are evicted by the workers and die. Worker bees are the busy bees – they care for the babies (larvae), make wax, build honeycomb, clean the hive, store pollen, make honey, guard the hive and collect pollen and nectar. Busy indeed!
Honey Bees eat nectar and pollen from flowers whilst the larvae eat honey. The Queen Bee eats royal jelly which is a paste made by the worker bees. The eggs laid by the Queen will become males drones, female workers or new queens depending on the time of year and the age of the hive. After the Queen Bee makes new queens, she leaves the nest with some of the workers to start a new hive. The first new queen will kill all the others and then she will be the queen of the old hive. The worker bee drinks as much nectar as she can from a variety of flowers, returning it to the hive to be stored for eating during the winter. Honey Bees are excellent communicators – when they find a good source of food, they perform a little dance known as the ‘waggle dance’ which tells the other bees the distance and direction to go.
Hives are made of honeycomb: layers of wax which house nectar and honey as well as the larvae which will eventually hatch out as adult bees. The secret behind this efficient honeycomb is the hexagonal shape. This starts off as a circle, shaped round the bees’ body, and gradually turns into hexagonal for maximum storage efficiency with the wax gently melting, the cell walls naturally falling flat and taking on the shape of a hexagon, like adjoining bubbles in a bath. Bees need to eat a lot of honey to make small amounts of beeswax so they need to make sure they are efficient when making these ‘storage units.’
Species type – Insect
Global location – origins in Southeast Asia, now found worldwide
Habitat – colonies worldwide
Number left in the wild – declining
IUCN conservation status – one in 10 wild bee species face extinction in Europe
We need Honey Bees!
When a bee enters a flower, it needs to get deep into the flower to reach the nectar. This ensures that the bee gets covered in pollen so that when it alights on another flower, some of the pollen from the first flower rubs off on the second flower. The plant will drop its flower and make a fruit with seeds in it. These seeds may grow into a new plant. Nature as its best – bees cannot live without plants and plants cannot lie without bees. As humans, we rely on Honey Bees to pollinate our crops and without them, it would be very difficult to grow fruit. In the UK about 70 crops are dependent on, or benefit from, visits from bees. Bees also pollinate the flowers of many plants which become part of the feed of farm animals. Honey Bees are in danger of disappearing from our environment. Farming practices continue to disturb the natural habitats and there is strong evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are also a contributory factor to their disappearance. Organic farming on the other hand encourages higher levels of wildlife – including bees. The Honey Bee is under attack from the varroa mite (which entered the UK in 1992) and it is only the treatment and care provided by beekeepers that is keeping colonies alive. Most wild honey bee colonies have died out as a result of this disease.
Where can I find out more?
What can I do to help?
The easiest thing you can do is plant lots of brightly coloured flowers in gardens, pots and window boxes. Bees love wildflowers, such as poppy, cornflower, foxglove and bluebell, and other plants such as lavender, sunflower, clematis and hebe. You can also make a bee hotel to give bees somewhere to live – here is a great tutorial from Friends of the Earth
Become a Friend of the Honey Bee
Join Friends of the Earth’s Bees Cause Campaign