Mike and Dorothy are avid birders and nature lovers. Dorothy is a former newspaper reporter who has written several nature-related books.
Bees Depend on Us to Leave Them Alone
Without bees, we humans wouldn't have much to eat, so think about that fact the next time you grab a fly swatter to kill one that gets too close. They are, by far, the most important of all insect pollinators, and their service is absolutely vital to flowers, many orchard fruits and berries, and vegetable and fruit crops. Think of our life with them as a cycle; if they don't have enough to eat, neither will we.
Bees already face a number of threats, such as parasites, poor beekeeping practices, climate change, pathogens, agricultural pesticides, and malnutrition. So, unless a colony of bees has infested your house or garage, the best thing you can do (for their sake and ours) is leave them alone.
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.”
— Attributed to Albert Einstein
For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus mainly on honey bees, since they are the primary pollinators of many trees, plants, and crops. Most of them live in manmade hives and produce wax and honey, although there are also many wild colonies thriving, many times in hollow trees.
Honey bees are hairy and brown with dull orange bands on the abdomen. They have a black tail and a dark head and thorax. There is a pollen basket on each hind leg, and if they sting you, they will only do it once (each honey bee can only sting one time, after which they die).
A Honey Bee Hive
The hive of a honey bee consists of a queen and sterile workers, larvae and pupae, and males, but only at certain times of the year. When an old queen leaves with most of the workers searching for a location for a new nest, a swarm occurs. After mating, a young queen will rebuild the old colony.
How the Queen Bee Is Created
There are only three different types of bees in a honey bee hive: the workers, the drones (male honey bees), and the queen, each of which performs specific duties in the colony. Normally, the queen is the only reproductive female in the colony. While the honey bee hive only has a single queen, a hive cannot be started by the queen alone.
The new queen is created by the worker bees feeding a larva exclusively a particular type of food called "royal jelly," which is richer than the food given to worker larvae. The jelly, secreted by special glands in the heads of worker bees, consists of water, proteins, and sugar and is necessary for the larva to develop into a fertile queen bee.
The queen can lay as many as 2000 eggs each day, and although she can live up to five years, she is usually replaced by a younger queen after only a few years since younger queens can produce more eggs.
The new queen may be killed by the reigning queen, or one of the two might fly away with a portion of the colony to start a new hive. The only time a queen leaves the hive otherwise is for mating with drones, which are produced for this purpose only. Drones don't have stingers and don't gather pollen or nectar; their primary role is to mate with the unfertilized queen, and only one succeeds. The drones remaining in the colony after the queen has been fertilized are killed by the worker bees.
Appearance of Drones and Worker Bees
The main visual difference between a worker bee and a drone is their size. The drones are longer and even wider than the worker bees. While a worker bee's abdomen has a more pointed design, the drone is shaped more like a barrel.
Things We Can Do to Save the Bees
There are many things that we, as humans, can do to make certain bees survive and thrive. These are just a few of those things.
- Limit your use of herbicides and insecticides. If you feel you must use them, do so at night when the bees are not active.
- Purchase locally grown or USA-produced honey, as there have been reports that some imported honey may contain cane or corn-based sugar.
- Add clover to your grass seed mix. The nectar sucked from clover by the bees adds a distinctive taste and color to the honey they produce. Try white clover, crimson clover, sweet clover, or alsike clover, all of which are exceptional choices.
- Purchase bee-friendly plants (labeled as neonicitinoid free).
- Even if you live in an apartment with only a few feet of space on an outdoor balcony, plant something in a planter that will attract bees.
- Build a bee box in your backyard.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Mike and Dorothy McKenney