Be Kind to Bees
No doubt about it, we are as drawn to bees as they are to flowers. As busy bees travel from flower to flower, they are doing a most important job. When they flit from bloom to bloom, the bees move pollen from one flower to the next. A female worker bee may visit hundreds of flowers on a single trip! This pollen exchange allows many flowering trees and plants to reproduce, and make the yummy fruits and veggies we enjoy. There are several different kinds of bees that make Ohio their home.
When we think of bees, we usually picture the fat and fuzzy bumble bee, with its cheerful yellow stripes and familiar buzz. Bumble bees live in colonies of about 200 bees. When springtime comes, the queen bee’s job is to lay hundreds of eggs, including a few future daughter queens and kings, and many worker bees. Bumble bees often make their cozy nests underground in the abandoned nests of mice or other small creatures, or along building foundations. The queen bee may live up to three years, but the exhausted worker bees die off in the fall. Each spring, the queen finds a new nest and starts a new colony.
Like other bees, bumble bees collect pollen to take back to the nest as food for the colony. They store the pollen they have collected in pollen baskets on their hind legs. When they fly into the next flower to gather more, some of the pollen drops off—unlucky for the bee, but lucky for the flower because it needs pollen from other flowers of the same species to reproduce.
Beeware: Bumble bees come equipped with a smooth, sharp stinger. A bee will not sting unless provoked, but a bumble bee does not lose its stinger, and it will live to sting again.
“Bee Informed” Bumble Bee Fact: The bumble bee’s buzz is not caused by its flapping wings, but by the rapid movement of its flight muscles as it warms up to take off.
Honey bees are small but mighty members of the bee family. Honey bees have a complex social order, and live together in large colonies with as many as 80,000 bees! They may build their nest, or hive, in an old tree stump, in a cavity in a tree, or even in attic or inside the walls of a house.
The honey bee colony has a single queen, hundreds of drones and thousands of workers. The queen is the largest bee in the colony, and she is the only one that can breed and lay eggs. She is the mother of the entire colony, and she can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day. The queen may live for two years. The drones are the males, and their only job is to mate with the queen. They live for only ninety days. The female worker bees are responsible for making the wax combs used for storing food and storing the eggs of the queen. They also take care of the queen, the drones and the queen’s eggs, and they clean and defend the whole hive. The worker bees live for only forty days. Older worker bees leave the hive and gather nectar and pollen for the rest of the colony.
Honey bees make more than enough honey for the colony. They also make 8-sided wax combs to create the structure for their large nests. In addition to honey and wax, we can thank honey bees for helping farmers grow foods like cucumbers and broccoli, apples and pears, and berries and melons. Beekeepers who make homes for bees in hive boxes move their hives from orchard to orchard and field to field to help farmers quickly pollinate their crops.
Beeware: Honey bees have a barbed stinger that can only sting once. When the stinger pierces its victim, the honeybee leaves the stinger behind as it escapes. Not long afterward, the honey bee dies.
“Bee Advised” Honey Bee Fact: Honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought by European settlers in the mid 1800s.
Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumble bees. Both have thick bodies and hairs along their backs, but the carpenter bee has a shiny belly (abdomen), while the bumble bee is hairy all around. Most carpenter bees do not have yellow markings. The female carpenter bee has a black head, while the male has white markings on its head. Both the male and female carpenter bees can live for up to two years or more.
Although they look similar, carpenter bees live differently than bumble bees. They are called carpenter bees because they carve holes into wood to create their nests. These holes, called galleries, are so cozy that the bees can survive the cold of winter inside them. The bees don’t eat the wood they carve; they feed on pollen and nectar, like other bees do.
Beeware: To defend his territory, the male carpenter bee may dive-bomb or fly close to a possible intruder to raise the alarm. He does not have a stinger, but the female carpenter bee does have a stinger. She is not aggressive, but will sting if handled.
“Bee Amazed” Carpenter Bee Fact: When the female begins to build the gallery her chewing on the wood can be heard from several feet away!
More Bees to Know
Digger bees are also known as flower-loving bees. They bees are covered with yellow and black hairs, and often resemble carpenter bees. Digger bees create their nests in sand or clay banks.
Leafcutting bees are black bees with white or silver hairs, and fine bands of white hairs on the top of the abdomen. Leafcutting bees tear off bits of leaves and flower petals to make their nests.
Sweat bees are tiny with a shiny black body. They are called sweat bees because of their attraction to the salt of human sweat.
To see for yourself how important bees are to Mother Nature, go outside and visit your local Ohio state park to observe these fascinating bees in their habitat. And don’t forget to be kind to bees!
Photos from Left to Right: Bumblebee by Dr. David Inouge of University of Maryland • Carpenter Bee, mosbybuildingarts.com • Digger Bee by Beatriz Moisset • Honey Bee by A. Metzer • Leafcutter Bee, ometimesblog.com • a Sweat Bee, efabre.net.