They say beauty is in the eye of the bee holder. Well, learnalittle… holds… um. Today’s post is about bees.
Bees are flying insects, closely related to ants and likely descended from wasps. Some bees are highly eusocial: one queen breeds for the entire colony, while female workers guard the hive, collect resources, produce honey, and tend to the queen and her young. A handful of male drones – which hatch from unfertilized eggs – exist primarily to mate with the queen. To raise new queens, workers feed select larvae protein-rich royal jelly, making them larger than the average bee and sexually mature. These new queens may leave the hive with a swarm entourage to form a new colony.
Though the above-mentioned social structure is best known, most bee species live in primitively eusocial communities: though there is a queen, her daughters can also reproduce – they just don’t because it’s not their role in the colony. Further, some species of bees are solitary, living in individual nests.
Bees survive by sucking nectar from flowers, using a tongue-like tube-shaped proboscis. These bugs also rely on plant pollen as the main food source for their larvae; the hair that covers their bodies efficiently traps this flower powder, and the scopa – a leg-mounted, pouch-like modification made from stiffer hairs – is ideal for transporting pollen. Some bee species communicate resource location through jerky, figure-eight-shaped movements, called the waggle dance; the angle of the dance reflects the angle of the flowers from the hive.
Some bees are flightless depending on sex and social role, but all have two pairs of wings. Popular myth holds that bee flight cannot be explained by physics. The bee’s bulky body and stubby wings did stump scientists for some time – until they realized the bug operates more like a helicopter than a plane, with wings in constant motion to generate lift-off. At an approximate 230 wing-beats per second, this fast fluttering is more than enough to fly – and create the characteristic buzz.
Adult bees have several natural predators, including birds, dragonflies, and wasps. When a wasp scout enters the hive, some species of honeybees employ balling: a cluster of bees dog piles the invader and vibrates, upping its body temperate and smothering it with carbon dioxide. Some bees – but not all – have stings to defend themselves; worker honeybees pack a particularly powerful punch, as their barbed stings pump poison into the predator even after the sting has ripped from the bee. Speaking of honey – despite popular misconception and a misleading name – bears and honey badgers don’t actually eat the sweet stuff: they feast on bee larvae.
Though only some bees produce honey, all species play a significant role in human life. Bees pollinate about one third of US crops; yet the American bee population has plummeted since 2006. Experts don’t quite know the cause, but suspect parasites, climate change, fungus, disease – even cell phone radiation. Stinging aside, we might not realize how much we need bees until they’re gone.