CHARACTERISTICS of BEES - Where they live, types, behavior and more

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We all know bees as those small animals that can use their sting to defend themselves, that go from flower to flower to feed themselves and that make the nutritious and delicious honey that is consumed all over the planet. However, as soon as we delve into the fascinating world of beekeeping, there are many questions that may arise. For example: where do bees live and what do they eat? How long do they live? How is its reproduction? And more importantly, what if bees didn't exist? Is it true that bees are in danger of extinction?

If you want to know about these and other curiosities of bees, do not miss this complete and interesting article by Ecologist Verde on the characteristics of bees. Take note!

Physical characteristics of bees

We begin this article by describing the physical characteristics of bees, that is, how is the body of a bee in terms of its shape (morphology or anatomy), what are the parts of bees, etc.

  • The honey bee (that is, the one that makes honey) is an arthropod, as it has jointed legs. It belongs to the class of the insects and, in addition, it is a hymenopteran insect, since it has membranous wings. The main parts of the body of bees are: head, thorax and abdomen.
  • In his head stands out the existence of three simple eyes or ocelli between the two compound eyes, the latter formed by thousands of simple eyes in turn.
  • Interestingly, in the antennas they house the senses of touch, smell and hearing.
  • Also of great interest is the proboscis, which is a tubular and elongated structure with which they ingest the nectar contained in the flowers.
  • In addition, on their legs they have a kind of baskets where they accumulate the pollen that they collect when they visit the flowers.
  • In its abdomen, we can find different glands that allow them to make wax, communicate with each other, etc., and the stinger with which they defend themselves.

We recommend you read this other article to know the Difference between bee, wasp and bumblebee and this other to learn more about what insects are and their characteristics.

Image: Slideshare

Where bees live

We continue this article by telling where bees live. The bees are grouped in colonies called swarms and these live in the hives. The hives are made up of honeycombs, where they keep their food and also breed, as we will see later. Do you know how many bees can live in a hive? A hive in full swing can host up to 60,000 bees, it's impressive!

We can find bee hives by all the planet Except in Antarctica, since there the climatic conditions are not suitable for them nor do they allow the development of vegetation with which to survive.

In addition to the areas of natural habitats of bees, we can also find hives located in certain types of crops, since both beekeepers As farmers, they make a profit from the pollination carried out by bees on them.

Types of bees

Bees can be classified based on several criteria. So we have, for example, these types of bees:

  • Social bees and solitary bees.
  • Bees that build their honeycombs in holes (which are, therefore, susceptible to being exploited by humans) and others that do so outdoors (generally on plant branches).
  • Honey bees or honey bees and non-honey bees.

In total it is estimated that there are more than 20 thousand species of bees and only a few have the ability to produce honey. The latter are from gender Apis and we name them below:

  • Apis mellifera, Western honey bee or European bee.
  • Apis cerana, Oriental honey bee or Asian bee.
  • Apis nigrocincta, honey bee from the Philippines.
  • Apis dorsata, large Asian honey bee or large honey bee.
  • Apis flowers, Asian girl honey bee or girl honey bee.
  • Apis andreniformisDark, Asian honey bee girl.
  • Apis koschevnikovi, Koschevnikov bee in Indonesia, Borneo and Malaysia.

The most emblematic is, without a doubt, the European bee (Apis mellifera) and it is the one that is mainly discussed in this article. Within the european bee hives we also have several types of bees:

  • Queen bee: There is only one queen bee per hive, it is always female and its size is greater than that of the rest of the bees. Its most important task is to lay eggs, although it also organizes the colony by releasing pheromones that act as chemical messengers.
  • Worker Bee: the workers are also female, they are the most numerous and carry out innumerable tasks both inside and outside the hive.
  • Drones: They are the males of the colony and do not have a stinger. Its only function is to impregnate the queen. If they fertilize it, they die later (which prevents consanguinity) and those who have not fertilized it will be removed from the hive by the workers when food is scarce.

Behavior of bees

We will see, below, the behavior of bees. In the case of the European bee, we have a social behavior in which a very clear organization is presented. This means that each member of the colony performs a characteristic role. The same happens in other insects such as termites, ants, etc. Social behavior is known as gregariousness and here we talk about gregariousness: what it is, examples and characteristics.

This social behavior of bees can not only be observed among different types of bees (queen, worker, and drone), but also among worker bees themselves. Thus, depending on the age of a worker bee (in days), it will perform some functions or others. Let's see what they are:

  • From the 2nd to the 3rd day, she is in charge of cleaning and giving heat to the eggs.
  • From the 4th to the 12th day, feed the larvae (they are nurse bees).
  • From the 13th to the 18th day, she builds the combs with the wax that she produces herself.
  • From the 19th to the 20th day, he is in charge of defending the hive, standing at the entrance.
  • From the 21st day on, it collects nectar, pollen, propolis and water for the colony (they are called foraging bees).

Finally, we comment on the interesting behavior of foraging bees when they return to the hive. Did you know that through a kind of dance they tell their sisters where they can find the best flowers or where they can find water to drink, etc.? In this sense, thanks to the studies of the Austrian scientist Karl Von Frich, we can know part of this language of bees, thus, we know that:

  • If their dance is with the head upwards they are indicating that the flowers are facing the Sun.
  • If their dance is with their head down they are expressing that they must look in the opposite direction to the Sun.
  • If they dance in circles it means that the flowers are close.
  • If they dance drawing eights they are communicating that the flowers are far away.
  • As they do the dance more or less fast and shaking their abdomen more or less they can also indicate the distance and if they have found few or many flowers.

How bees feed

Have you ever wondered what bees eat? Basically four different types of food are consumed in hives:

  • Nectar: It is a sweet, watery substance produced by flowers to attract pollinators. Here you can read more about What is nectar and its function.
  • Honey: It is a viscous substance that bees make from nectar. Here we tell you how bees make honey.
  • Pollen: They are microscopic grains produced by the male organs of plants in order to reproduce.
  • Royal jelly: A substance that worker bees make by digesting pollen with the help of certain glands.

Now the bee feeding It depends on the type of bee in question and if they are larvae or adults.

  • The worker bees are fed with royal jelly for the first three days of their life and also with honey porridge and pollen in their larval stage. Later, they go on to eat honey, nectar and pollen when they are adults.
  • Drone larvae feed on honey and adult drones eat the same food as worker bees.
  • The queen bee eats only royal jelly throughout its life.

Surely the type of diet influences its life expectancy, since the queen bee can live more than 5 years. Also, if you wonder how long worker bees live, their life expectancy will depend on the time of year in which they were born: if they are born during the spring, they will work more and live less, not exceeding three months on average. As for the drones, their life expectancy is only slightly higher than that of the workers.

Reproduction of bees

We continue talking about the characteristics of these insects counting now how bees reproduce. Once the queen bee reaches sexual maturity, which occurs when it is about 5 days old, it leaves the hive to perform the fertilization flight, also called wedding flight. When flying, drones They go to meet her and fertilize her, this happening two or three times over a week or so.

Later, the queen bee will no longer leave the hive for this reason, since it will already have all the necessary sperm stored in a bag inside its body, which is called spermatheca.

Is the bee an oviparous or viviparous animal? Bees are oviparous insects, that is, lay eggs as we mentioned previously. The queen bee is in charge of putting up 1,500 eggs per day during all his life. However, sometimes the queen has some physical limitation that prevents her from laying a sufficient volume of eggs to regenerate the population of the hive. In these cases, the workers make a new queen.

What is the function of bees

Ecologically speaking, the most important function that bees perform is to pollinate the flowers. In fact, bees pollinate a large part of all the plants that exist. Pollination is the process by which pollen is transmitted from the stamens (male part) to the stigma (female part) of the flowers, thus allowing their fertilization and the subsequent formation of fruits and seeds. It is something that bees do not do on purpose, because their job is to collect pollen to store it in the combs of their hive, but as they go from flower to flower part of that pollen falls and is deposited in the different flowers allowing its reproduction. Thus, pollination by bees is essential, as it allows biodiversity is maintained of the planet and life on Earth in general.

On the other hand, economically speaking, we can also ensure that bees play an essential role. Not only for the benefits they can acquire from them beekeepers (which could go into the background), but because it is calculated that about 70% of agriculture and, therefore, a large volume of the food we consume depends on them, that is, mainly on their pollination.

Now that you have read this far, we recommend that you later read these other interesting articles by Green Ecologist about What is pollination and its types, The importance of pollination and The importance of bees.

What if there were no bees

Unfortunately, bees are in danger of extinction. There are several threats from bees worldwide, but the main ones are climate change, invasive species such as the Asian hornet, the varroa mite, monocultures and the excessive use of pesticides and neonicotinoid insecticides. In this other post you can learn much more about why bees are in danger of extinction.

A) Yes, why it is important to protect bees? Because without the action of bees and other pollinating animals such as butterflies, bumblebees, hummingbirds or bats, not only would biodiversity decrease but, in addition, it would be impossible to maintain life on our planet as we know it. This is so because without pollination the birth of new individuals of a great variety of plant species would not be possible and, therefore, the entire food chain would be affected.

As for us, Why do we depend on bees? Mainly, because in a short time we would stop being able to benefit from a large volume of products with which we can feed ourselves and our livestock, with which we would suffer great famines at a global level with terrible consequences.

What can be done to help bees

Can the extinction of bees be prevented? How can we do our bit to help them? To end this article, we leave you some indications about what can be done in this regard:

  • Substitute certain chemicals such as neonicotinoid pesticides and insecticides and use instead natural products that have the ability to give the same results, but without adversely affecting the bees. A good alternative is biopesticides.
  • Bet on agriculture without monocultures and establish polycultures, which to some extent mimic the diversity existing in natural ecosystems.
  • Try in our day to day to have a carbon footprint as low as possible so as not to worsen climate change.
  • Plant plants in parks and gardens (both private and public) with a suitable flowering for them. Some plants that attract bees are lavender, thyme, rosemary, heather, various species of rockrose, daisies, sunflowers and a long etcetera. Check here for more Plants and flowers that attract bees.
  • Another good idea is to support organizations and associations with projects aimed at protecting bees.
  • Building hives on city rooftops and gardens can also help. Discover here the Beehives in the city to save the bees.

If you want to read more articles similar to Characteristics of bees, we recommend that you enter our Wild Animals category.

  • Cajero Avelar, S., Mateos Poumian, A. (2001). Basic Beekeeping Manual. Secretariat of Agriculture, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food. Mexico.
  • Quero Martínez, A. (2004). Bees and beekeeping. Oviedo University. Spain.
  • Martinez Trujillo, J.M. (2011). Beekeeping. Student guide. Service Center for Job Training and Development. Peru.
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