Introduction to Bees
Bees, while feared for their painful stings, are in integral part of earth’s ecosystem. Closely related to wasps and ants, bees live on every continent of the earth, except for Antartica. Spread over nine different families, there are 20,000 documented species of bees, ranging from the tiny dwarf bee, measuring 5/64th of an inch (2.1 mm) to the Megachile Pluto, measuring 1.5 inches (39 mm). The Western Honey Bee is perhaps the most well known bee, and is responsible for a large share of the world’s pollinating. They are also the primary species of bee used for beekeeping. A bee’s diet consists of pollen and nectar from flowering plants, and they are responsible for pollinating countless plants. Scientists believe that up to a 1/3 of our food supply rests on pollination by bees.
Depending on the type of bee, they may pollinate one type of plant, or several. Because they are electrostatically charged, bees are easily able to pick up and carry pollen on their body and legs. They then move on to other flowers, groom themselves, and deposit the pollen in the new flower, pollinating it.
Bees live in different social arrangements, depending on the species. Some bees may be oligoleges (solitary), cleptoparasitic, nocturnal or communal. The terms semisocial and eusocial are used to describe communal bees. Semisocial bees typically live in a hive that has a division of labor, while eusocial bees have a division of labor, and mothers (queens) and daughters that live together. Certain types of eusocial hives will have a queen, workers and drones, and may have up to 40,000 bees living together.
Although not all bees sting, the ones that are noticed most often do. Most honeybees will avoid contact unless they feel like they are being attacked, or are defending the hive. They will respond to attack pheromones released by other bees, as well as to alarm pheromones released by a bee that has stung an attacker. The bee’s barbed stinger delivers a dose of apitoxin, or bee venom which contains melittin, which is a type of histamine. A bee sting is immediately painful, and may be accompanied by swelling, irritation and itching. Some people are highly allergic to bee’s venom, and must receive medication to counteract anaphylactic shock. If stung by a bee, it is recommended to scrape off the stinger with a credit card as quickly as possible to avoid more venom from being deposited in the skin. A cold compress and antihistamines are also helpful in alleviating the after effects of a sting.
Africanized Honey Bees — a hybrid breed of African and European bees — are much more aggressive than the Western Honey Bee. They are more prone to attacking, and after being accidentally released from a South American lab where they were created, have been steadily spreading across the Americas.
The flight of bees has been carefully studied by scientists interested in discovering how they propel themselves. Their unique method of flight and incredibly fast wings make them a veritable wonder of nature. Faster than most other insects, bees flap their wings 230 times per second.
Recently, bees have been a topic of scrutiny by many concerned scientists all over the world. Bee populations have dramatically dwindled in a phenomenon referred to as “Colony Collapse Disorder,” prompting action by many scientific and governmental agencies.
Written by O. Wallace
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