If you purchase an independently reviewed item through our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.
These striped insects are familiar to all of us, but why is so much attention focused on them now. Here are 10 important facts to know about bees and their role in our biosphere.
1. Bees are a very large group of insects
Bees are insects within the superfamily Apoidea. Under this name, there are more than 21 thousand species of insects that inhabit all continents except Antarctica. Bees can be tiny — just a couple of millimeters, like the dwarf bee Plebeia minima, and large: recently, scientists again found representatives of the species Megachile Pluto, which was considered extinct an individual reached 4 centimeters.
2. Bees pollinate about 80% of flowering plants
The most important role of bees in ecosystems is the pollination of flowering plants. Collecting pollen and nectar for their own needs, these insects carry pollen particles on the hairs on their bodies — and thus help pollinate up to 85% of all plants that have flowers. We owe the ripening of two-thirds of our crops to the bees.
3. Bees should not be considered individual organisms
Honeybees are animals so social that their colonies can be called superorganisms, and an individual bee will not be able to survive outside of its colony. The bee community is strictly hierarchical, each individual performs its function in it: in the hive, there is a queen, worker bees (they are divided into hives that serve the beehive, and flight bees that make supplies), and drones. The following figures will allow us to estimate the scale of the bee superorganism: a working individual of a honey bee weighs 0.1 grams, and an average bee swarm weighs 6-8 kilograms.
4. The bee has 5 eyes, but it does not distinguish red color
On the head of the bee, there are two types of eyes — three small simple eyes that are responsible for recognizing the light level, and two complex faceted eyes. The latter consist of many cells that put together a picture of the surrounding world for the bee, like a mosaic. These insects can distinguish between the ultraviolet spectrum and part of the visible (the most distinguishable color for bees is blue), but they do not perceive shades of red.
5. Bees buzz depending on how they feel
The buzzing of insects occurs due to the movements of the wings — in a bee, this is up to 440 flaps per second. The timbre of the buzzing of a bee family in a hive depends on its physiological state; by the nature of the sound, you can determine that the bees are starving or freezing, that they are going to swarm (leave the hive), whether there is now a queen in the family and many other features. Bees can be controlled acoustically, for example, to lure them out of the hive to treat it with poison from parasites.
6. Bees are so important that there is a separate science field for them
Apiology is the science that studies honeybees (Apis mellifera). Bees attracted close attention as an object of research in the 17th century, and they began to be bred several thousand years before our era. Now there are more than 30 breeds of honeybees.
7. Bees are persistent creatures
Bee industriousness has long been a household name: these insects are constantly working. During the day, a working bee can make 10 flights and explore an area of about 12 hectares. The bees’ loads can be sustained by the optimized structure of their body, which also protects them from large temperature changes and squeezing. The bees that lived in the hives on the roof of Notre Dame even survived a fire in the cathedral and safely bred their offspring.
8. Bees suffer from many diseases
Like all animals, bees get sick. They have their infections, including viral ones (for example, the Israeli acute paralysis virus), as well as various parasites. One of the most common bee diseases is varroosis, caused by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. It is believed that various diseases are the cause of a sad phenomenon-the syndrome of the destruction of bee colonies, in which worker bees leave the hives and do not return. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens for no apparent reason.
9. Bees are dying, and this is alarming
Over the past year, there have been more and more campaigns drawing attention to the extinction of bees (do you remember the bee influencer?). Activists and scientists are not just ringing the bell: since 2006, beekeepers regularly observe the mass death of their wards, mainly due to the syndrome of the destruction of bee colonies. In 2019, more than 40% of honeybees died in the United States. In Europe and Russia, these figures are lower, but the phenomenon is still observed. Bees are dying, among other things, due to environmental disasters and uncontrolled handling of pesticides.
10. We can help the bees
The extinction of bees can lead to a reduction in the number of flowering plants that no one will pollinate. But it also works the other way: bees suffer from a lack of flowers. One of the most effective methods of restoring bee well-being is the planting of multicultural (that is, multi-grass) meadows that will attract pollinators, as well as the creation of “hotels for insects” — artificial shelters in which different species can settle. To support the bees, it is not necessary to get an apiary: you can limit yourself to a small house, similar to a birdhouse. The bees will be grateful.