Audio Version - All About Bees
I knew it was Spring a little before the calendar did. It was the moment the wind blew a fat-bottomed bumble bee towards me. It made me chuckle and feel fuzzy inside, that the Winter is over and warm light is coming.
Did you know the British Isles have around 270 species of bee? I didn’t.
Honeybees have a clever dance called a ‘waggle’. This is a form of communication to say they have found a brand new amazing source of nectar. They use the hive entrance as a dancefloor; they dance in 2 semicircles and then run the distance of the circles.
To see what I mean, check out this cool little video
Did you know that in the honey bee world, they exist between 3 categories?
‘The Queen Bee’ Lives up to 5 years, runs the hive, lays the eggs, and produces chemicals to manage the bees’ behaviour.
Worker bees, all-female, fan their four wings (bees can beat their wings up to 200 times per second) to keep the hive cool and clean; worker bees are often spotted by us when buzzing around the hive. They do an enormous amount of labour in their 5-6 week lifespan.
Then there are the drone bees; hundreds of them live in the hive during warmer to mate with the queen. Every Winter, these chaps are made redundant and launched out again.
Bees, as we know, are pollinators; they keep our ecosystem balanced. They keep our food coming. They have little quirks and charms of their own, which I’ll tell you a little more about now…
Some scientists have trained buff-tailed bumblebees to score a football goal as a part of an intelligence experiment, Eureka the discovery that bees learn in their sleep happened.
There are imposter bumblebees which are known as cuckoo bees. This is when a female bee will break into a hive, hide for some time, then often kill the legitimate queen bee of the hive, lay her own eggs in place of hers and skedaddle, leaving the true bumblebees to raise her offspring for her unknowingly. You can find more detail about this on Bumble Bee Conservation
I won’t go on about how our beloved buzzers are dying off, but this is at least partly due to 95% of wildlife meadows disappearing, pesticides, disease and more.
We know that pesticides are killing beautiful bees too fast; even in tiny amounts, they are lethal. We see them suffering on the pavements and…
What I will say is it’s not over. We are all capable of helping them thrive once more with a little TLC.
How you can help bees
Host a bee hotel
It’s easy to make a bee hotel yourself. Select a safe little space, out of direct sunlight, which is dry, whereby our visitors can tuck themselves in.
Bunching up some canes, hollow stems, bits of wood into a waterproof container and hang.
Or there are many commercial bee hotels available to choose from which are suitable for various bee types, depending upon which species you wish to cater for. Bees aren’t picky about presentation whatsoever as long as it’s dry. Please replace the filler every year.
Food and Water
Bee cuisine examples
These are favourites and incredibly easy to grow.
Dandelions (seriously underrated!)
Honeysuckle (beautiful scent, climbing plant)
This brings me to ask you a favour personally; please, please, please, mow your lawn a little less. If you just reduce it, some wildflowers can grow for our bees, like daisies, clover, and one of the most valuable yet shunned is the dandelion (I’ll do a blog about Dandelions soon). It honestly doesn’t look like a mess, as the saying goes, “Excuse the weeds. We’re saving the bees.”
You should be proud. A lawn in bloom is gorgeous; not everybody can achieve one!
Take a look at bumblebeeconservation.org to see ways to embrace living alongside bees.
Offer a drink
Due to all the pollen and nectar; bees do not get as much water from their food as caterpillars do; for example, they munch on juicy leaves all day long.
Bees love a good drink, and it’s a funny thing to see.
Just fill a shallow tray/saucer with some water, leave it. Ensure bees can climb in and out by adding rocks/pebbles.
It’s a nice little activity for all ages setting it up and watching them come and go again and again; they are creatures of habit.
Grow a fruit tree
Bees love to visit fruit trees (in fact, they are fantastic for wildlife in general), their five eyes get a glimpse of the blossom or a whiff of the fruit, and they’ll be there.
I love the sound of bees in trees; it’s an insect version of a motorway except without toxic emissions. I imagine them in a very old fashioned gentleman sort of way, bowler hats, and overly apologetic.
Types of bee to look out for
My personal favourite first of all – The Red-Tailed Bumble Bee
Affectionately known between my daughter and I as ‘orange bottom.’
They live their lives lovingly pollinating plants from April to November. I cannot explain why I adore them so much over the other bees, but they are one we love to spot every year.
Banded White Tailed Bumble Bee – This is the classic bee, the most famous bee with its notorious bee stripes.
Honey bee – They live above the ground, unlike the burrow bees. They are the angels that collect nectar from flowers to create honey. However, I should credit specifically the workers of the hive for making the honey. With 20,000 within each community, they are assigned roles to play.
Leafcutter bees – These are the loveliest lovelies that will likely take home in your bug hotel. They cut leaves to line the nest to keep their babies cosy and warm. You’ll probably start spotting them in early May.
Hairy Footed flower bee – They emerge in February, smaller than a bumble and has hairy legs, not all of them, just the middle set, a bit of glamour. These silly bees have a habit of appearing near people’s fireplaces after falling down chimneys whilst looking for nests. Just gently send outside, and he’ll bee off again.
Solitary bees – They are smaller than the famous bumbles and honey bees. Out of Britain’s 270 species of bee 250 are solitary bees. Most of these bees collect pollen from a range of plants (known as being polylectic). However, not all solitary bees are nectar collectors. Some are parasites.
To read about more types of bees go to this handy bee identification guide
Common Bee imposters
Some insects are purely wannabee’s
Bee flies – these have a long proboscis (pointy insect tongue). They’re parasites that live among bees, pretending to be one of them when they are flinging their eggs into solitary burrow bees nests.
Hoverflies – They are pollinators who pretend to be bees and wasps so that bees and wasps don’t attack them, usually big-eyed and harmless.
Social wasps – Yeah, it’s the W-word! These guys aren’t the pests you think they are! They’re the ones eating midges and other biters which we can do without. They are also incredible pollinators that keep food in our bellies.
Why love pollinators?
One in every three mouthfuls of food depends upon pollinators like bees, butterflies and beetles.
They give our flower beds colour. Without them, there would be such a limited amount of colour. Bees are attracted to the best colours, smells around, which is excellent for bringing in tourism and well-being.
Western honeybees produce 1.6million tonnes of honey every year.
In fact, I’ll say more than that! Bees make our food taste better.
The food produced by pollinators is not only more valuable, they make food more beautiful, juicier and more nutritious. When a plant is visited regularly by pollinators, it will give out more, at better quality as it deems it then worthy of investing in its own resources.
See for more information what bees do for us
Thanks for reading; I’ve really enjoyed putting this my first ever blog together.