What Are Bees?

Creatures that are winged, with branched body hairs and have flower-feeding habits are known as Bees. These insects belong to the monophyletic lineage under the Apoidea superfamily. The Apoidea is one of the groups under the order Hymenoptera, which includes two lineages; the Bees and the sphecoid wasps. A monophyletic group-also known as a ‘clade’ is a group of organisms that share a common ancestor. These groups are traditionally recognized by their shared derived characteristics which helps distinguish their particular clade from other organisms. This clade is known as anthophila. These insects are a close relative of other winged creatures such as wasps and even insects that don’t fly such as an Ant. Bees are commonly known for their role in pollination and production of honey and beeswax.

Honey bee with pollen
18707988 – flying bee

What Do Bees Look Like?

As mentioned before, these insects have wings and comprise of forked body hairs. Different species of bees come in different sizes. Some species are tiny and can be as little as 2mm while some lay on the larger side of the scale, measuring up to 39mm in length. Some bees are stout while some are rather long but one physical characteristic that all species of bees share is that they are all always constricted at the waist, even if it isn’t obvious to the naked eye. A bee’s limbs consist of six legs. The hindlegs are always much bigger and have forked hair on them. They have two thread-like sensory antennae, with the first segment being larger than the others. A bee has five eyes. 2 large compound ones and 3 simple ones. The eyes are also different among males and females. In males, they are much closer to each other while in females they are further apart. A bee’s mouth is held downwards and is sharp, used for cutting and lapping. They have 4 wings-2 pairs. Both pairs are clear with visible veins, cross-veins, and cells. The veins, however, do not extend to the end of the wing, also known as the ‘wing margin’. The wings are separated into to parts, one being the hindwing and the other, the forewing. The hindwing is narrower and shorter compared to the forewing. Both pairs are couple together by rows of hamuli (minute hooks) and when at rest, the wings are flat over their bodies and in some species even overlapping each other. Bees do not have tails (cerci), instead, most species have stingers.

 Different Types of Bees

It’s estimated that there are about 20000 different species of bees present. Below are the 9 subfamilies of bees under the Apoidea superfamily:

  1. Apidae
  2. Colletidae
  3. Halictidae
  4. Andrenidae
  5. Melittidae
  6. Megachilidae
  7. Dasypodaidae
  8. Meganomiidae
  9. Stenotritidae

The Apidae family consists of stingless, honey and bumblebees. Colletidae group is estimated to have 2000 species including the yellow-faced bees and the plasterer bees. Halictidae bees are smaller and mostly dark-colored with some occasionally having yellow, green or red markings. Halictidae bees are also known as ‘sweat bees’.  Furthermore, the Andrenidae family includes mining bees. This family of bees is a particularly large one with almost 1300 different species alone. Melittidae family is a comparatively smaller family with around 60 bee species. The Megachilidae mostly comprises of solitary bees such as leafcutter and mason bees. Other than that, the last 3 families- Dasypodaidae, Meganomiidae, and Stenotritidae lay on the smaller side of the subfamilies consisting of a little over a hundred species, 10 species and 21 species respectively. Making Meganomiidae the smallest subfamily. 

Honeybees, bumblebees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, and carpenter bees are some of the most well known and popular bees. The honeybee (Apidae family) are extremely social bees that live in huge colonies consisting of about 50 to 60 thousand workers. There are around 10 different types of honeybees around the world. Plus, one hybrid called the ‘Africanized bee’. They are used in large amounts for crop pollination. Bumblebees (also from the Apidae family) are also social bees that live in colonies however, their colonies are much smaller compared to honeybees. These colonies van be as small as 50 workers going up to a max of 400. The average is about 120 to 200 workers in each colony.  The leafcutter and mason bees (both a part of the Megachilidae family) are solitary bees, mason bees prefer to reside in crevices and mortars whereas, leafcutter bees like to nest in already made holes in the trees or other hollow stems. the carpenter bee (also belonging to the Apidae family) is also a solitary bee that is extremely good pollinators. 

How to Identify Different Types of Bees?

The honeybee is easily distinguishable due to its colors. Their base color is golden brown and is striped with black abdominal lines.  The bumblebee is a comparatively larger than honeybees and have black bodies and have branched black and yellow hair all over their body. The carpenter bee is much like a bumblebee, it too has a black body with black and yellow body hairs however, a carpenter bee is visibly much larger than a bumblebee. Another difference between a bumblebee and a carpenter bee is that a bumblebee has slightly more hair on its abdomen compared to carpenter bees.

Solitary and Social Bees

Solitary bees like the carpenter bees or the leafcutter bees, as the name suggests, prefer to live alone rather than in huge colonies like the honeybees. Where solitary bees make their nests, varies. Some species prefer to stay in crevices, some in ready-made holes while some make their own nest. Among solitary bees, the process usually is that a female bee constructs her own nest, mates with a male and then provide for the egg cell herself till it eventually becomes larvae. However, even though solitary bees prefer to stay alone, it’s not unheard of, of them living in a community of sorts. This means that sometimes a group of solitary bees would make nests next to each other in a manner of flats or a neighborhood and occasionally even help each other out making nests or take up guarding duty.

Truly social bees, on the other hand, live in large colonies. The size of the colony varies from specie to specie. For example, a honeybee colony can consist of a staggering 40-50 thousand residents whereas compared to that bumble bee colony can be as little as 50 bees in a beehive.  A bee colony consists of 3 groups. Each with a different purpose to fulfill. The first is the queen bee, second is the worker bee and the third is the drone. The queen (female) bee’s duty is to mate and lay eggs. The drone’s (male) only purpose is to mate with the queen and soon die after. Lastly, the worker bee (also females) have their work cut out for them, they are the caretakers of the queen’s offspring, in charge of food duty, nest foraging duty and guarding duty. Their main purpose is to strive for the survival of the colony.

What Do Bees Do?

Bees mostly live solitarily, sometimes in close vicinity of other bees like a community and sometimes in huge colonies. Bees tend to fly away when they are disturbed. If bees feel threatened, they can sting and sometimes even swarm. But swarming for bees is very rare, it usually occurs (if ever) to protect the nest and only colonist bees do it. Since bees are pretty strong fliers, they can travel long distances, some species can even fly as fast as 15kmph. They also have the ability to hover. Bees are known for making a buzzing sound when flying and/or hovering. When walking, bees tend to hold their antennae out in the front. During the day is when bees are the most active. At night many different types of bees have been observed to sleep in groups while some are seen as not sleeping but resting and recharging for the next day. Worker bees are in charge of feeding the young and other bees that don’t leave the hive, they store food in a sort of container on their hindlegs and bring it back to the hive.  Bees are excellent pollinators that are also quite important for humans. 

A Bees’ Eating and Feeding Habits

for a bee to be healthy, it requires carbs, proteins, and fat in a specific ratio. This ratio varies and is dependent on different factors such as the age of the bee, the current weather season, and the specie of the bee. Their diet also depends and shifts according to the needs of the hive, in order to fulfill everyone’s needs.  But generally, as larvae, bees have a more protein and fat-based diet and as adult bees, they have a shift to a carbohydrate diet. Bees achieve the right ratio by being extremely picky about their foods. Many experiments have been done to prove this theory. In one experiment it was seen that when a ‘nursing bee’ that’s been confined s presented with two food with different levels of carb and protein, it will eat it in a manner that is or is at least close to the proper ratio they require. 

While some bees are attracted to sugars especially liquid sugar like juices and drinks, most bees feed on pollen and nectar from flowers as their main source of food. Nectar is a sweet liquid produced by flowers whereas pollen is a typically yellow powdery substance consisting of pollen grains that are discharged by the male cone (male part of the flower).

Nectar and pollen are collected by forager bees. Honeybees gather nectar in an elastic pouch on their gut typically known as the ‘honey gut’ whereas other bees have baskets of sorts on their hindlegs where they collect pollen grains. When their pouches and baskets are full, they return back to their colony, where honeybees unload the nectar to bees known as ‘receiver bees’ for them to store as honey and other pollen-bearing bees unload the pollen to cells to form ‘bee bread’. There Is another bee called the ‘nursing bee’ that receives on both to feed the colony. To feed the larvae, queen and the drones, the nursing bee transforms the pollen into ‘royal jelly’. 

How Can Bees Identify Which Plants to Visit?

Bees like most other creatures depend on their vision to distinguish different plants. They are color-sensitive creatures. And can see a wide range of colors, however, if there is a color that they can’t see, it’s the color red. Flowers have ultraviolet patches on them that are not visible to the naked eye. These patches are called ‘bee or nectar guides’. Some bees also choose their flowers by its shape, some are flat that makes it easier to land for the bees and some aren’t. 

Are Bees Dangerous?

When bees are disturbed, it is common for them to just fly away, however, if they feel threatened or if they feel that their nest is in danger they may sting, chase or swarm. Killers bees have been observed to chase a person for ¼ of a mile when aggravated.  A sting by a bee can cause pain and a lot of swelling. 

Only female bees have stingers, it’s called the ‘ovipositor’ and is a part of a female bees’ reproductive system. Venom is stored in a sac that’s is attached to their stingers. Queen bees can use their ovipositors to lay eggs and to sting but worker bees only use it to sting as they are infertile and don’t lay eggs.  However, a lot of bees are known to die after stinging, as their stingers are a bit hooked and after stinging get stuck and ripped off while pulling away resulting in death.  

Some Facts About Bees

  1. Bee stings can have some benefits such as; prevention of HIV.
  2. Bees have the ability to recognize human faces
  3. They have excellent navigation techniques
  4. To calm down bees, a beekeeper sometimes uses smoke.
  5. Bees are one of the most studied insects by scientists
  6. They are extremely intelligent when they are faced with many different routes, they are quick to do their math and figure out the shortest distance towards their destination
  7. Up to 2500 eggs can be laid per day by a queen bee
  8. One bee can only produce 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime

The Life Span of Bees

The lifespan of bees depends on the specie and its role. A typical worker bee has a life expectancy of 6 weeks during summer and up to 5 months in winter. A drone bee is expected to live up to for 8 weeks, depending on when they mate, because they soon die after the mating process. A queen bee, however, can live up to three to four years. 

Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.