Busy Bees After A Long Winter
Everybody knows about honeybees and bumblebees, but these are only two of more than 20,000 species of bees globally.
Now that winter is over and spring is warming into summer, more and more bees are emerging after winter once the weather is nice. They are out buzzing around, looking for pollen, nectar and some species are looking for mates.
In fact, most solitary bees, genus colletes, are much smaller than honeybees and bumblebees, they are tiny and often go unnoticed by humans. They can be beautiful, and their social behavior is fun to watch.
Where were the bees all winter? It depends on the species.
Solitary bees usually live in the ground or in twigs, and spend the winter nested in the soil. In autumn, the female bee packs a cell with nectar and pollen, then lays an egg and seals off the cavity. They only produce one generation per year. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the pollen and nectar until it grows to a certain stage. This varies, some can stop with pupating and some develop into adults and then spent the whole winter underground.
How bees turn nectar into honey, this delightful video by Flow Hive is just 2:02-minutes long:
Bumblebees emerge in the autumn to mate and the inseminated female overwinters underground in her nest.
The common honeybee is a non-native bee and is known as Apis mellifera and was brought to the New World by colonists from Europe in the 1600s. This busy bee stays active all winter long, while worker bees all cluster tightly together with the Queen Bee in the middle, in the center of their beehive. They vibrate their flight muscles to produce warmth so they can survive the cold. A honeybee hive can be as warm as 100 degrees inside in winter.
This is a rare feat in the bee world, the honeybee is the only type of bee that does this. They also fly out of the colony on a warm spring day, whereas most solitary bees remain underground.
You can find the entrance to many solitary bee nests in grassy areas where there are mounds of dirt surrounding pencil-like holes that can be 2-3 feet deep. They may nest individually, but they gather in large groups. Usually the males emerge first.
Sometimes you might see hundreds of holes in an area and lots of bees flying around low to the ground. These are solitary males looking for females. The males do not sting. As the females dig nests, they surface to gather nectar and pollen for the nest, and that’s when males mate with them. Then the females return to the nest to lay the egg. The bees flying around now will complete their reproductive cycle by sometime in June, and then none will be seen again until next spring.
Bees love warmth and are very solar-oriented, so they are found in sunny areas more often than in deep woods. They navigate by way of the sun even if it is cloudy, using the plane of polarization, so they know how to get back to their nest.
Bees eat two items: nectar and pollen. Pollen provides high protein and nourishment, so they bring it back to the nest. Nectar is basically sugar water, and gives them high energy for flying. Baby bees and young bees consume pollen and nectar. Dandelions and clovers are ideal for bee foraging, and bees don’t know the difference between garden flowers and flowering weeds.
If you sit to observe the bees, you will soon be able to tell if they are seeking nectar or pollen. For nectar they will stick their tongues into the flowers. If they want pollen to take to the hive, they will perform a grooming behavior where the pollen attaches to the collecting hairs on their legs.
Watching bees can be a serene pastime, as there is something hypnotic in their movements and in the sound of their buzz, and you’ll never bee bored in your garden.
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