The Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
According to the US Geological Survey, there are over 20,000 types of bees worldwide, and twenty percent of them call the USA home. Yes, approximately 4,000 species live in the USA.
That makes us think about how many bees we do not know anything about. Yet we depend on bees for our very survival. Without them pollination of vegetables, fruits, and flowers would drop drastically. And then what would humanity eat?
Bees do not all look like the stereotypical fuzzy yellow and black striped creatures, although many do look like that. Some look quite different, even exotic, and we have highlighted many of them in our blog posts. Some bees are sweet and docile while others are aggressive.
The bee is undoubtedly the most important pollinator of crops. Today we will look at one of the best-known bees in North America, and then in the coming days we will look at a few other well-known bee pollinators as well. This bee is likely to be in your area, maybe even in your garden.
WESTERN HONEYBEE (Apis mellifera)
This is a very buzzy busy bee. It is one of the few bees that are not native to the US because it was originally imported from Europe and is also called the European Honeybee. There are at least 20 subspecies of this honeybee living in other parts of the world.
They are usually no bigger than half an inch long. They have brown and golden yellow stripes, and worker bees have pollen baskets on their legs where they gather honey to take back to the hive.
This type of bee is often raised by beekeepers and they live in hives with up to 60,000 bees in one hive, although there are wild honeybees that live in tree cavities and rocks in various parts of the world. Beekeepers make a business out of taking honey, propolis, royal jelly, pollen, and bees wax from the beehive to sell.
This 3:46-minute video by TED-Ed ponders what we would do without honeybees:
Honeybees live in colonies and are considered the most social bees of all. They have a single queen bee, the only female who can lay eggs and she can lay up to 2,000 eggs every day. She, in her infinite wisdom, decides whether to create a female or male egg. Unfertilized eggs become male drones and fertilized eggs become female worker bees. She is the only egg layer in the colony.
Most of the hive population is made up of female worker bees, and they are the ‘busy bees’ of the hive. Only they can sting, but they usually die if they do. It is a last resort if a honeybee stings because she knows she will die. She usually only does so when defending her colony.
This bee has long been considered the greatest of all pollinators. For this reason, commercial beekeeping has increased to a multi-billion-dollar business where bees are trucked around to massive pollination sites at certain times of year, like the almond orchards of California in February each year.
Honeybees have been challenged to survive in many ways over the past decades. They are plagued by such things as colony collapse disorder (CCD) caused by the Varroa mites, other diseases and parasites, habitat loss, deadly pesticides, monocultures, Asian hornets and now climate change.
Honeybees need us to be more aware of their plight and to do things in more natural ways that don’t harm bees. In short we need bees as much as they need us. Maybe even more.
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