The Benefits of Bees
What are bees?Bees are flying insects that belong to the superfamily Apoidea, in the sub-order Apocrita which contains over 20, 000 species. This includes the more familiar honey bees (Genus Apis) and the bumble bees (Genii Psithyrus and Bombus).
Bees are closely related to wasps and flies and this can be seen in the thousands of wasp-like and fly-like bees. Even though bees are closely related to wasps, they are very different from wasps, in that bees feed their young with honey and pollen while wasps provide insects in their nests for their young to feed on.
Another major difference is in their physical appearance. While both groups of insects are very hairy, wasps generally have unbranched hairs, but bees have some branched hairs or feathered hairs. This enables them to pick up pollen more easily.
Bees are present on every continent where flowering plants that depend on insects for cross-pollination are found. Sweat bees (Halictidae) are the most common in the Northern Hemisphere.
They are quite small and can often be mistaken for flies or wasps. Bees range in size from 2 millimeters to 39 millimeters. Some bees are stingless. Some groups of bees are social and live-in colonies such as the stingless bees, honeybees, and bumblebees while some other groups are solitary like leafcutter bees (the largest-sized bees), mason bees, and carpenter bees among others.
What are the benefits of bees?
Pollination is the most important benefit that bees provide. Their collection of pollen from one flowering plant to another ensures the spread and survival of plants and their diversity.
Pollination by bees is not only ecologically important, but it also holds commercial values. The numbers of bees are declining and saving bees is very important for the maintenance of biodiversity.
Some bees are known to collect pollen from only one or a few species of flowering plants that are closely related. They are known as Oligoleges or more simply as specialists. In contrast to this group are the generalists or polylactic bees. These gather pollen and nectar from a wide range of flowering plants.
Saving bees is important because bees play a role in the ecosystem in every respect especially when it comes to biodiversity. Their activities benefits the growth and continuation of different species of plants and sometimes, in the creating of a new species. The ecosystems are large and interconnected and the active participation of bees allows myriads of diverse species to survive and co-exist. Honeybees collect pollen and nectar and use these to make honey. Since bees cannot survive outside their hive in the winter season, they spend the rest of the year gathering nectar and pollen to produce honey for the harsh winter months where there will be a food scarcity.
How do bees make honey?
Worker bees forage for nectar and suck it up from the plants by using their proboscis. On a single trip, a worker bee can forage over 100 plants.
The gathered nectar is stored along with some saliva in the honey stomach. When this stomach is filled, the worker bee returns to the hive.
There, it passes the nectar to the house bees and goes off to gather more. In the process of chewing, and passing of nectar from one bee to another, the enzymes begin to work slowly to change the chemical properties of the nectar. This mixture contains a lot of water, and since the bees plan to store the honey over winter, they need to dry it. Bees get rid of the water content of honey by spreading it over the honeycomb to increase evaporation. They also fan their wings over the honey to increase airflow. Once dry enough, it is stored in the honeycomb and sealed with beeswax.
Honey is another major benefit of bees. It has high commercial and economic value, as well as its obvious health value. All in all, bees are great and they definitely need saving!