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23.05.2024

Top 10 Facts About Bees for World Bee Day 2024

Top ten bee facts for World Bee Day

May 20th is World Bee Day, a UN-designated day to raise awareness of the importance of bees for our food production and our entire ecosystem. Bees and other pollinators are responsible for pollinating a lot of the plants we use for food and for feeding livestock, so ensuring their survival is crucial for us humans. Here are our favourite facts about bees in honour of World Bee Day.

There are around 20,000 different species of bees.

Around the world, there are thought to be at least 20,000 different types of bees, including 250 types of bumblebees, 600 stingless bees, 7 types of honey bees and thousands of solitary bee species. Some of these bee species can be seen here in the UK – see some examples below of the UK’s bee species. 

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

Honey bees are quite small and have light brown and black striped abdomens. The wild honey bee is very rare, and most UK honey bees are owned by beekeepers. Honey bees live in hives with 20-50,000 colony members, and produce honey, beeswax, propolis and other substances. They are expert foragers and even do a dance to show other bees from their hive where to find flowers to harvest nectar. They have short tongues, making open flowers such as dandelion, clover and lavender, favourites of honey bees.

Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

This small orange-coloured bee is solitary and lives in a small volcano-like mound of earth, often close to other tawny mining bees. They love to forage from fruit trees and bushes and use pollen and nectar to feed their young. 

White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)

White-tailed bumblebee

The white-tailed bumblebee is a common sight in UK gardens, farmland and woodland, and boasts two bright yellow stripes and a white tail. Their favourite food plants include blackthorn, gorse and dead-nettle, although they can be seen feasting on a wide range of flowers. 

Violet Carpenter Bee (Zylocopa violacea)

This is the UK’s largest bee and has a black body with a stunning purple/blue sheen. They use their jaws to make holes in wood to create a nest, lay eggs in it, and seal it with chewed-up wood. They also hibernate in these wood tunnels over winter. 

Bees have four wings.

Bees have two pairs of wings that they keep folded away when they aren’t flying. This is what identifies them as part of the order Hymenoptera rather than the two-winged Diptera, like flies.

Honey bee hives have an internal temperature of around 35 degrees. 

Bee hives have an internal temperature of 35 degrees.

The bees in a hive keep the temperature constant by bringing in water and fanning their wings to keep the hive cool on hot days, and vibrating to generate heat when it’s cold. These warm temperatures are needed to keep the brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) safe and healthy. 

Bumblebees detach their wings to facilitate pollination.

Some flowers don’t give up their pollen so easily. To loosen pollen from difficult flowers such as those on tomato plants, a bumblebee will hold onto the flower’s stamen, detach its wings and vibrate its body. This generates a high frequency and causes the pollen to detach so the bee can collect it.  

Honeybees’ jobs are dictated by their age.

In a process called temporal polyethism, honeybees perform different jobs in the hive depending on their age. Their first job is to clean the cells they hatch out of and undertake cleaning tasks around the hive. They then take over looking after the larvae and pupae, then move to honey storage and production, and finally, they become foragers, flying out of the hive to collect pollen and nectar from flowers.

Only honey bees make (large amounts of) honey.

While bumblebees, mining bees, masonry bees and others do eat pollen and nectar, only honey bees produce honey in large quantities. A few other bee species make small amounts of honey, such as bumblebees, which only make a few days’ worth to sustain their small colony during bad weather.

Bumblebees live together in small colonies.

While honey bees live in colonies of up to 70,000 bees, the bumblebee lives in a more modest group of 50-500 bees. They make nests in holes in the ground dug and abandoned by larger animals, in old bird nests, inside hollow logs or in spaces beneath stones.

Bees use pollen to feed their young.

Bees get their carbohydrates from nectar, and if they produce it, honey. But they get protein and other nutrients from pollen, which they mainly use to feed their young. Bees collect pollen in little ‘baskets’ on their hind legs to take back to their nest or hive.

Honey bees are loyal to their favourite flowers.

In a phenomenon known as patch fidelity, honey bees have been observed regularly returning to their favourite patch of flowers. A study by the USDA found that 76% of honey bees kept returning to the same plot of alfalfa flowers. Bumblebees show less loyalty with only 47% coming back to the same flowers. 

A square metre of wildflowers can feed 12 bees for their entire lifetime.

Just 5g of wildflower seeds can plant a square metre of wildflowers, which is enough to sustain 12 bees for their whole life! From the social honey bee to the solitary mining bee, all bees need nectar and pollen from flowers to survive. You can plant your own wildflower garden at home with our wildflower seeds, or we can plant some for you in our wildflower meadows! So far we have planted almost 900,000 wildflowers, or 1,744 square metres, thanks to the people and businesses who partner with us. To find out how My Square Metre works, click here, or get in touch by emailing us at hello@mysquaremetre.co.uk.   

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