by Abbie Krause
What's the buzz?
Yellow, black, wings, buzz. A bee is a bee is a bee, right? Wrong. Did you know there are more than 4,000 species of native bees? Most people think honey when they think of bees. However, native bees were pollinating our North American flowers, shrubs and trees long before the European settlers brought honeybee hives to this continent. Bees actually come in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes. Each specie has a slightly different job, is attracted to different kinds of plants, is active during different seasons and frequent different places. Some bees may look similar to wasps and, in fact, bees descended from wasps. Most wasps are carnivores but about 125 million years ago, some got wise to the fact that collecting nectar was less of a struggle than tracking prey – flowers, after all, don’t fight back. They adapted and bees came to be.
Most people are aware that bees pollinate, but few realize how important their job really is. Even fewer realize that bees and other animal pollinators are in trouble and that spells Bad News (with a capital bee) for the world’s food supply. More than 75% of the world’s flowering plants which include fruits, vegetables and seed crops are pollinated by bees. Right here in Pueblo, crops such as asparagus, cantaloupe, clovers, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, watermelon and also the pepper (as in Pueblo chiles!) depend on the honeybee. With agriculture being one of Pueblo’s main industries, Pueblo’s economy and culture is highly dependent on animal pollinators.
In living out its conservation driven mission to help protect endangered species, the Pueblo Zoo is launching several new initiatives to educate and encourage action in the community about the pollinator crisis. The new Plant. Grow. Fly garden will grow into a pollinator haven where guests can learn about gardening and pollinator issues as well as participate in nature play and just enjoy the beauty. The Zoo is partnering with the Pueblo County CSU Extension Office on their Bee Wise program featuring on-grounds smart hives and Bee Wise Youth Summer Camps. For more information, go to http://www.pueblozoo.org/plantgrowfly.
Taxonomic Rank: Class Insecta Order Hymenoptera Family Apoidea Genus Over 400 genera
Species Over 20,000
Common name: Bee
Description: Bees come in a variety of colors, from all black to banded with orange stripes. Their sizes vary as well- the largest hailing from Indonesia is about 1.5 inches in length. The smallest, native to the American Southwest, is only two millimeters long! All bees are covered in tiny hairs which are vital to their role as pollinators. Their bodies, like all insects, are made of three sections- a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. The head includes two antennae, two compound eyes and three ‘simple’ eyes, and jaws used for biting and digging. The thorax holds two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. The abdomen of a female bee has six segments and a male has seven. Both sexes have branched hairs on their bodies that aid in collecting pollen. Only female bees can sting. Bees can be separated into two groups based on their long or short tongues.
Diet: Bees drink nectar from flowering plants. Generally, they are attracted to yellow, blue, and purple flowers.
Range: Bees are found all over the world except in extremely cold climates and high elevations.
Habitat: Water, food (nectar), and shelter must be available for bees to survive. Even in dry climates, bees can hibernate until there is adequate water to drink and open flowers.
Reproduction and rearing: In honeybees, a queen bee will mate with over a dozen males. After successful mating, the males will die soon after and the female will store the sperm for up to five years. Fertilized eggs grow to be females and unfertilized eggs grow to be males. Eggs are laid in the waxy cells of the hive, hatch after few days it their larval stage, and are fed a mixture of honey, pollen and royal jelly by worker bees. The mature bees feed the larvae differently based on the needs of the colony and therefore are responsible for determining how many more queens, drones, and workers will emerge from the pupae stage. The whole process takes about 21 days.
Lifespan: Queen bees can live 2-5 years, workers about 6 weeks, and drones about 8 weeks.
Threats: Lack of food (flowering plants); pesticides
References: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/bee; https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5306468.pdf