Pollinator Week: Did you know… The Honey Bee – Apis Mellifera

Six years ago, I started dating a beekeeper, little did I know, his passion for them would make me fall in love with the creatures that once scared me. Everyone knows that fear… “LOOK OUT THERE’S A BEE!” You duck, swat, and some even run… But honestly, there’s really no need.

Honey bees lose their stingers (they’re the only bee that does!) which unfortunately means they die. If something could kill you, would you want to do it? Probably not. When they’re buzzing around you, DON’T PANIC! They aren’t intentionally trying to sting you. They’re likely looking for salt. Next time, let her land on you and watch as she sticks her tongue out and licks you! BEE KISSES!

Like humans, the bees need more than just sweets, they use salt for their metabolic processes, and they carry the minerals back to the hive to help larvae develop. They also love water, which is why you may see a lot of them around your pool during a really hot day! If you’d like, offer them a “bird bath” with pebbles or stones in it… This will deter them from your pool since they’ll have a place to land and not drown.

So, here’s where the fun facts start. Every time I’m discussing honey bees with someone, I realize no one knows that honey bees aren’t native to North America. Though we now have “naturalized” wild honey bees from swarming, the honey bee you know today was not here originally. Honey bees are native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Also, they’re not the greatest for pollination when compared to other native bee species.

“WHAT? Honey bees aren’t great pollinators?” They’re actually clean freaks. Watch them one day after they dive bomb into a flower. They’ll roll all in the pollen, then the moment they are covered in it, they’ll fly out, land on something nearby and clean themselves from head to toe. They pack everything into tiny pockets on their back legs… that’s right, BUILT IN POCKETS! (Aren’t we all jealous!) These pollen pockets are called -corbiculae. Though several bee species have pockets, most aren’t as neat as honey bees so they still spread the pollen around. For example, native bumble bees also have pollen pockets, but they don’t take the time to clean themselves completely so the pollen on their bellies falls during flight or rubs off on the next flower. Because of this, native bees are much better pollinators! But who doesn’t LOVE honey? Most native bees are solitary, which is why they do not produce mass amounts of honey. If they produce it at all, it’s just small amounts for their offspring, which is eaten once they hatch. Honey bees are social creatures, a thriving hive is a functioning community.

The hive consists of a queen bee, her tenants, nurse bees which support and maintain the larvae, worker bees, and drones. ALL of these bees are female excluding drones. There are a few jokes in that statement, but we’ll skip that part. Each bee is born as a nurse bee, and as they develop, they turn into a worker bee who will perform tasks such as wax construction, cleaning duties, and resource foraging for the entirety of their lives which is around 30-60 days. The queen lays eggs after her mating flight and never leaves the colony again, which could be several years since she lives for much longer than any worker. Each drone exists solely to mate with a new queen and are typically only welcome in the hive on a seasonal basis. Each colony is very complex making it a little city on its own…

I could go on for days telling you details about honey bees and believe it or not, my now husband and I learn something new about them every year! But I’ll leave you with this, bugs are how we survive. Without pollinators, bees being only one of many, we’d live in a very different world as around 80% of our food crops are pollinator dependent. So, research, build bee hotels, buy tons of plants that they love, and go outside. Look for them, there are over 20,000 known bee species around the world and 4,000 of them live in your backyard.


Guest Blogger

Brittany Sanborn (Bee),

Marketing Coordinator at Johnson Nursery

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