It’s a warm summer afternoon in a park or garden. Bees are buzzing around the flowers. You might be sitting in the sun and feeling kind of lazy. But the bees are very busy doing work that is important to you.
The bees are going from flower to flower. They are collecting a liquid called nectar and yellow grains called pollen. The bees use nectar and pollen as food. They also do something wonderful as they go about collecting. The bees take pollen from one plant to another. Some pollen sticks to a bee’s legs and body. It rubs off when the bee visits another plant. In this way bees pollinate, or fertilize, plants.
Plants need pollen in order to reproduce. We would not have many kinds of flowers, fruits, or vegetables if bees did not carry pollen to plants.
KINDS OF BEES
There are about 20,000 species, or kinds, of bees. Bees live everywhere in the world except on high mountains, in the Arctic and Antarctic, and on some small islands in the ocean.
Some bees are as small as 0.08 inch (2 millimeters). Some bees are as big as 1.6 inches (4 centimeters). Bees come in many colors—black, gray, yellow, red, green, or blue. Most bees live alone. They are called solitary bees. Some bees live in groups called colonies. They are social bees.
BODY OF A BEE
Bees are insects. They have three pairs of legs and four wings. Like all insects, they have a head, chest, and abdomen. They have mouthparts and a tongue for collecting nectar. They carry nectar in an organ called a honey stomach.
A bee has special wings that let it fly like a helicopter. Bees can fly backward, forward, sideways, or stay in one place in the air.
Bees have three regular eyes and two compound eyes. A compound eye has many lenses. Bees can see colors and patterns. This helps them find flowers.
LIFE OF A BEE
Bees reproduce sexually. A male bee mates with a female bee. Female bees lay eggs in nests made of small cells. They lay one egg in each cell. They put pollen and nectar in the cell for food.
A bee’s life has several stages. A larva hatches out of the egg. The larva looks a little like a worm. The larva becomes a pupa covered by a hard case. The pupa becomes an adult bee and breaks out of the case.
Honey bees are social insects that make honey. They live in hives, or nests, made of wax. Honey bees are the best-known kind of bee. Beekeepers raise honey bees for honey and for pollinating farm crops.
Three types of honey-making bees live in each hive—queen, workers, and drones. Each type of bee has a special job.
The queen is a female that lays all the eggs. There is only one queen for each hive.
Worker bees are females that do not lay eggs. Each nest has thousands of worker bees. Workers build the nest from wax they make in their bodies. The nest has many cells with six sides. The cells are glued together to make a comb. The queen lays eggs in some cells. Workers fill other combs with honey.
Workers collect nectar and pollen, make honey, and make a food called royal jelly to feed the larvae. Workers guard the hive. They sting anything that threatens the hive. A worker bee can only sting once. It leaves the stinger in its victim. Then the bee dies.
Drones are male bees. Drones cannot collect nectar or pollen. Drones do not have stingers. The only job of a drone is to mate with a queen.
The queen decides which eggs will become queens, workers, or drones. Only eggs fertilized with sperm become females. A few fertilized eggs are put in special cells and fed lots of royal jelly. These eggs become the queens.
When a honey bee finds food, it tells other honey bees. The bee comes back to the hive with nectar. It then performs a dance. The bee’s movements tell the other bees where to look for this nectar.
If you go on a picnic, a yellow and black bumblebee may buzz by. Bumblebees have thick, hairy bodies. Their hair helps keep them warm. Only the queens live through the winter, however. The workers and drones die. Like honey bees, bumblebees live in colonies. Bumblebees like to nest in ready-made holes.
Killer bees are a cross between African honey bees and European honey bees, the main kind of honey bee in the United States. Researchers brought African bees to South America. The bees escaped in the 1970s and mated with European honey bees. The killer bees they produced will attack in swarms. They will sting and kill large animals and people.
Killer bees spread north into Central America and the southern United States. Beekeepers worry that the killer bees could harm their honey bees and threaten the important work that honey bees do.