Bees 101: Reasons Why They Are So Key to Life on Earth

Gisela Possetto 2021-06-06 8 min

Why are bees so key to our existence? What's the buzz about bees? Well quite a lot, actually and we better start considering the issue because life on Planet Earth as we know it might be in danger. But how? Well, bees are key to a balanced ecosystem and to life on Planet Earth, basically. Do you know, for instance, that about 67 million honeybee colonies were reported last year in the U.S? Or that a single colony can produce a 100 pounds of honey yearly? Or that they can travel up 6 miles for a trip to a new community of flowers?

These are just some of the amazing facts about bees we'd like to share with you in our article, this time. How does a colony of bees work? What's the lifecycle of bees like? What are their most common characteristics and behavior? Why are they so crucial in keeping our life on Planet Earth balanced? Stick with us as we guide you through some possible answers to these questions!

1. The Life Cycle of Bees

Before we start, it would be necessary to clarify and define a couple of concepts:

  1. We'll be referring here to the most common type of bee which is the domesticated Western honey bee, Apis mellifera.
  2. The life cycles of these bees may vary depending on their "social position". That's correct! Very much like humans, bees are organized in a sort of "monarchy" called colonies.

So this is how it all begins: the Queen Bee, as the name goes by, it's the most important female bee in the colony. And as the queen of the hive she is charge of segregating the right chemicals to keep harmony among her bees and of laying eggs. She is the only one that can do it because she has a fully developed reproductive system. The thing is that from time to time, she goes out to find drones (male honey bees) and then she returns to the hive to lay their eggs.

Those eggs can develop into any of the 3 types: a male, a worker or a Queen. There will be only some variations as how long it takes for every type to emerge form their eggs. So the process goes more or less the same for all of them:

1. Egg

A Queen Bee can lay approximately 2000 or 3000 eggs per day. Once, she enters the hive with her eggs, these are carefully put in wax cells. The type of egg cell will depend on the future social role of that egg, which a Queen Be knows from day one. Amazing. That's to say, fertilized eggs which will turn into females (wither workers or queen). Unfertilized eggs will be drones in their futures and are set in drone cells that are a little more spacious than a regular worker bee egg cell. In the case of potential queen, she will be laid -of course in- the "queen cell".

2. Larva

After only 3 days, this egg will already look like a larva (blind, still) and will be fed only with royal jelly. Royal jelly is a special substance segregated by the "queen nurses" (females that are around 5 to 14 days of age) as it's sometimes called bee milk. Bee milk has all the nutrients that are necessary for the larva to grow into the next stage. In case you the larva is a potential queen bee, she will be fed by bee milk only. In the case of worker bees and drones, after three days of royal jelly, they will get some bee bread which is a mixture of pollen and honey.

As the larva grows, it will change skins a couple of times and after six days, their cells will be covered in wax by worker bees to keep larvae safe until the next stage.

3. Pupa

Once secured in its wax cell, an extraordinary process of complete metamorphosis will continue: the larva will turn into a fully recognizable bee. It starts to build a cocoon around itself and the tissue will transform into legs, eyes and the rest of vital organs and body parts that will make this larva a bee. This process is called pupation.

4. Adult

In due time, a fully grown bee will leave the cell and start working for the colony as an adult bee: It will take new honey bee queens around 16 days to hatch form the egg. Workers take between 18 and 22 days to grow into full adult bees, while drones take a little longer, 24 days.

Characteristics of Western Honey Bees Colonies

Among the 12 species of honey bees that exist all the world over, the Western honey bee is usually the chosen one by beekeepers (yap, beekeeping is a thing and it can be done for multiple purposes, we'll get there). This is because they are usually human-friendly creatures, which has allowed extensive research on their behavior to be done. But what does the Western honey bee the favorite bee to keep. Well there a couple of characteristics among this species that make them easy to keep:

bee collectin pollen on beautiful flower
Western honey bee - Pexels

1. They produce honey that's good for humans

Western honey bee are particularly famous because of their production of honey, which they store and use for their survival inside the hive. In Spring, they are particularly more productive because they go from flower to flower collecting the nectar an pollen they need to produce that delicious honey, that we humans have harvested -and even manufactured- since long ago. Among the benefits of consuming raw honey we can name that it's a perfect source of anti dioxides, that it can help heal wounds or that it's the best medicine to soothe a sore throat.

2. They are very adaptable

This is one of the most attractive facts about them. It's true that their survival relies heavily on them searching for food in groups, but you might be surprised to know that they can survive even years without foraging, as well.

A colony can adapt to only survive on their reserves of food and even on grouping all together in long winter seasons to keep themselves warm, if necessary. This feature of adaptability makes the Western honey bee a very interesting creature to keep close because they can go through rough times in suh a peaceful and non aggressive manner to their habitat. Just relying on their community and on Mother Nature. How amazing is that?

3. They can get really aggressive if they feel threatened

I'n not gonna lie and say that I don't feel fear or at least uneasiness when a bee is around. But I'm getting better with time at understanding that like most insects they will only attack when they feel that danger in near. So don't worry as we said western honey bees are human-friendly, so please do no harm to them!

It is also true that this aggressive behavior they can get when feeling threatened is just another amazing fact about them. Their most powerful weapon is their sting which carries a poisonous substance deadly to certain creatures. But a bee can only sting once, shortly after they die. But the scent left by the martyr brings the rest of the hive to attack the enemies.

Why Is Protecting Bees So Important?

There are a number of good reasons why we should care about keeping bees alive, let's check:

1. They keep biodiversity

Bees are pollinators and as such they play a key role in many layers of our ecosystem. With their daily job of coming in and out the hive, they contribute to the growth of a wide diversity of trees, plants and flowers that eventually will become the place for shelter and food to other species. So basically, bees support a very complex net of interrelations within the ecosystems that permit the abundance and multiplicity of species in a perfectly balanced habitat.

Besides, bees have always been great benefactors for human supply of food. But it's not only about their delicious honey, it's also about our gardens becoming alive with their presence. Word of advice? Instead of trying to shoo bees away from your garden, why don´t you give a hand to their colony, instead? You might find there an interesting hobby that is actually doing something very good for our planet.

man holding wooden crate with bees
Crate with bees - Pexels

2. Pollination is an essential process

Do you have a favorite summer treat? Maybe an apple' Sweet melons or cranberries? Well, you should be very thankful to bees for this. Why? Because for their sprouting, these fruits and some vegetables like broccoli or asparagus, needs pollination to happen. What's that? The transfer of pollen from a male part to the female part. Well, the perfect ones for this job are bees! As they come an go and move from one flower to another, they leave traces of pollen on the sticky surface of plants so that they can grow and provide food later!

So that's basically saying that every bite of food you eat you do it thanks to these hard-working creatures. If bees weren't able to pollinate plants, most of the food we grow from them wouldn't even exist!

3. They are sources of food

This is not only true for humans that have harvested raw honey for centuries, but it's also true for other species. Some types of mammals like raccoon and birds both feast on the delicious taste of the honey that bees produce to survive the winter. There are even some insects that can plunder a complete bee hive to have a taste of this nutritious nectar and to stay as larvae if possible.

But bees are also part of the ffo chain, too. There are some species of birds, the blackbird, for instance that wil feed on bees. Even spiders can catch then in their webs and some other insects like dragonflies and mantises eat bees, too!

Please, take a look at this very educational video about things you can do to help bees!

Fortunately, we have given you with some useful data to start thinking about the importance of bees for our environment and ecosystems. I think we should start eradicating that awful habit of killing insects that we just find annoying. Don't you think?They are all important peaces of this natural puzzle, and we cannot lose even a single one. Nowadays, bees are not an endangered species -yet- but they are loosing their natural habitats more frequently as we speak. So, please, keep informed about programs in you town or city about helping bees and do not forget to read us next time!

Gisela Possetto

Copywirter, Cats + Tattoos + Music Lover

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