Bees

Everyone recognise the humble bee in its bright white, yellow and black stripes as it buzzes merrily from flower to flower, there is something about this bright insect that cheers up the day.

What do bees do in my garden?

Bees get busy in the spring when it starts to get warm and sunny. They are great to watch in the garden, buzzing around visiting the flowers and appearing generally busy. But what are they doing?

When a bee visits a flower it is there to feed, its sucks up the sweet nectar from the centre of the flower and collects pollen to take back to its nest to feed the rest of the family.

Flowers produce nectar to attract bees, but not just so they can get a buzz out of it. Bees are ‘pollinators’, when they visit a flower they have to brush past dusty pollen to get to the nectar, the pollen sticks to their hairy bodies and is transferred from one flower to the next – this is basically how many flowers reproduce!

What do bees eat?

If you look closely at a flower you will see they have a series of lines or dots on their petals, these are a bit like flashing lights to a bee and signal the availability of a nice sugary snack.

Bees drink nectar from the centre of flowers by sucking it up with a very long tongue! This tongue is like a hosepipe, long and hollow. When the bee is flying it rolls up its tongue so it doesn’t get in the way.

As well as drinking nectar bees collect pollen with their feet, brushing it into little sacks on their back legs, which they then take back to their nest.

Where do bees live?

Bees live in all sorts of places, they can be found in tiny holes in walls, in the ground, in trees or logs, and often in man made hives. Many live alone and others in big colonies like the honey bee.

How do bees reproduce?

Mating takes place during the summer, female bees leave the nest and go in search of males, who are generally hanging around in groups waiting for them to turn up. The only purpose of the male bee is to find a mate; they generally don’t live very long and often die soon after mating.

In large colonies of bees, reproduction is down to just one female, the ‘queen’ bee. She will produce all the eggs in the nest. When the eggs hatch they become workers who then get sent out to find food for the rest of the colony. In the world of bees the lady definitely rules the roost!

Bee facts

  • There are over 250 types of bee in the British Isles, most of our bees are solitary and live alone. Only 25 species live in large social colonies
  • As busy as a bee – when the weather is warm bees are always on the move, they will fly up to 2km from the nest to find their favourite flowers
  • The number of bees is declining due to changes in the way we use the land causing the loss of large areas of flowering plants; this means there is less food for bees. Use of pesticides to kill pest insects that eat food crops and cause disease also kill bees
  • Bees are important for pollinating flowers and crops that we rely on for food, without bees many plants would not survive. If there were no bees this would have a huge knock on effect on our human lifestyle and availability of food
  • The buzzing sound that bees make is not the sound of them humming a tune or the beating of their wings as they fly, it is actually the noise made by their flight muscles vibrating where their wings attach to their body.