Bees are a very important part of our ecosystem all around the world. They pollinate plants in gardens, parks and three-quarters of the UK’s food crops.
All bees have a long straw like tongue, two wings, two antennae and three segmented body parts (the head, the thorax and the abdomen). Here in the UK we have an amazing 267 different species of bee including the honey bee, bumblebees and solitary bees!
Honey bees are the most well known species of bee and the only species of bee to make honey.
The Hive: Honey bees live together in a group called a colony. The colony is made up of one queen, hundreds of male drone bees and thousands of female workers. Honey bees work together to build a hive in a hollow space such as a tree trunk. They make bees wax to create little hexagons in which they store eggs, honey and pollen.
The Queen Bee: The queen controls the hive. She also lays all the eggs to create the next generation. She can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day! She lives for around 5 years. New queens will either take over the hive or leave the hive to start their own colony.
Worker Bees: All the worker bees are female and they are very busy! They collect pollen and nectar, look after the queen and drones, feed larvae and build, look after and defend the hive! Workers born in the summer will only live for 5 – 6 weeks. Those born at the end of the summer will hibernate in the hive through the winter with the queen.
Drones: The male bees, or drones, stay in the hive to mate with the queen. At the end of summer the drones are pushed out of the hive to die!
Fabulous Facts: Honey bees fly at a speed of around 15 miles per hour and beat their wings 200 times per second! The communicate by dancing.
There are 24 different species of bumblebee. They are easy to spot as they look fluffy!
Colonies: Like the honey bee bumblebees also live in a colony with a queen, female worker bees and male drones. Their colonies are much smaller than honey bee colonies with up to 400 bees in a hive.
Bumblebees don’t make honey, as they do not need to store food for winter. They will live in their nest for 2 to 3 months looking after the queens eggs. After this the queen, workers and drones will die and the new queens leave to hibernate over the winter. In the spring they will form their own colonies.
Parasitic Bumblebees: Six of the bumblebee species are called ‘parasitic bumblebees’. Instead of creating their own nests they take over a nest already built by another colony, killing the queen and laying their own eggs in the nest.
Feeding: Most species of bumblebee have a long tongue and can reach into flowers the honey bee can’t. They will visit the same patch of flowers every day.
Fabulous Facts: There are over 250 different bumblebee species in the world!
There are around 240 different species of solitary bee in the UK. They vary in size but are all smaller than a bumblebee. Unlike the honey bee and bumblebee, solitary bees do not live in hives with a queen. Each female bee builds her own nest. They are social insects and tend to nest close to one another.
Nesting: In the spring female solitary bees will find somewhere to build a nest. She’ll choose a tube shaped cavity or hole in the ground and lay her eggs inside. She’ll leave pollen inside the nest for her young to eat when they hatch. She’ll then seal the end of nest to protect her eggs.
When the larvae hatch from the egg they will eat the pollen left behind for them. After about 6 weeks they will create a cocoon around themselves as they change from a larvae into bee. They will emerge from their cocoon the next spring.
Types of Solitary bees: Common solitary bees include the mason bees, leaf-cutter bees, mining bees and wool-carder bee.
Fabulous Facts: Solitary bees are not aggressive, they don’t swarm and rarely sting.
Bees Need Your Help!
The bees are disappearing! There are many reasons that bee numbers are falling.
Pesticides: Pesticides are chemicals which farmers spray on their crops to kill insects which might eat or destroy the crop. They affect the bees nervous system making them feel disorientated and unable to feed until eventually they die.
Varroa Mite: The varroa mite is a huge problem for honey bees. This tiny mite attaches itself to the bee and sucks its blood. When a bee returns to it’s hive the varroa mite spreads through the hive and can wipe out a whole colony in just a couple of years!
Habitat Loss: The loss of wild spaces in the countryside means that bees have less places to find food and to build their nests.
Colony Collapse Disorder: Billions of honey bees across the world are leaving their hives and not returning. This is known as ‘colony collapse disorder’. In some areas up to 90% of bees have disappeared! In some areas of China farmers have to pollinate the plants themselves using a paint brush!
How you can help
There are lots of ways you can help the bees.
- Let your grass grow long so that wildflowers can grow. These will provide pollen and nectar for the bees.
- Don’t use pesticides on your plants at home to make your garden bee safe.
- Buy organic food – farms that don’t use pesticides on their crops are bee friendly!
- Build a bee hotel to give solitary bees somewhere to nest.
- Plant wildflowers and flowers which are easy for bees to feed from.
Help the Bees
Bees are disappearing and need your help! We’ve got lots of simple ways in which you can help the bees that visit your garden.
Create a Wildlife Garden
Wild flowers are a great source of pollen and nectar for bees. Building a wildlife garden full of wild flowers will not only encourage bees to visit your garden but help all sorts of other mini beasts!
Build a Bug Hotel
Everyone needs somewhere to call home! Build your own bug hotel to give solitary bees and lots of other mini beasts a home. We’ve got instructions for a very simple bug hotel for young kids and a more complex design for older kids.
More Mini Beast Activities
We have lots of other fantastic mini beast activities on the Five Flamingo’s main mini beast page!
Go on a Mini Beast Hunt!
Go into your garden or take a trip to your local park or woodland for your mini beast hunt! Print out our Five Flamingo ‘Mini Beast Hunt’ record sheet to record what you find.
Mini Beast Guide
There are lots of different mini beasts. Some are social like ants and bees, some are slimy like snails and some have more legs than you can count, like centipedes! Use out mini beast guide to find out more about all the different mini beasts you’re likely to see in your garden .