UM Bee Day is happening on 11th of October 2014. Here is some trivia to get you going:
1. Not all bees sting.
But they can bite, instead. The Meliponina subtribe from the Apidae family have small, nonfunctional stingers, but make up for it by bites that can cause blisters.
2. Not all bees are created equal.
Okay, so you do know that there can only be one queen bee. The rest of the non-royals are worker bees or forager bees, although worker bees can be promoted to forager status when they are older. And then there are drones, stout male bees whose sole function is to mate with the queen bee. They're also the first to be kicked out if the hive runs low on food.
3. Forager bees visit up to 100 flowers a day.
And they can make up to 50 trips a day, just to collect pollen. They form balls of pollen by grooming themselves, which they pack carefully into pollen baskets on the sides of their abdomens or legs.
Above: This bee dives into a flower to fill its pollen baskets, otherwise known as scopa.
4. They collect flower nectar, too.
Like hummingbirds, they extract nectar using long tongues, called proboscis, which they then store into their honey stomach (also known as the crop). A full crop can weigh as much as the bee!
5. And you won't want to know what they do with the nectar.
But we'll tell you anyway. Upon reaching the hive, the forager bee vomits out the nectar to a worker bee, who will swallow and regurgitate it to another worker bee. This is repeated to concentrate the nectar into a thick solution, which is then stored in honeycomb cells, with the remaining water evaporated away by the fanning of the worker bees' wings. And this, my friend, is honey.
6. Why do bees make honey if humans keep stealing it?
Honey is used as an energy source for the adult bees when the flowering season ends, such as during winter in temperate regions. Honey is also mixed with pollen, which is a rich protein source, and the thick mixture is packed into a cell, with a bee egg placed on top of it. The cell is then sealed off.
Above: A hornet decides on bee-preying strategies.
7. Foraging for pollen is not always a glamorous job.
Flying around must be relatively more fun than being stuck in a hive all day, but foraging can be risky business. Predators like spiders and hornets pick the most rewarding flowers to hide in, and take the forager bee by surprise. Birds and frogs also waylay the bee during the journey to and from the hive. In modern times, insecticides sprayed onto flowers can kill the bee directly or indirectly by pollen and nectar contamination.
8. And if this wasn't tough enough, there's more.
Bees are innocent casualties in mosquito fogging. Urbanisation results in habitat loss, and agriculture has reduced the biodiversity of wildflowers. And to add insult to injury, global warming is confusing bees. Unpredictable changes in temperature and climate mean bees emerge from hibernation in the thick of winter, before the start of the flowering season.
9. Bees have a more important job than providing honey.
70% of plants we humans consume are pollinated by bees. From vegetables to nuts, insect pollinators are responsible for USD 200 billion worth of food crops globally. Coffee, with a flowering season of just a few days, will need thousands of bees or its entire harvest will fail.
Above: A bee doing what it does best - pollinating!
10. Without bees, some plants may even go extinct.
Some bees have evolved to become 'specialist' pollinators for certain types of flowers. One study removed a single species of bumblebee in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, and seed production by larkspur wildflowers fell by thirty per cent over two seasons.
We seldom hear of ourselves being able to comfortably co-exist with insects - in fact, the instinct is to squash every one we see! But, as you see, it's not easy to lead a life without bees.
Happiest when surrounded by books, Vanessa Ting finds herself thriving in the no-less-fascinating world of conservation biology. This mostly involves exponential (learning and topographical) curves, tagging behind energetic botanists and zoologists. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.