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Like all insects, a bee’s body is divided into three parts: a head with two antennae, a thorax with six legs, and an abdomen. All bees have branched hairs somewhere on their bodies and two pairs of wings. Only female bees have stingers (which are modified ovipositors, organs originally used to lay eggs). Many bee species have black and yellow coloration, but many do not—they actually come in a variety of colors, including green, blue, red, or black. Some are striped, and some even have a metallic sheen. They range in size from large carpenter bees and bumble bees to the tiny Perdita minima bee, which is less than two millimeters long.
Bees feed exclusively on sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen from flowering plants, unlike the carnivorous wasps from which they evolved.
Bees begin life as eggs, which hatch into larvae the feed and pupate and eventually emerge in their adult form, where they visit flowers to feed on and gather nectar and pollen.
Unlike the hive-forming domesticated honey bee or wild bumble bee species, most bees are solitary nesters. They don’t form hives, create honey, or live a communal lifestyle. Instead, they lay their eggs in a series of tiny chambers in tunnels in the ground, in hollow plant stems, or in decaying wood. Unlike hive-forming bee species, which collectively care for their young, female solitary bees provision their eggs with a ball of nectar and pollen and leave them to grow and pupate on their own with no parental care.
However, some species do not build nests at all. These “cuckoo bees” will lay their eggs in nests built by other species. Cuckoo bees will sometimes kill the host species’ larvae to ensure their own eggs will have enough food to grow to adulthood.
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Queen bumble bees can live for a year and workers for a month. Solitary bees also live for about a year, with the majority of that time spent developing in their nesting chamber where they hatch, pupate, and often overwinter. Their adult lives, during which they are active, lasts approximately three to eight weeks. Females tend to live a bit longer, as they need to build a nest and lay eggs.
Western honey bee
The western honey bee or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common of the 7–12 species of honey bees worldwide. The genus name Apis is Latin for “bee”, and mellifera is the Latin for “honey-bearing”, referring to the species’ production of honey.
Like all honey bee species, the western honey bee is eusocial, creating colonies with a single fertile female (or “queen”), many normally non-reproductive females or “workers”, and a small proportion of fertile males or “drones”. Individual colonies can house tens of thousands of bees. Colony activities are organized by complex communication between individuals, through both pheromones and the dance language.
The western honey bee was one of the first domesticated insects, and it is the primary species maintained by beekeepers to this day for both its honey production and pollination activities. With human assistance, the western honey bee now occupies every continent except Antarctica. Western honey bees are threatened by pests and diseases, especially the Varroa mite and colony collapse disorder.
As of 2019, the western honey bee is listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, as numerous studies indicate that the species has undergone significant declines in Europe; however, it is not clear if they refer to population reduction of wild or managed colonies. Further research is required to enable differentiation between wild and non-wild colonies in order to determine the conservation status of the species in the wild.
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Western honey bees are an important model organism in scientific studies, particularly in the fields of social evolution, learning, and memory; they are also used in studies of pesticide toxicity, especially via pollen, to assess non-target impacts of commercial pesticides.
Do native bees occur on every continent on the planet?
ON WHAT CONTINENTS ARE BEES NOT FOUND?
Of the 20,000 species of bees in existence, not all live in the same areas. That means that some species of bees found in Africa might not live in Europe or America. As a result, not every species of bees can be found on every continent, making for some variation in habits, size of colonies and behavior. The honey bee is the most abundant and common type of bee, spread almost everywhere in the world.
No Bees Here
Antarctica is the only continent that’s completely devoid of any bees. Of course, with temperatures reaching as low as minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit, not many living things can survive down there. In fact, most of the insects living in Antarctica are parasites — the kind that lives in the fur of sea animals or birds.
Bees thrive in tropical climates. What that means is that even without a continent, you might find a higher concentration of bees in warmer countries — and even in warmer states or provinces within that country. In the US, for example, honey bees are concentrated in the southern states, which are warmer year round.
Where They All Come From
The honey bee originated in Africa. From there, the honey bee migrated to Europe and was later introduced to America by pilgrims, who brought them over to produce honey. As a result, Africa has the oldest colonies of bees in the world. African bees also tend to form smaller colonies and spread out faster, nesting in tree branches and other open spaces. Because of this, there’s usually more bee nests in Africa than in Europe, where bees nest in larger groups and search for protected locations, usually away from open spaces and people.
Choosing a Place to Live
To survive, bees need an environment that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants. Lush, tropical environments make good living places for bees because they are most likely to have a variety of flowers that bees can feed on. This is why bees can’t survive in Antarctica — there are no flowering plants there. Desert bees do exist, but they are rare and have adapted by living dormant for months at a time under the desert soil, only emerging after heavy rains that cause desert flowers to come alive.
Antarctica, bees are not found in Antarctica due to low temperature in antartica bees can’t survive there.
WHICH NATIVE BEES ARE IN YOUR AREA?
Australia’s own native honey bees are tiny (3 – 5 mm), black and stingless! Inside their resinous nest are a queen, males, and hundreds or even thousands of worker bees. They usually nest inside hollow trees but in northern areas they also nest in urban situations such as inside wall cavities or underneath concrete footpaths.
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The Stingless Bees are the only native bees currently available for sale in Australia. Beekeepers transfer the nests into small hive boxes and can propagate the nests by splitting. These hives can be used for honey production and crop pollination.
The climate of QLD and the NT is ideal for Stingless Bees because they are tropical species. They also thrive in northern NSW and on the NSW Mid North Coast.
Below 18 degrees
Stingless Bees are found in Sydney, on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains and in coastal areas down to Bega. However, the climate in these areas is marginal for Stingless Bees, and boxed hives need to be carefully sited and managed. Harvesting honey from hives is not recommended in these areas. The bees will not fly below 18 degrees C and they need the excess honey they collect during summer to survive the long winter months.
Stingless Bees are not found in other areas of NSW, in the ACT, in VIC, SA or TAS. Hives would not survive in these areas without special artificial support.
In WA, Stingless Bees are only found from the Hamersley Ranges northwards. Local WA authorities strongly oppose the introduction of Stingless Bees to more southern areas. As they may disturb the delicate ecology of the state’s beautiful wildflowers.
We haven’t seen a quarter of known bee species since the 1990s
Halictid bees—also called sweat bees for their attraction to our perspiration—pollinate important crops such as alfalfa, sunflowers, and cherries. Observations of these tiny metallic fliers have fallen by 17 percent since the 1990s, the study found. Bees in the rare Melittidae family, which provide us with blueberries, cranberries, and orchids. Have plummeted by as much as 41 percent. (The world’s bees are divided among seven families.)
Though lesser known, such wild bees supplement the work of honeybees in managed hives.
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