As the weather gets colder and winter begins to take hold, you might notice that a familiar visitor is missing from the garden. Bees are one of our best and most significant pollinators. In spring and summer, they are kept extremely busy by helping our gardens to flourish. They support 80% of pollination worldwide, and they are essential for helping many of the plants grow. However we look at it, bees are crucial for life all around the world.
But bees are also at risk of climate change destroying their habitats, changing their behaviours and affecting their chances of survival. We must learn as much as we can about bees so we can continue to help them survive the changing climate.
Where do bees go in the winter?
Unfortunately, most bees die in autumn. They can’t survive the cold temperatures, and their food sources disappear. Despite this, some do have ways of staying alive. Queen bumblebees eat as much as they can in autumn before finding a comfortable area of loose soil underground. Here, the queen will hibernate over the winter months. They will wake up in March or April ready to find a new site for a hive and start producing worker bees.
Solitary bees have a different strategy. Female solitary bees lay their eggs in springtime, and by autumn, these eggs will have grown from grubs to fully-grown bees. Even though the bees are fully developed, they don’t emerge from their cocoons yet. Instead, they stay wrapped up cosily until the following spring.
What do bees eat?
Mostly, bees will eat pollen and nectar, but that’s not all they have been known to eat.
Depending on the type of bee, they have been seen eating over-ripe fruit, fluids from other insects and, in some cases, even meat.
Do bees sleep?
They do! Honeybees get between 5 and 8 hours of sleep a day.
How do bees fly?
The little wings bees have shouldn’t be keeping a bee in the air. Yet they work incredibly well. Their wings are flexible and twist and rotate as they fly. They do quick flaps from front to back. Not only does this help them get off the ground, but it produces the buzzing sound that can be heard when a bee flies past.
Can bees smell?
Not only can bees smell, they do it exceptionally well. A bee’s sense of smell is powerful, and they use it to communicate. They can use their sense of smell to find food, defend the hive from sickness and even identify bees from other hives. The sense of smell is so strong and accurate that some bees are trained as ‘sniffer bees’ by humans, seeking out dangerous items or substances in return for food-based rewards.
How do bees communicate?
If smell is only one-way bees communicate, how else do they do it? They dance! In 1973, a scientist named Karl von Frisch won the Nobel Prize partly for figuring out the language of bees. He noticed that bees used a dancing motion to direct other bees to food sources.
Why are bees important?
Bees are essential to our survival. They pollinate our food crops and ensure there is enough food for us. Without them, it is estimated that farmers in the UK would have to pay £1.8 billion to pollinate the crops that bees will happily do for free.
It is not only the plants we eat that they support, but wild plants that animals rely on. Without the bees, our ecosystem would collapse, and nature would struggle to continue. Our world needs bees, and it is becoming more vital than ever that we help them survive.
How can you help the bees?
Luckily, there are a few things we can all do to help support the bee population. Why not:
- Build a bee hotel. Bees need a dry shelter to rest and hibernate in. Build them a dry den with lots of little tunnels and places to hide.
- Plant bee-friendly plants. Many plants produce high levels of nectar and can help make your garden more bee-friendly. Plants such as bluebells, clovers and honeysuckle are all great flowers that bees will love.
- Stop using pesticides. Pesticides may help to remove harmful bugs from plants, but they also harm the bees and other pollinators. There are different ways to remove pests which will still allow the bee population to thrive.