You may have already heard that there is a decline of Bee population that is threatening our country's food production. We humans depend on the cross-pollination of bees with plants to spread the seeds for 30% of the plants grown worldwide, and 90% of the wildflowers. We all can help by knowing which bees are responsible for the majority of plant pollination and how to help those species survive. At risk is the $15 billion per year agricultural yield from bees that not only produce honey, but also pollinate berries, cucumbers, cantaloupe, apples, almonds, and other fruits and vegetables that are not pollinated by the wind, or self-pollinated.
How Honeybees and Bumblebees are Different
The honeybee was originally imported from Europe and are the species most known to cause a allergic reaction when stung. The honeybee is responsible for pollinating over 120 different crops in America and are obviously the type used to harvest honey by commercial beekeepers. You will recognize a honeybee by their light brown color and small body size (about 15 mm long), and some can have a predominantly dark bodies. But you can always recognize a honeybee by the familiar dark to light stripes and its slender, wasp-like shape.
There are over 250 different species of bumblebees, but you will recognize them by their broad, plump bodies and abundance of hair. Bumblebees typically have blocks of dark color versus stripes, which vary between the species. Likewise they will vary in size but are easily distinguished from honeybees as they are always larger and rounder. Bumblebees, like honeybees, feed on the nectar of plants and will also bring this food back to the nest for storage.
The Secret Life of Honeybees versus Bumblebees
Honeybees and bumblebees also differ in their social behaviors. While neither is very aggressive, honeybees are notorious for protecting their queen. Their nest is traditionally above ground and will be located in a sheltered location. Honeybee nests will hold tens of thousands of honeybees, producing a surplus of honey which is why they are preferred by beekeepers. The honeybee queen will live for three or more years while the offspring live in the hive year round.
Bumblebees, on the other hand, will make their nest underground or near ground level. The queen will live for a year, while the other nest inhabitants will die off in a few months. A colony of bumblebees may only be 100 strong and since they do not cluster like honeybees, they will produce only smaller combs of honey. If you are stung by a bumblebee, they will retain their stinger and live - unlike the honeybee which cannot pull its barbed stinger from the victim, leaving behind parts of its abdomen.
Female bees are the worker bees, while the males are termed 'drones'. They will generally stay within a two-mile radius of the hive, but honeybees are known to visit other hives where they will regurgitate nectar as a bribe to enter the colony. A hive without a queen is open to this type of subterfuge where invading bees will gain entrance in order to rob the hive of its honey.
How Bees Help the Environment
Not only do we rely on bees as a critical part of the natural food chain through the cross-pollination of crops, they are also mainly responsible for the survival of other plants, trees, and wildflowers. The Poplar and Willow trees are just two that benefit from bee pollination to survive. The flowering plants of the prairie ecosystem would not exist if not for bees - and many other plants and trees that provide nuts, seeds, and fruit depend on bees for their livelihood.
You can help to increase the population of honeybees by planting a variety of flowers that bees are fond of like clover, oregano, lavender, bee balm, and goldenrod. Stop spraying pesticides which can kill honeybees immediately - or at least, spray only in the evening with an appropriate bee-friendly formulation. Another option is to provide a bee habitat by setting out a few blocks of wood with holes of various size for easy nesting.