Bees – Information, importance, habitat, characteristics, types

We explain everything about bees, their habitat, combs, reproduction and other characteristics. Also, differences with wasps.

Bees are among the most ecologically important species in the world.

What are bees?

The bees they are a diverse set of flying insects, zoologically classified within the clade anthophila (from the Greek anthos, “Flower”, and philos, “Like”, that is, “flower lovers”). They are among the most common and most ecologically important species in the entire world.

Like their cousins, ants, bees are one of the most diverse insects and best adapted to all the continents of the world, except Antarctica. Almost 20,000 species are known of them, of common traits and habits, the most popular of all being the ordinary bee, Apis mellifera, in distinctive black and yellow colors.

The curious social habits of bees and their ability to make honey have been of interest to humans since ancient times. In fact, humanity has seen in them the symbol of industry, industry and community spirit. It is common to find them in children’s stories, in poetic compositions or mythological traditions. In addition, in its rigid social structure the aristocracy was reflected at the time.

Raising bees in captivity is called beekeeping, and is made for commercial purposes for the sale of its honey, naturally sweet and endowed with antiseptic properties, as well as the wax that they are capable of secreting.

Its sting is also famous, endowed with varied levels of toxicity, particularly painful and capable of triggering severe reactions in allergic people.

Characteristics of bees

bees characteristics stinger
Female bees have a stinger at the end of the abdomen.

In general, bees are characterized by the following:

  • They are arthropod animals, that is, with segmented bodies and articulated limbs, endowed with three pairs of legs, one pair of antennae and two pairs of membranous wings. Its body is covered with villi.
  • The body of bees usually measures between 2mm and 4 cm, depending on the species, and consists of three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. At the end of the latter, the females possess a stinger. The upper extremities are adapted to allow cleaning of the wings, while the lower extremities are adapted to carry floral nectar.
  • Their eyes are compound and large they occupy almost the entire head, just below the antennae, which allow them to receive chemical, olfactory, sound and movement signals.
  • As a species have enormous communication skills and information management. Through a “dance” performed with the body, they can indicate to each other how far or near a food source is. In addition, they are able to orient themselves through the sun, the incidence of solar rays and through the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • The bee society is strongly stratified. It is composed as a social pyramid at the top of which is the queen bee, the only one capable of laying eggs, and then comes the body of workers, and at the end the few non-working males, called drones. Queens live much longer than others, and can even reach 6 years.
  • Of all the known species of bees, only 7 are capable of producing honey. Each year, 1.6 tons of this product are generated in the West. To do this, a single bee can visit more than 7,000 flowers a day. It takes four million visits to generate a kilo of honey.

Types of bees

There are eight families of bees, grouping all known species, which can vary greatly from each other. These families are:

  • Colletidae. Primitive and wasp-like bees, covering about 3,000 species.
  • Adrenidae. Solitary and large bees, among which there are species of parasitic life.
  • Halictidae. “Mining” bees, since they spend much of their lives underground, many of which are attracted to the sweating of mammals.
  • Oxaeidae. Large, fast-flying bees, anatomically similar to the group Adrenidae.
  • Melittidae. Around 180 species of pollinating bees, typical of Africa and the Northern Hemisphere, small to moderate in size. They represent an evolutionary link between primitive and modern bees.
  • Megachilidae. Leaf and stem cutter bees, capable of building complex structures in the ground to nest, using vegetable pieces cut by themselves. Unlike other bees, they collect pollen on their belly, rather than on their back legs.
  • Apidae. The largest group of all, which includes the common bees, stingless bees, bumblebees and others less known.

Bees and wasps

wasp bees
Wasps feed on other species of insects.

Despite the similarities that may exist between a wasp and a bee, they are two different types of animals, although evolutionarily related. That is, bees (just like ants) arose from certain wasps of the family crabronidae, in the early cretaceous (about 100 million years ago).

Nevertheless, differ from wasps mainly in that they feed on flower nectar, instead of the meat of other species of insects, as wasps continue to do today.

Habitat of bees

Ordinary bees are social animals, living in swarms. However, they are not the majority:

  • Solitary bees. This is how 75% of bee species live.
  • Parasitic bees. They represent 15%.
  • Honeycomb-dwelling bees. Only 10% live inside honeycombs, which are complex structures that they build themselves with mud, plant debris, or other materials, on top of trees, in building corners, or anywhere the colony feels safe from their predators.

Regarding their geographical distribution, the different species of bees are found practically all over the world, adapted to the most diverse climates, and it often happens that the crossing and hybridization between them, as happened in Brazil with the Africanized bee, produce aggressive and more dangerous variants.


honeycomb bees
In the combs the bees deposit their larvae and also the honey.

Honeycomb is called a type of structure typical of honey bees, made from clay and wax that worker bees can secrete through a set of specialized glands.

Inside, honeycombs are made up of small regular cells, within which the bees deposit their larvae, and also the honey and pollen on which the hive feeds. In a special location is also the queen bee. Honeycombs have a shape and dimensions characteristic of the species of bees that inhabit them.

Bee feeding

In general, common bees feed on pollen and nectar that they extract from flowers, and from which they compose various types of food:

  • Royal jelly. It is the most nutritious form of honey, with which they feed the larvae and the queen bee.
  • Diluted honey or pollen. They constitute the food of the army of worker bees.

Reproduction of bees

bees reproduction metamorphosis
Bee larvae undergo metamorphosis to emerge as adults.

The reproduction of bees is determined by their pyramidal structure, since the only bee capable of laying eggs is the queen bee. Therefore, it is cared for and protected by all the other worker bees.

To deposit the eggs, queens must be fertilized by a drone, which is a male bee, the only form that exists within the swarm. The drones are unproductive, although they can collaborate in the defense of the honeycomb, and their role is restricted to copulation with the queen bee. Sometimes, after being fertilized, the queen will not require the male again for a large amount of time.

Bee eggs are tiny and whitish. A limbless larva emerges from the eggs, which goes through different molts until finally becoming a chrysalis, completing the circuit of a complete metamorphosis until emerging as an adult.

Social differentiation occurs from the larval stage: somehow the bees know which larvae will be queen bees and which will simply be workers. Thus, a new queen only emerges to found a new swarm, taking some of the workers with her, or to replace a deceased queen bee.

Importance of bees

bees pollination importance
Bees carry pollen from plants.

The ecological importance of bees cannot be stressed enough. They are the main pollinators of plant species in the world, that is, those in charge of distributing pollen from one plant to another, thus facilitating the sexual fertilization of plants and giving them genetic diversity.

This occurs when the bee approaches the flowers to sip nectar, and the pollen of the plant adheres to its body, part of which will reach another flower and allow the exchange of genetic material between the plants. Without bees, this process could take significantly longer, although there are few other species capable of helping with the same process, but none with the effectiveness of bees.

Other than that, the bees make up the basis of the honey industry, a food that humans can take advantage of in their diet and that is both nutritious and antiseptic.

Danger of extinction

The bees they have many predators and are the victim of many parasites capable of infecting an entire comb. Also, being so territorial, they compete with each other for available resources. However, the great adversary of bees is precisely the human being.

The massive use of pesticides and chemical substances in agriculture it is directly responsible for the 30% decline in bee populations in the United States, for example, and similar situations occur around the globe.

The practice of modern beekeeping has also replaced the floral search of bees with sweet and synthetic drinks, making the animals prefer to go to an easy and close source of sugars, than to the nectar produced in small quantities by the flowers.

All this panorama promises future ecological disasters and loss of diversity. Bees are easily one of the most important species in the global ecosystem, and are currently in danger of extinction everywhere.