December Bee of the Month – Apis Mellifera – The Western Honey Bee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEasily recognisable, this black and gold bee makes honey, and in the process pollinates more than 70% of the world’s most important food crops.

The honey bee lives communally in a hive which at the height of summer might be home to 80,000 bees.  All the bees in a hive are produced by a single queen.  She mates with the male drone bees and then produces eggs, which are looked after by the female workers.

The workers also fly from the hive to collect pollen and nectar from flowers up to three miles away.  Bees pass on the details of good food sources they have found to other workers by performing a “waggle dance.”

Bees use pollen as a protein source for the younger bees in particular, while the nectar is concentrated into honey, which is the bees’ food source over winter.  You can often see bright yellow or orange pollen on a worker bee’s hind legs, where they store it before taking it back to the hive.

Unfortunately, these fascinating, hard-working insects are under threat.  The parasitical varroa mite lives on bees and passes on diseases which can shorten their lives.  Colony collapse disorder can mean that the population of a hive simply flies away never to return, and there is also the loss of wild flower habitats on which the bees depend for their food.  You can help by planting seeds for flowers rich in pollen and nectar.