Bees – Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Killer Bees

There are about 20,000 species of bees worldwide and they vary hugely in their appearance, life style, and stinging capacity.

Bees are found throughout the world except at the highest altitudes, in polar regions, and on some small oceanic islands. The greatest diversity of bee species is found in warm, arid or semiarid areas, especially in the American Southwest and Mexico. Bees range in size from tiny species only 2 mm (0.08 in) in length to rather large insects up to 4 cm (1.6 in) long. Many bees are black or gray, but others are bright yellow, red, or metallic green or blue. This diversity has provided scientists with a natural laboratory for the study of evolution and social behavior in insects.

The great probability is that if you live in the north American continent or Europe you will be stung by one of three types of bees

Honey bees in the hiveThe European Honey Bee is important in modern agriculture and in nature, providing pollination for many valuable crops and wild plants. Most honey bees used in hives today are mixtures of honey bees from all over the world and sometimes other races.

Africanized honey bees, for example, are a hybrid of African and European races naturalized in the western hemisphere.

The honey bee is a social insect that can survive only as a member of a community, or colony. The colony inhabits an enclosed cavity, its nest. Domesticated colonies are kept in artificial containers, usually wooden boxes, known as hives.  There are considerable issues about hives suddenly dying due to a variety of factors – not least the varrhoa parasite and an associated fungus.  Honey bees are crucial to the food chain and considerable efforts are now in place to reduce the problems which confront the honey bee.

Bumblebee - bombus terrestrisThe Bumble Bee is the common name for any of a group of large, hairy, usually black-and- yellow, social bees. They are found primarily in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, often ranging farther north and higher in altitude than other bees. Fifty species of bumble bees are known in North America alone! Bumble bees are similar to their close relatives, the honey bees, in that their colonies are headed by a queen, who is the main egg-layer, and many workers, who are the daughters of the queen, and in that drones (males) are produced during the mating season. However, the colonies of bumble bees, unlike those of honey bees, only survive during the warm season; new queens hibernate alone to begin another colony the following spring. In addition, there are usually fewer individuals in a bumble-bee colony than in a honey-bee colony, and bumble bees do not use a dance to communicate the location of food to other members of the colony, as honey bees do. Also, although bumble bees collect nectar and store it as honey, they do not hoard large amounts of it, as do honey bees. Bumble bees are sensitive to habitat disturbance. In England, several species are thought to have become extinct in past decades due to land clearing and agricultural practices.

african killer beeThe Africanized Honey Bee is a variety of honey bee derived by hybridization from African honey bees naturalized in the western hemisphere. Because they are highly defensive and will attack perceived intruders more readily than the common European honey bee, they are also known by the popular name killer bees. African honey bee queens were imported by Brazilian scientists in the 1950s in order to breed a honey bee for use in tropical climates. Some swarms escaped into the wild. Because they were highly adapted for tropical survival and had no natural competitors, they thrived and spread rapidly through South America, extending their range by as much as 500 km (300 mi) per year. By the 1980s, Africanized honey bees had reached Central America and soon colonized Mexico. In 1990 the first swarm was found in the United States.

The bees spread from Texas to New Mexico and Arizona and then into California by 1994. The bees reached an apparent climatic limit to their southern range in the middle of Argentina, and their range is expected to be similarly limited to the southern and coastal states in the United States. They have hybridized to some extent with resident wild and hive populations of European honey bees. However, many of the basic African honey bee traits remain, including rapid population growth, frequent swarming, minimal hoarding of honey, the ability to survive on sparse supplies of pollen and nectar, and a highly defensive nature. Africanized honey bees are more difficult to manage than European honey bees and produce less honey.

Africanized honey bees have increased the number of human deaths due to bee stings in Mexico and Argentina and probably in other countries. In the United States, however, although more people have been stung by bees since 1990, no more bee-related deaths than usual have been recorded.