In the UK there are roughly 270 species of bee and these can be split into two groups: social bees and solitary bees. Social bees include types such as the bumble bee and honey bee. They live socially in colonies, make honey in their hive and are ruled by a queen where as the solitary bee as the name suggest lives alone and does not make honey, some types of solitary bee include the Leaf-cutter bee and red mason bee.
Just last week we saw three bees in our garden so we decided now would be a good time to teach our daughter a little more about these ‘pollinators” as she likes to call them that visit our garden.
Anatomy of a bee
The body of a bee consists of three sections, head, thorax and abdomen. The entire body of the bee is covered in lots of tiny hairs. These hairs help the bee regulate its body temperature and also helps with the collection of pollen.
On the head of a bee you will find five eyes, two compound eyes either side of the head and three tiny eyes called ocelli in the middle of the head. The compound eyes are made up of many repeating units called ommatidia and each ommatidium contains its own lens, crystalline cone, visual cells and pigment cells. Each individual ommatidium is responsible for only a small portion of the visual field and a composite image is produced when all the information from each ommatidium is compiled. The compound eyes give the bee a bigger field of vision and the ability to see ultraviolet light.The three smaller eyes, Ocelli, help the bee navigate in low light such as when they are in the hive.
The bee has two antennae that are filled with thousands of tiny sensors that detect smell. Bees keep their antennae clean by pulling each antenna through the stiff, bristled hair that is found on each foreleg.
The thorax separates the head from the abdomen and it is where the wings and six legs are situated.
The bee has three pairs of legs and every individual leg has six segments. Each set of legs has a job to do, as mentioned above the bee uses its forelegs to clean its antennae, the middle legs are for walking and packing pollen onto the hind legs. Social bees have an area on the hind legs called “pollen baskets” this is where pollen is collected to take back to the hive.
The bees wing are in two parts, forewing and hindwing. When the bee is flying the forewing and hindwing hook together to form a single surface but separate when the bee is at rest.
The abdomen contains all the bees organs, wax glands and in some but not all species of bee a stinger which contains a poison sac with sharp lancets that can pierce the skin. Some honeybee species have a barbed stinger that if used sticks to the body of the mammal and as the bee flies away it will pull out part of the abdomen resulting in death, this is why bees will only use their stinger if absolutely necessary. The
Bee activity in Spring
Although we are still only in February and Spring is not quite here yet we did see three bees in our garden last week and that gives us hope that the temperature will soon be warming up. One of the earliest bees to be seen is the buff tailed bumble bee queen who is usually the first to emerge around the end of February after spending winter hibernating alone in the soil. In early spring bees can collect pollen from the catkins of trees such as hazel and alder. Pollen provides the bee with protein but it is nectar that is needed the most as this provides the bees with carbohydrates that give them energy to fly. Nectar is a lot harder to find but some good early sources come from willow, bluebells, primroses and lesser celandine.
Pine cone bee activity for kids
This weeks activity was to make a bee out of a pinecone. Our daughter really enjoyed making hers and both our kids enjoyed making the bees fly in the garden.
To make your own pinecone bee you will need:
- Yellow wool
- White felt or paper
- Wrap the yellow wool around the pine cone to make it look like the stripes of a bee.
- Tie one end of your string around a piece of the cone and the other end to a stick
- Then lastly cut out some wing shapes and stick them onto your cone
We’ve really enjoyed learning about bees this week and it has led to a lot of questions asked by our daughter. We will continue our Bee theme in next weeks article where we will look a little more closely and the differences between social and solitary bees.
We hope you have enjoyed this article and if you make your own pine cone bees or see any bees in your garden then please let us know on our social media sites.