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Discovery Magazine 3/1/2008

20,000 Bees Under the Sun

There are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide, and their differences have interested scientists for many years. All bees pollinate, but there are differences between bee species. Perhaps you have noticed different kinds of bees in your own backyard. There are about 50 types of bumblebees, which are much larger than other kinds of bees, but very similar to honeybees. Colonies of bumblebees survive only during the warm season, and store less honey than honeybee colonies do. Honeybees survive only as members of colonies, which live inside nests called “hives.” Worker honeybees use nectar, pollen, water, and plant resins to construct these hives. A single hive can contain up to 80,000 bees.

Carpenter bees, on the other hand, are not social, and live for only one year. Carpenters nest in wood, and the males have no stingers. If a bee ever stung you, the culprit probably was a honeybee or a sweat bee. Sweat bees usually nest in a tunnel in the ground, but some nest in wood. Leafcutting bees, however, use leaves to construct their nests. Their nearly circular leaf cuttings are perfect for lining their nests underground or in wood.

Mason bees, smaller than honeybees, chew plant fiber and combine it with mud in order to construct their nests. Like carpenter bees, masons are solitary. Each female bee builds her own nest without help, because there is no hive. It’s pleasant to have mason bees around, because they sting only if stepped on or squeezed. (They make no honey, so they don’t feel compelled to protect a “sweet stash.”) 

In 1956, Brazilian scientists accidentally introduced “killer” bees, or Africanized honeybees, in North and South America. If “AHBs” feel threatened, they can attack and pursue for a quarter of a mile. AHBvenom is no more dangerous than that of common honeybees, but AHBmay attack even if their nest is undisturbed, and respond in greater numbers than honeybees do.

Different kinds of bees are among the most important insects, because our mighty God gave them lots of fascinating abilities. As we study them, we are reminded of His creative power and control of the animal kingdom. 



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