We have all eaten honey, and several of us supplement our diets by eating valuable bee byproducts like bee pollen. But, there are numerous unique varieties of bees; which ones make honey, and what do other kinds of bees do?
There are about 25,000 identified species of bee global (about 4,000 in america), all of which are classified under the superfamily Apoidea. These are divided into nine households, four of which are very small with respect to numbers of species.
We are most familiar with just one family of bee, Apidae, including honey and bumblebees. Honey bees, of course, create honey; those are social bees that live in colonies of 50,000 to 60,000 workers, 300 drones, and usually a single queen. Bee colonies are very complicated in terms of behavior and total function; these bees act for the existence of the colony, and not for individual survival. There are ten broad types of honey worldwide, and a hybrid variety, the Africanized bee, or “killer bee.” The European honey is most commonly maintained by beekeepers, with the goal of harvesting honey and bee byproducts.
Bumblebees can also be in the family Apidae, but bumblebee colonies are much smaller compared to those of honey bees, normally hosting just a couple hundred worker bees. Like honey, bumblebees are excellent pollinators of various flowers; their own bodies are rather furry, trapping pollen easily as the bees move from flower to flower to eat. Bumblebees do actually make honey, similar in texture and flavor to honey from honey bees however greenish-golden in tint in place of the pure gold color of regular honey. Bumblebees make relatively small quantities of honey — their colonies are really small — and it’s tough to harvest, therefore bumblebee honey is generally not found on the market.
There are yet more members of this Apidae household, solitary rather than colonizing. Digger bees frequently nest in close proximity to one another, giving the appearance of a colony, but every female is behaving independently, collecting and protecting pollen for her youth. These bees are nonaggressive and will not sting unless they’re trapped in clothing. Carpenter bees, on the other hand, nest in older wood; like digger bees, they are solitary, but often nest in close proximity to each other.
Leafcutter bees and mason bees are members of the Megachilidae family; they’re solitary, with leafcutters making nests in hollow plant stems and ready holes in timber and mason bees nesting in old mortar and assorted crevices. A number of these solitary bees are increasingly being reared commercially available for pollination purposes, particularly as honey bee populations around the world are dwindling for unexplained reasons.
Mining bees belong to the Andrenidae household; this family comprises of tens of thousands of species across the world. Moreover solitary, mining bees excavate cells and tunnels underground in which to rear their young; their tunnels are often visible as small mounds from the ground, akin to worm casts. A nest may include a primary tunnel with five or six branches each comprising an egg cell. Mining bees prefer sandy soil. They don’t cause any harm to a garden, and ought to be welcomed as effective pollinators.
Bees of the Halictidae family tend to be called “sweat bees” because they are drawn by sweat; females may give a minor sting if trapped. These nest in the ground or in timber, and they are social, though their caste system differs from that of honey or bumblebees. Along with the Colletidae family contains plasterer bees, so called because they smooth the walls of their nest cells using secretions that dry to some lining including cellophane. All these are solitary bees, located largely in Australia and South America.
Four other bee families — Melittidae, Meganomiidae, Dasypodaidae, and Stenotritidae — are extremely small in many species; these rare are found in Africa or Australia.
Bees are much more varied in type and behavior than would initially appear. You are most likely to encounter honey bees and bumblebees, but most all bees are effective pollinators, Bird Control, and as such a valuable link in our global ecosystem.