Using DNA technology and samples of honey from many different hives, scientists have been able to analyse the foraging behaviour of honey bees, and compare their findings with a study undertaken in the mid twentieth century. In the earlier study, honey samples were analysed by looking at the pollen grains present. The shape and sculpting on a pollen grain is unique for each species.
Back in the 1950s, honeybees gathered a lot of pollen and nectar from wild flowers, particularly plants like white clover (Trifolium repens). As with so many wild flowers, there is far less white clover to be found in hedgerows, meadows and roadsides nowadays, so honeybees have to find alternatives - though white clover is a favourite if it can be found. Read more...
Honey bees face many threats - such viruses, mites and pesticides, but also threats from their own kind - robber bees. When nectar becomes scarce at the end of the summer and into autumn, then bees will seek food wherever they can find it - like honey from other colonies. From the robber bees ‘point of view’, this is simply another form of foraging behaviour. This robbing of honey deprives a colony of an important winter resource.
To limit this behaviour, hives have guard or gatekeeper bees, who ‘inspect’ all arriving bees. But how do they know who is friend and who is foe? Not being able to tell the difference could mean a long and lean winter, with little honey in the hive. Honey bees can recognise members of their community / hive by detecting waxy chemicals present in their exoskeleton (cuticle) known as cuticular hydrocarbons (CHC’s). Read more...
In Spring, or earlier if winter has been mild, queen bumblebees emerge from ‘hibernation’, from their nests. They then need to feed, having more or less exhausted their bodily reserves during the cold of winter. Their food comes in the form of nectar and pollen - both of which can be in short supply in early Spring.
Whilst the bumblebees may need food, flowers also have a ‘need’- pollinating agents - particularly bumblebees. The inter-dependence of flowering plants and insects probably evolved many millions of years ago, back in the Cretaceous Period. Read more...
The decline of bumblebees and other pollinators has been noted in the woodlands blog on several occasions; they play a key role in the pollination of many crops that we rely upon.
Urban areas are now important habitats for bees, bumblebees and other pollinators as the world becomes increasingly urbanised, and patterns of land management have changed over the last century - with vast swathes of monocultures. Urban areas can offer a much greater selection of plant species. Cities can offer diversity to both long tongued and short tongued bumblebees (specialists and generalists respectively) by offering a rich choice of flowering plants. Specialist bumblebees have long tongues to probe deep into certain flowers, whereas short-tongued, generalist bumblebees can collect nectar / pollen from a variety of flowers. Read more...
Some 90% of the world's plants, including many food crops, rely on animals for pollination (as opposed to wind or even rarer water pollination). The contribution of honey bees and bumblebees to these pollination services is vital but they are at risk due to:
- the effects of disease,
- climate change
- effects of pesticides and
- habitat loss / destruction.
Whilst it is sometimes possible to help hives / colonies of the ‘domesticated’ honeybee suffering from parasites / disease, ‘helping’ wild populations is a much more difficult proposition. Read more...
Declining bee populations in Europe have caused alarm in recent years and the decline has been attributed to a multitude of factors / causes, for example :-
- Climate change
- Pesticides - especially neonicotinoids
- Varroa mites
Sound is part and parcel of life. The nervous system of animals are attuned to it; it serves to inform them of danger, of food, of mates etc. We do not think of plants are being sensitive to or responsive to sound - though some people are convinced that talking to plants helps them to grow better (this might be due to an enhanced level of carbon dioxide near to the plants). However, some recent studies by Professor Lilach Hadany (of Tel Aviv University) and her colleagues suggest that some plants can respond to certain sounds that bees produce. Read more...
Bumblebees and honeybees seem to be assailed from all sides - pesticides, parasites and viruses, habitat fragmentation, climate change all come into play. Now a study of honeybees in the North West (of the UK) suggests that there is a clear link between their immediate landscape and the quality of their diet.