©Stuart M Bennett 2005
Bombus pomorum
Large Garden Bumble Bee
Red Tailed Bumble Bee
Buff Tailed Bumble Bee
Early Bumble Bee
Field Cuckoo Bee


The evolution of flowers went hand in hand with the evolution of bees and other insects. To attract the insect to them so that they could reproduce, the flowers had to modify their scent, colour and pattern markings a lot of which can only be seen in ultra violet light.

In antiquity people knew that bees produce delicious honey, that they sting, and that they increase their numbers by swarming. Early rock paintings on cave walls in Africa and eastern Spain show people gathering honey from trees or rock crevices while bees fly around them. Cave drawings in Spain, near Valencia from around 7000 B.C. show figures climbing to out of reach places and gathering honey. Other cave images show figures surrounded by bees without being stung. Early honey gatherers probably learned by accident that smoke would calm bees as an offshoot of using fire for "warding-off" or driving other animals. By the 17th century they had learned the value of smoke in controlling them and had developed the screen veil as protection against stings. From the 17th to the 19th century, the key discoveries upon which modern beekeeping is founded were made. These included the mystery of the queen bee as the mother of nearly all the occupantsof the hive, her curious mating technique, parthenogenetic development, the movable frame hives, and the fact that bees rear a new queen if the old one disappears.

Standard tools of the beekeeper are: the smoker to quell the bees; a veil to protect the face; gloves for the novice or the person sensitive to stings; a blunt steel blade called a hive tool, for separating the frames and other hive parts for examination; the uncapping knife, for opening the cells of honey; and the extractor, for centrifuging the honey from the cells.

There are nearly 250 different types of bee in Britain, and fewer than 30 of them live and work together in colonies like the Honey Bee. Most bees are solitary insects which nest in holes in the soil, sand, decaying stumps of wood, rock fissures or hollow stems, providing a store of food for their larvae but leaving then to hatch alone.

Social bees have developed a sophisticated system of group organisation, each colony feeding and caring for it larvae as they grow. A colony consists of three different types of bee: queen, worker and drone (males). The queen bee is the only fertilised female and her sole function is to lay eggs. The remainder of he females are the workers. They collect food, build the honeycomb in which the eggs are laid and the honey and pollen is stored - care for the eggs and do all the other work of the colony. The drones - males - help to maintain the hive temperature and provide the initial fertilisation of the young queen. Towards the end of the summer they are driven off by the workers to die. They try and get back into the hive, as they cannot feed themselves, usually they are stung to death by the workers.

A healthy bee colony can consist of 40,000 - 80,000 bees; a bumble bee colony can be 20 - 150. In both cases it is the workers that form the majority.

All bees depend on flowers for food. The female bees of most species feed on the nectar secreted by many plants. They collect the surplus in a compartment in their stomachs; they return to the hive and regurgitate the surplus where, in a few days it has been converted by them into honey and is stored in the cells as food. Some worker s gather pollen, collecting it either on their furry bodies or in sacs on their hind legs. As the bees move from flower to flower, the pollen, the male element in flower reproduction, is transferred and the flower is fertilised. Flowers depend on the bees as much as the bees depend on the flowers. Also, pollenation is extremely important to us if there were no bees we would have no food, and hence no people. We would have to employ people with little paint brushes to do the bees job....buzzzy buzzzy buzz buzz.

Bees sting only when they are extremely provoked, for to do so means their death. When they sting, the sting has barbs, which allow it to enter the skin but wont retract back, we jump around banging and thrashing and knock the bee off, but it leaves a lot of it's insides with the sting in the process. Below is a diagram of how the bee-sting works.

The main reason I include bees on a pest control site is that every April/May, in the UK, we get phone-calls asking us to remove a wasps nest out of a chimney or something similar. The wasps are obviously bees as wasp queens are only just emerging and haven't really got their nest started. Bees are a protected species and are only to be destroyed as a last resort. A beekeeper should always be asked if they want the swarm, only then, and only if it is a real hazard, will we destroy the swarm.

To do the job correctly is actually quite time consuming; this is because the honey should also be removed as well as the bees. This is not always the easiest of jobs, especially if it is 4 feet down a chimney. The reason for removing the honey is that other bees could well re-populate the hive at a later time, being attracted to the site by the smell of the honey.

Beekeepers are reticent about taking wild swarms due to the problem with the varroa mite, which can wipe out a colony if not treated correctly.


April 2008-BEES GIVEN HIGHER PRIORITY: The government has announced that it has given "higher priority" to beekeepers fears that the UK could be about to experience devastating losses in bee colonies. Beekeepers are aware that significant losses of bees during the winter could be signs of colony collapse disorder (CCD), which devastated the bee populations in the US last year.

Industry experts and also MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale have critisised the government for failing to fund proper research into the threat posed by CCD, a bit like shutting the door after the horse has bolted.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the work of the inspectors working for the National Bee Unit had "reprioritised" so that reports received of significant colony loss were "actioned as a high priority". Beekeepers experiencing significant losses are also being urged to contact their local be inspector to arrange a visit.


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