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Insect week: Bees

This week the Royal Entomological Society celebrates the small creatures that keep the world going. Supported by partner organisations throughout the UK and Europe, it is possible to get involved in insect science wherever you are. Wherever you live, it’s an opportunity to take part in insect science, get to know insects, learn from experts, and have fun.


This week, I would like to celebrate the insects that play an often-overlooked role in keeping our crops healthy by focusing on key insects in agriculture.


Today, we celebrate bees!


Everyone knows why bees are important, don’t we? Well, if you’ve missed the news somehow, here’s what you’ve been missing. Bees are absolutely vital in the pollination of up to two-thirds of the crops that we grow, to the point that, if bees go extinct, it is possible that we will as well. At the very least, our diets would suffer tremendously. Certain foods such as almonds would disappear completely, whilst foods such as coffee would become extremely expensive and rare. Other foods such as honey (obviously), strawberries, avocados, celery, tea, broccoli, tomatoes and lemons would also disappear.


Bees themselves are pretty interesting in themselves. They are found in every continent, except Antarctica, in every habitat that includes insect-pollinating flowering plants. Bees range in size from the stingless bee, that can be a mere 2 millimetres long, to the leafcutter bee, which can be up to 39 millimetres in size. In all, there are 20,000 recognised species of bee with at least 24 species being found in the UK. Some make their hives in trees whilst some live underground. Most people can recognise bees from their friendly, fluffy appearance, though they do still sting when stressed out, so always keep a respectful distance away from any bees you might encounter. They’re hard at work making food for us!


More fun facts about bees:

  • Whilst most bees (>90%) live socially in colonies, there are multiple species that live as individuals including carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees.

  • Bees feed on nectar and pollen, though most of the pollen is used as food for their larvae

  • Fossils of possible bee ancestors have been identified as originating from ~70 million years ago.

  • Research shows that bees communicate through a ‘dance’ language that includes waggling their tails. This study won Karl von Frisch a Nobel prize in 1973.


Come back tomorrow to learn about another important critter!


If you are interested in learning about how you can support the survival of these important insect species please check out the resources available at: https://www.insectweek.org/



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