Bees are an everyday part of our lives: we remember cute cartoon characters we enjoyed as kids, we watch them do their job in our gardens, and surely every one of us reading this blog has at least one jar of honey in the pantry... but, how well do we know them? True bees (Apinae) are a subfamily of insects from the order of aphids, a family of bees (Apidae) to which the closest relatives are bumblebees. There are approximately 20,000 species of bees in the world that live on all continents except Antarctica. The most common species is the honey bee (apis mellifera); it originated in Africa from where it settled in Mediterranean countries and Europe, and later spread to Asia, Australia and North America.
The first bees that did not yet live in groups, the solitary bees, appeared in the Mesozoic, and reached the peak of social development in the middle of the Tertiary, in distant prehistory almost 56 million years before the appearance of man.
The greatest importance of bees is not only reflected in the production of honey, but also in the pollination of plants and the maintenance of ecosystems. Bees are responsible for the survival of most plants, including those that are extremely important for human consumption - more than 75% of such plants are directly dependent on bees as pollinators, so it is not difficult to conclude that bees are a key link in the food chain. As Albert Einstein once famously said: If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.
Bees up close:
Although to laymen all bees resemble each other, in the hive we can find three creatures that are quite different from each other: the queen, the worker bees, and the drones. Each bee community has only one queen. It is larger than bees, and differs from them in the shape of its organs and internal structure. There are no pollen baskets and brushes on the hind legs that the worker bees use to collect pollen. Her head is short, her jaws are relatively weak, and what makes her recognizable is her very large abdomen. The eggs from which the bees will develop are laid only by the queen; from mid-April to mid-June it lays up to three thousand eggs a day, so that the total weight of the eggs laid in one day is twice the weight of the queen herself! The queen also has a sting, but she only uses it to fight her rivals, other queens.
The most numerous are members of the worker bee community. They are also females, but they do not lay eggs. However, this does not mean that their maternal instincts have stunted them - on the contrary, they take care of the larvae, their offspring, with extreme tenderness. Of course, they do other useful things and they deserve the credit for maintaining the bee community.
Drones are males that live in a bee community from March to autumn. Their most important life task is to fertilize young queens and thus enable the prolongation of the species. Although the word drone in Croatian language means a lazy and useless person, drones still perform important tasks that nature has entrusted to them in the division of labor in the bee community. Thus, we know that their presence enables the maintenance of the proper temperature in the hive: during high heat they cool the inside of the hive by spraying water drops on the honeycomb.
Bees in a modern environment
Do you know what Buckingham Palace, the Parliament in Berlin, the Vienna and Paris Opera, but also the Technical Museum in Zagreb have in common? All these institutions host bees on their roofs or inside their premises, thus showing concern for the preservation of these valuable insects and our environment.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included bees on the European Red List of Endangered Species, which has had a significant impact on raising awareness of the need to protect them. The phenomenon of mass extinction of bees that appeared in the USA in 2006 and spread to all developed countries of the world, scientists connect with factors such as diseases and habitat degradation, but also with intensive production of plant monocultures and inevitable climate change. Due to the endangerment of bees, new opportunities for protection and development are being sought, so the modern trend of keeping bees in urban areas is becoming increasingly popular.
In many cities around the world, hives adorn numerous public places, roofs of buildings and parks, and in recent years, global hotel chains have joined the trend of urban beekeeping, installing hives on their rooftops and serving their own bee honey.
So let us ask ourselves in the end: what would we humans do without bees? We can pay respect to these always busy insects on every May the 20th - the day we celebrate as World Bee Day!