Asker Nature Reserve

Bees & Pollination

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The European or Western Honey Bee, Apis mellifera

The European or Western Honey Bee, Apis mellifera is a member of an order Hymenoptera (“membrane winged”) – a large order of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants. There are over 250 species of bee found in the UK 90% of which are solitary and do not live in colonies. The European Honey Bee is regarded as domesticated and is very rarely see living in the wild[i].

 

Honey bees are eusocial insects[ii] which means that there are dissimilar physical types of bee performing different functions in the colonies existence. The queen, of which there is only one, is a female bee, much larger than the worker bees which are also female but sterile and form the overwhelming majority of the colony up to 40,000 bees[iii].

 

There are a small number of male drone bees whose main purpose is to mate with the queen bee and perpetuate the colony.

A long history of domestication and intentional transport of A. mellifera by humans has resulted in its current cosmopolitan distribution that includes all continents except Antarctica. An estimated 87.5% of flowering plant species are pollinated by animals – including honey bees which are the most frequent floral visitor of crops worldwide.[iv]

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds in history, once allegedly warned that if bees were to disappear from the Earth, humanity would follow suit within four years. Although there is some doubt that Einstein actually said this there is no doubt that he had a great interest in bees and did know Karl Von Frisch.

Honey Bees use “the waggle dance “to communicate the direction, distance and other information to each other. Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch first decoded the waggle dance in the mid-20th century. His ground-breaking work on honey bee communication earned him a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973. Karl von Frisch discovered that European honeybees perform a waggle dance that communicates at least to the experimenter, the direct flight path to the indicated goal (a feeding site or a new nesting site) [1]).[v]

Domesticated honey bees live in hives provided by human beekeepers. There are several types of hive. The old fashioned ‘skep’ hive is seldom used as it is very destructive to the bee colony which has to be virtually destroyed to remove the honey. Frame hives, sometimes called ‘National hives’ are the most commonly seen type of hive. They are designed to maximise honey output and are the normal type used for commercial honey production. Top bar hives actually predate the introduction of national frame hives and are considered to be less efficient in terms of honey production but to place less stress on the bees producing the honey – which leads to a more resilient and healthy colony[vi].

The hives in Asker Meadows are of the top bar construction and the bee colonies are there to increase the propagation of local crops and wild flowers.

 

[i] https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2023/07/types-of-bee-in-the-uk/

 

[ii] https://www.mylearning.org/stories/social-insects/1230

 

[iii] https://www.bbka.org.uk/whats-in-the-hive

 

[iv] Hung, K.L., Kingston, J.M., Albrecht, M., Holway, D,A., Kohn, J.R., 2018. The worldwide importance of honey bees as pollinators in natural habitats. Proceedings of the Royal Society. Available at: https://royalsocietypublishing.org., [Accessed 16 April 2024].

 

[v] Von Frisch, K. The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees; Harvard University Press: Boston, MA, USA, 1967.

 

[vi] https://www.biobees.com/library/hive_other/popular_hives_UK.pdf

 

 

 

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) queen, drone, and worker, Germany
Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) queen, drone, and worker, Germany

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) queen, drone, and worker.