As many as 20,000 known species of bees have been recognized in seven to nine families. While many have yet to be classified, the actual number is probably higher. Bees can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants. Bees, like ants, are a unique form of wasp.They are flying insects related to wasps and ants, and are known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax.
Despite the honey bee's painful sting and the stereotype of insects as pests, bees are generally held in high regard. This is due to their usefulness as pollinators and as producers of honey, their social nature, and their reputation for diligence. Bees are adapted to feeding on nectar and pollen, the former as an energy source and the latter for protein and nutrients. Pollen is used as a food for larvae. Honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees can become serious pests in and around buildings, not only because they can sting, but in the case of honey bees and carpenter bees they can cause structural damage that may result from the nest-building activities. Honey bees may build nests in walls, chimneys and attics. Combs may melt and allow honey to seep through walls and ruin the interior. Old honey combs can become infested with other insects which may cause further damage. Carpenter bees can drill 1/2 inch holes into the exposed wood of buildings. These holes make a 90 degree turn below the surface and run with the grain of the wood for distances up to 12 inches.
Bumble bees and Carpenter bees look alike. They can be distinguished by the yellow hair on the top of the abdomen of the Bumble bee and the lack of hair on the abdomen of the carpenter bee. Bumble bees build their nests in straw, old rags, or any material that acts as insulation.
Africanized Honey Bee
Africanized bees, or killer bees, are a hybrid strain of Apis mellifera derived from experiments by scientist Warwick Estevam Kerr crossing European and African honey bees. Several queen bees escaped from his laboratory in South America and have spread to the Americas. Africanized honey bees are more defensive than European honey bees.
- They tend to swarm more frequently and travel farther than other type of honey bee.
- They are more likely to migrate as part of a seasonal response to lowered food supply.
- They will "abscond"—the entire colony leaves the hive and moves—in a response to stress.
- Have greater defensiveness when in a resting swarm, compared to other honey bees.
- Lives more often in ground cavities than the European types.
- Will guard the hive aggressively, with a larger alarm zone around the hive.
- Have a higher proportion of "guard" bees within the hive.
- Will deploy in great numbers for defense and pursues threats over much longer distances from the hive.
- Cannot survive long periods of forage deprivation, preventing them from habitating areas with harsh winters or extremely dry late summers.
This aggressively protective behavior has been termed by scientists as hyper-defensive behavior. Their aggressive defense has earned them the nickname "killer bees."
Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris, Bombus pratorum, et al.) are eusocial in a manner quite like the eusocial Vespidae such as hornets. The queen will initiate a nest on her own (unlike queens of honey bees and stingless bees which will start a nest via swarms in the company of a large worker force). Bumblebee colonies will have anywhere from 50 to 200 bees at peak population occuring in mid to late summer.
The architecture of the nest is simple, limited by the size of the nest cavity (pre-existing) and colonies are rarely perennial. Bumblebee queens sometimes seek safety in the winter in honey bee hives, where they are sometimes found dead in the spring by beekeepers, usually stung to death by the honey bees. It is unknown whether any survive winter in this environment.
The carpenter bee name comes from the fact that nearly all species build nests in burrows in dead wood, bamboo, or timbers. Some are mistaken for a bumblebee species, as they can be similar in size and color, though most carpenter bees have a shiny abdomen, while in bumblebees the abdomen is completely clothed with hair. Carpenter bee males of some species have a white or yellow face, females do not; males also often have much larger eyes than the females, which relates to their mating behavior. Male bees will often be seen hovering near nests, and they will approach nearby animals. Males are harmless however, since they do not have a stinger. Female carpenter bees can sting, but they are docile and rarely sting unless caught in the hand or otherwise directly provoked.
True honey bees (genus Apis) arguably have the most complex social behavior among bees. The European (or Western) honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the best known bee species and the best known among insects. They are distinguished by their production of honey and the storage of the honey. They will form perennial nests out of wax, thus the formation of a honeycomb. There are only seven recognized species of honey bees with a total of 44 subspecies. Through the years, six to eleven species have been recognized. Honey bees make up only a fraction of the 20,000 bee species that are recognized.
Honey bee colonies are established by groups or swarms made up of a mated queen and a large contingent of worker bees. Workers will sting intruders as a form of a defense and will release a pheromone that will stimulate attacks from other honey bees. Honey bees can build colonies in buildings and homes and may cause structural damage.