Over the past few months, the NY Times published many articles on honey bees and bumble bees. They reported on everything from diets of urban bees and honey bee feelings to pollinator declines. Since popular media has picked up bee fever, I wanted to write a blog post about the differences between two commonly recognized bees, honey bees and general bumble bees. To preface this blog post, we as both fruit and vegetable eaters and as scientists have a lot to learn about the bees as there are almost 20,000 known bee species.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera): Honey bees are in the family Apidae along with our well-loved bumble bees. Since these two genera are in the same family, they are more closely related to one another than they are to other bees, like mason bees or mining bees and share some of the same characteristics. The common honey bees you might see in your garden were introduced to the United States from Europe (but there are honey bees from other places too). Although many honey bees in the United States are well taken care of by dedicated beekeepers, they are some of the most amazing creatures. Up to 60,000 individual bees can work together in a hive, communicating and cooperating in order to rear new workers and create honey reserves for the winter. Imagine working all day and coming home to a hive of 60,000 others. Whew! Communicating with a large group might prove to be difficult, but honey bee workers can signal where good foraging spots are located. Workers perform the waggle dance (youtube video here). These insects combine information about distance, direction, and quality of a patch of flowers into a single dance move! They give Mick Jagger a run for his money.
Bumble bees (Bombus): There are over 45 species of bumble bees in North America, which comprises less than 2% of the bee species diversity. Although this is a small subgroup of the many bees you might see outside, there has been a recent effort by citizens and scientists to preserve bumble bee populations. This is important because bumble bee abundances have been declining over recent decades due to habitat fragmentation, disease, climate change, and other factors. Bumble bees, like honey bees, are extremely important pollinators for agriculture and the more we learn about them, the more we can prevent pollinator declines.
About this blog:
I created this blog as part of the Phipps Botany in Action Program, 2015 - 2017