Australia, blogging

The Bees Knees

When Greg North, Liaison officer for the Northside Beekeepers, first became interested in a new hobby, he was surprised to find little information for those new to keeping bees. However, that changed when he found the associations of Beekeepers, a group that’s been supporting apiarists and others interested in the management of European Honey bees and Native Australian (Stingless) bees, for over 40 years.

Why are Bees important?

Bees are the major pollinators of food crops.

“70 % of what we put in your mouth has been pollinated by bees. Mankind could not exist for more than four years without bees.” 

G. North – Beekeeper liaison
Bees love Cosmos flowers

Bee Society

A Honeybee society is highly regulated and democratic.

Not only are bee numbers adjusted according to the varying needs of the hive, but bee swarms also will not move to a new location until all bees are in agreement, communicating with each other through their waggle dance!
A bee democracy!

Every bee has its own role in the colony and works constantly to perform its duty. Although there are some that take it easy. Drones are like the playboys of the bee world, sitting around in the Drone Zone, perhaps reading playboy magazines, waiting for the Queen to fly past. Then it is time for them to do some work.

Bees and Climate Change

Bee societies may be highly regulated but one thing the bees can’t control it seems is the weather and that can dramatically affect food sources and ultimately, their survival.

The presence of flowers doesn’t always mean there’s plenty of food available for bees. A drop in honey yield may correlate with a lower than usual rainfall. In the drought of 2020, the flowers on the Forest Red and Blue Gums, (Eucalyptus tereticornis), were completely bereft of active bees or nectar-feeding birds.

Why?

The extended dry spell meant the trees only produced, ‘dry flowers,’ ones that are devoid of nectar, as an adaptive response to drought. A dry spring might also mean trees suppress flowering altogether. Without nectar, bees are without food just at a time when their hives are looking to swarm and reproduce. And no nectar means no honey.

Greg with a flow and regular hive

Native Australian bees look for all the world like insects and there are thousands of species. Unlike honey bees, they do not swarm and may be solitary.

Native Bees

How We Can Help the Bees

Homeowners can help the bees by incorporating bee-friendly plants in their gardens, particularly ones that flower in the drier months of September- December. Fruit trees, flowering shrubs including Grevillea, Callistemon, (bottlebrush), and herbaceous plants like Rosemary, Sage, Cosmos, and Marigolds are excellent food sources for bees.

European worker Honeybee

Fun Facts about Bees

  • Bees swarm in spring with scout bees fly up to 70 sq. km in search of a new location
  • Each female worker bee produces 1/8 teaspoon of honey in its life.
  • A Queen Bee can lay up to 2,000 in a single day.
  • A bee colony will not move until all the bees are happy with the chosen new location.
  • Bees will replace an under-performing Queen Bee by swarming around her in a ball, raising her body temperature which kills her.
  • Worker bees hatch from fertilized eggs and unfertilized eggs will turn into drones.
  • Bees communicate with each other via a “waggle dance.”
  • Australian beeswax is highly sought after for its purity and is largely exported for the manufacture of cosmetic products such as moisturizers and lip balms.
  • Bees do drink water – they return water to the hive for the others to drink.
  • The brood or nursery area of the beehive is kept at 35 – 37 degrees C to keep the bees alive
  • Australia has up to 16,000 varieties of Native bees – some are easily mistaken for bugs.
  • Native (stingless) bees are more adaptable to drought than European bees but the hives do not reproduce as fast nor do they produce the same quantity of honey.
  • Council regulates the keeping of Honeybees on properties but Native bees are unrestricted.

Links

www.northsidebeekeepers.org.au/

instagram.com/northsidebeeks

facebook.com/northsidebeekeepers

68 thoughts on “The Bees Knees”

        1. Much appreciated! Thank you. Still lots of typos/errors sneak in that I only seem to see once I hit publish and read it over again. I installed Grammarly but it doesn’t always help. Sometimes it is a hindrance.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Truly fascinating and informative post! I’m amazed at how democratic the bees as a species are. I also like the idea of replacing the queen bee by swarming around in a ball and killing her if they’re not happy with her- I sooo badly wish we, humans had that provision too 😉
    But it’s sad that they have to kill her for it 🙁 Human population needs reduction, not bee population.
    It’s wonderful how we have so much to learn from such a tiny species. Fascinating! Truly enjoyed the information.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sam! I just added a few more photos. The keeping of bees is a very involved process and one I also found fascinating. Yes, they have found ways to ensure their survival as a species that we are yet to learn! Are there native bee species in India, as well, I wonder?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. I learnt so much when I researched this post. I wrote this post initially for the magazine I work for, however, I have edited it for this blog. They really are fascinating creatures. Ones that we absolutely need. Not only are bees threatened by environmental issues, their society have found way to perpetuate the species in a truly democratic in a way that we aren’t. ie. their drones still fulfil a very important role in society. Who would think bees were so interesting?
      I am unsure if Canada/USA has native bee species like Australia does.

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    1. Sorry Judy, I probably didn’t answer your question well. Queen bees are fed exclusively royal jelly, a protein-rich secretion from glands on the heads of young workers. Worker Bee babies are fed some royal jelly for the first few days after hatching and then a mixture of nectar and pollen.

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      1. But, I looked it up and you are right. Drones do develop from unfertilized eggs, so you see you taught me something today I would probably never have known. Some breeds of chickens also occasionally produce a chick from an unfertilized egg. This astounds me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The Drones are the oddest things. Greg explained it to me that they are lazy and sit reading their playboy magazines in the Drone Zone! They kind of reminded me of teenage boys in a way. Only thank goodness teenage boys live way longer than the Drones.
          I am glad that I was able to spread some information about bees.
          It would be great if we could regulate the thermal temperature of our home as bees do. Amazing little creatures.

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  2. This is a very inetersting writing Amanda.
    As a kid I was bitten by a bee and since then I got very cautious.Here in Germany I often confused with Bees and what we called “wespe” which always got in with our BBq´s in summer.
    my neighbour is an “Inker”, german word for Apiarist, and this year I´ve got a nice present of a bottle of honey. Really pure delight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Raw fresh honey is a delicious food and so good for you. Since picking up a 1 kg bottle when I wrote this, I have made loads of honey and oat biscuits. Not good for the waistline!
      Would a wespe be a wasp? Orange stripes?

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  3. Very informative and interesting article, Amanda. I confess, however, to having a horror of any insect on my body, have felt like this since a child when I fell into an ant’s nest. I admire those who are apiarists and who work so hard to provide me with honey and those who collect it in the wild. Your pictures were very good as well.

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    1. Thanks for a delightful comment, Mari. I can tell you that it was not my bare hand that had the bee resting on it! I would have been a little apprehensive if it were so. Greg, our guide was the one who had the bee resting on his hand and was the only one bitten. We were very cautious and had nets on our face. The rest of our body was not covered with special clothing. When one landed on my skin, I stayed very still rather than panicking.
      The insects I hate are toads and those large brown grasshoppers. Yuk.

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  4. Hi Amanda – my nephew and his wife (Amanda, by coincidence!) have a large number if hives at their property and produce a decent quantity of honey. Walking round the hives with them and learning how it all works is fascinating. My nephew (Daniel) refers to the bees as his unpaid staff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome to hear that your nephew and my namesake are engaged in keeping hives. Their home produced honey must taste so delicious. I usually like the honey that is flavoured with the Eucalypt flowers of the Australian Ironbark tree but at the moment I am eating one that has the flavour of a variety of flowers so purportedly has immune benefits. Does the honey your nephew’s bees produce have a particular flavour?

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  5. A really informative article Amanda, thank you! The bees feed us all.
    Another really crucial thing the home owner/gardener can do and not use toxic pesticides on their property. Lethal to bees, these chemicals have a significant impact on the bee population.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point that I should perhaps have included, Dorothy so I appreciate you adding it here in the comments. I do not like to use any pesticides, so I admit I didn’t think of that as it is a given for me. The native bees, which are mistaken for flies or other flying insects are often inadvertently destroyed by homeowners spraying chemicals around the garden.

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  6. When I was a kid my dad kept bees. Lots of work, but worth the effort to have our own personal honey supply. We plant as many flowers as we can that attract bees and in the warmer months every day I put out fresh water for the bees. I like to believe that this makes them happy.

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    1. As your Dad kept bees, you would know a lot more about the hobby than me, Ally and your bees might be very happy. I love that you are consciously planting flowers for the bees, as well as for your own enjoyment. Good point that water is important too, especially if it is dry. Greg, the gentlemen I spoke to for this post, also informed me that he has seen the bees use their proboscis to drink water on very hot days.

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    1. I learnt a lot about bees from researching this post, Sarah. The beekeepers are very knowledgeable about the habits of bees. I was impressed by the little creatures’ industriousness. I try to plant bee friendly plants and encourage them even though my husband is mildly allergic to them.

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        1. Last week, a national backyard pollinator census was conducted that required participants to watch and count the number of pollinating visitors to a flower over a 10 minute period.

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  7. Interesting information about bees!
    Our World in Data just did an article this past summer about how much of the world’s food production is dependent on pollinators. They discussed the difference between how many crops depend on pollinators to some extent (3/4) compared to how the global crop production does. They found that few crops are completely dependent and some of the largest staple crops like cereals are not dependent at all. Studies have suggested that there would be a decline of 5-8 % in overall crop production if pollinating insects vanished!
    There is a lot of interesting data on foods and insects in the story: https://ourworldindata.org/pollinator-dependence

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    1. ABC Fact Check: “It’s not black and white — dependent on bees or not dependent. Pollinator dependency is different across all crops and even within crops for different types of cultivars.” Butterflies and other insects as well as birds and bats do also play a significant role in pollination of crops and species, as well as Australian native bees. Australia’s floral and environmental footprint is unique. With habitat destruction, land clearing and urban encroachment being a major cause of the loss of ALL pollinators, I don’t feel we can diminish the importance of the honeybee, given that some crops, ie. almond and macadamia crops have a 100 per cent dependency, according to a Senate report, as do avocados and blueberries.
      Those with 90-100 per cent dependency include cucumbers, mangoes, apples and pumpkin. Beans and soy are less dependent on native/honeybees although the quantity and quality are effected in their absence.
      “Bees can vastly boost a crop’s production, including canola, in that crop helping pollinate flowers at the same time so the seed grows uniformly within the crop, getting rid of green seed for harvest, leaving a higher oil dividend. They also can help grow a more rounded apple (preferred by the market), such is their pollinating wizardry. Faba bean production could be improved by 30 per cent by pollination from bees.” https://www.theland.com.au
      Frequent fires and droughts in the Australian landscape affect our unique flora and without native/honeybees there may also be little re-growth or regeneration after an environmental catastrophe. So I do feel that we need ALL pollinators. The general habitat and food source loss is a sign of ecological imbalance. This means we need to look after all parts of our ecosystems, not just the ones that are seen as the major players.

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    2. You may also be interested in this article Margy. “Crop Pollination with Native Bee Species that can Buzz Pollinate
      Other types of Australian native bees can also be great crop pollinators. Our native blue banded bees, teddy bear bees, great carpenter bees and metallic carpenter bees can perform a special type of pollination called Buzz Pollination. These bees grasp the flowers and vibrate them with their flight muscles, making the pollen shoot out of little capsules. This could make these bees ideal pollinators of crops which require this special kind of pollination, such as tomatoes, kiwi fruit, eggplants, blueberries, cranberries and chilli peppers. The commercial honey bee, Apis mellifera, cannot perform Buzz Pollination. ” https://www.aussiebee.com.au/croppollination.html

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally understand the reasoning behind everything you have said – except the statement “Mankind could not exist for more than four years without bees”.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This was a very informative, interesting article. Bees are not plentiful where I live (high altitude mountains) and I believe there are less in recent times. Kudos to those brave enough to cultivate them. I was amazed by the mutiny of the queen you described.

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    1. The nature of their society is completely fascinating, Ruth. I was gobsmacked at their efficiency and consensensual work ethic! They make our humans look pretty lazy. And the laziest members of their society die after they have fulfilled their role! (the drones)

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  9. Even though I’m somewhat melissophobic, I fully understand the importance of bees and their value to the planet. I’m highly concerned about their increasing demise across the planet. It’s yet another example of climate change deniers’ ignorance and blatant stupidity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bees are one part of the puzzle in managing our environment and the competition in hte environment from human needs and animal needs, Alejandro. Juggling every part so that we can all co-exist is difficult. Crop monoculture is not a natural phenomenon and thus, requires human interventions to succeed, which has consequences in other parts of the ecosystems. Bees are our unpaid helpers in this regard. I am glad you are aware of their importance. Caring/managing them is a small price to pay for the the benefits we derive from their existence.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I believe now that we’re starting to understand the significance of what humanity has done to its environment in recent decades and the impact climate change is having on the natural world. Because of all this enlightenment I don’t feel it’s too late to save the planet. Knowledge and acceptance of a problem are actually more than half the battle. Now the humanity has to move forward.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting post Amanda. I didn’t know about the democratic life of bees and it’s fascinating that worker bees come from fertilized eggs & drones from unfertilized. Does it mean that all worker bee are female and all the drones are male?

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    1. Drones are males as they mate with the Queen. You are right about the females. The female worker bees are all sterile, unless the colony needs a new Queen – then they raise a new fertile female.

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    1. That is so interesting, Frank. The bee humming sound we can make with our lips was actually used as a relaxation technique in a meditation class I used to attend. It was wonderfully calming, thus I can see how the experience of being in that room was good! Although it is the first I have heard of it being offered as an experience. Perhaps a new way to encourage the keeping of bees!

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  11. Very informative and interesting post Amanda. Climate change is definitely doing some scary damage when it destroys bees habitat. My blue salvia (always a staple in my garden), is always swarmed by bees.

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  12. What a truly interesting post…loved the fact about bees don’t move unless all in agreement and l love the sound of bees buzzing. I am going to buy a salvia plant having read your comments. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sue. You made my day! And the bees will thank you for it. I found these facts about bees quite fascinating as well. I never realised how efficient the bees were. Some might even say highly evolved! I love the democracy of bees. Well done on promoting the bee food in your garden!

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  13. Amanda, a wonderful and fascinating article! You’ve packed this full of facts in an enlightening manner and I loved learning about the bees! Your native ones look so strange to European ones. Blimey, we better look after them as our very lives depend on them all. Awww… I was touched how all the bees had to agree on a new hive before moving in. True democracy! A terrific post and photos!

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    1. Hej Annika! Tak så mycket! I am happy you enjoyed the post. The native bees are so completely different to the honeybee you would not think they were a bee at all. Some live in old logs on the ground or in crevices in the walls of a house. They are very welcome, but I prefer them in the garden. Lol! Who would have thought such a small creature would have a sense of democracy about their lives? I guess this is something they have learned has helped them to survive. Humans still have some work to do refining the concept for that purpose! God jul til deg!

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