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Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation

The Other Pollinators (page 2 of 6)

by Amy Bartlett Wright

Honeybee (Apis mellifera)

Europeans who knew the honeybee as an effective, broad-dieted, relatively docile, and easily managed pollinator--as well as a provider of honey and beeswax--brought it to the New World. Since its introduction, the honeybee, also called the domesticated bee, has become common and its habitat widespread.

Honeybees are social. Many of them exist together to support the whole colony in which the queen is the central member. A colony consists of 40,000 to 60,000 honeybees. Sterile worker females do most of the colony's work, caring royally for the queen; her sole purpose is to lay eggs. "Busy as a bee" means busy indeed. The workers build the honeycomb, tend the queen (always turning to face her when she passes by!), feed pollen to the young, clean the hive, forage for nectar and pollen, and convert the nectar to honey in their honey stomachs.

Worker bees also guard the entrance to the hive, scout for new food sources, and communicate to other workers information about new flowers and the richness of the nectar supply. The drone males aren't effective pollinators. Their sole function is reproduction, and when their mating duty is complete, they are ousted from the hive or killed by workers.

Most honeybee colonies live in man-made hives that can be moved from crop to crop for specific, managed pollination. The high number of bees in a colony makes their work significant. If a colony becomes too crowded, workers will swarm, separating from the first hive with a new queen. Then, they will build a new hive in a different location. If that colony escapes into the wild, the colony is called feral. If the new colony chooses an empty hive provided by an alert beekeeper, the beekeeper will have added nicely to his or her population of domesticated bees.

Africanized Honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata)

The recent incursion of the Africanized bee into the United States is another worry to beekeepers. In 1956, an African subspecies of the honeybee was introduced into Brazil. The African bee looks just like the honeybee we know, but in tropical regions it is an even more effective pollinator and honey producer than the domestic honeybee. South American beekeepers found, however, that the advantage they saw in the bees' aggressive manner meant that the bees were also far more difficult for humans to manage than domestic honeybees were. The African bees are apt to sting fiercely in groups at the slightest disturbance, and they've attacked people and livestock, earning them the name "killer" bees. These bees have moved north and are breeding with the domesticated European honeybee race in southern subtropical regions, causing difficulty for commercial beekeepers there. The northern limits of this invasion are not yet known.

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