I already knew about the existence of cuckoo bees. These are bees that lay their eggs in the already provisioned nests of pollen collecting bees so that they don’t have to bother collecting pollen themselves. This means that they don’t have the hairy pollen baskets on their legs. This is one way of differentiating them from the hosts that they have evolved to mimic. However, an interesting article by Mike Edwards in the excellent British Wildlife Magazine gave me an insight into different types of bees and why their efficiency at pollinating plants varies so much.
The standard belief is that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between plants and pollinators whereby plants provide nectar as a foodstuff for the pollinating insect. In turn the bee moves pollen from the male part of the flower to the female whilst collecting it to take back to the nest for their larvae. This article revealed that this only occurs with certain species and that in many cases the plant is robbed!
What I didn’t know before today is that some bees, such as this white faced bee, are almost hairless and eat the pollen and nectar they collect before flying back to the nest; therefore denying the flower its rightful pollination.
The best known bees are the honey bees and the bumble bees, however, I also learned today these are not very efficient pollinators. In some cases these bees manage to get the nectar and avoid the reproductive parts of the flower and therefore don’t pollinate it at all. However, even if they do collect the pollen in the baskets on their legs, they need to wet it with nectar so that it doesn’t fall out. This means that the pollen isn’t readily transferred to the female part of the flower. Honey and bumble bees are, in effect, pollen robbers!
Whilst googling cuckoo bees for this short article I also came across this cool picture on Wikipedia. A cuckoo bee asleep, using its mandibles to hold on – what a fantastic shot! Until today I didn’t realise that bees did this!
Friends of the Earth are hoping to create a bit of a buzz with their Bee Cause campaign. I attended a launch event in Northampton today – the aims of the campaign are to get those in power – specifically David Cameron, to acknowledge that the government needs to adopt and implement a bee action plan. The launch event included a couple of talks about pollinators and their habitats.
Why are bees important? Just to clear up a misconception, it is not just bees that are important it is all of natures pollinators – insects, animals and birds – even some lizards are important pollinators elsewhere in the world. Across the world 87% of the estimated 308,000 plant species are pollinated by insects and other fauna.
There has been a lot of coverage about the collapse of honey bee populations across the world and lots of speculation about the reasons. However, this is not a new phenomenon and since the 1800s the UK has lost 23 species of bee and 18 species of butterflies. More recently there has been a 75% decline in moths since the 1970s and a 25% decline in hoverflies since the 1980s. So, it would appear that the recent problems with honey bees are only the latest in a long line of declines. Whilst there are lots of reasons for this, the overriding issue has to be loss of suitable habitat caused by urban expansion and the intensification of agriculture and removal of woodlands and hedgerows. Indeed Northamptonshire holds the dubious distinction of having lost more species of wildflowers than any other county. Not something to be proud of.
So, the Bee Cause campaign aims to raise awareness of this problem and get people taking action. I’ll be writing some more posts outlining what you can do to help our pollinators in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you are interested in getting involved in the campaign there is a lot of information on the FoE website. Alternatively, if you are in the Daventry area and would like to help, give me a shout and we can work together to make Daventry a bee-friendly place.