Back in June 2015 the campaign group 38 Degrees held an event in Westminster to “arm our MPs with everything they need to know about bees and bee-killing pesticides.” That was over 2 years ago but bees and pesticides are very much still big news with further headlines hitting social media recently. It’s heartening to see that Michael Gove is backing a total ban on these chemicals, as reported in the Guardian on Thursday 9 November 2017:
UK will back total ban on bee-harming pesticides, Michael Gove reveals
So why is this so important?
Bees are amazing creatures. They play a very important role in the pollination of many of the plants that we depend on for food but in recent years their numbers have been declining rapidly. I will focus on the honey bee here and look at some of the issues that it has been facing, and steps that are being taken to try to support it.
A year in the life of a honey bee colony
Each colony is ruled by a single queen. She starts laying eggs in early spring and the old worker bees, who hatched in the previous autumn, make sure that the colony is viable and start bringing in pollen from snowdrops and other spring flowers. These early blossoms are therefore important to the bees. They provide a source of food as the bees become active again after the winter.
The queen starts by laying female eggs (fertilised with stored sperm) and then she will lay some male (unfertilised) eggs as well. She can lay up to 2000 eggs a day. The colony continues to grow and can reach up to 50,000 – 80,000 worker bees (females) and a few hundred drones (males) by June. (The worker bees live for about 3 weeks, the queen for about 3 years and the droves for about 3-4 months.)
When temperatures reach 12oC or above the worker bees go out to collect nectar to make honey, and pollen to feed to the developing grubs. Normally they will forage up to 5km from the hive. When a worker finds a new source of nectar she brings some back to the colony and passes it to some of the other bees. They gather round her and she does a ‘waggle dance’ which gives them information about where to find the nectar. She goes round in a horseshoe pattern then bisects this at an angle. The number of times she goes round the horseshoe is the distance to the nectar source and the angle indicates the sun’s position. (She has 5 eyes, one of which can see polarised light, so she knows the position of the sun even when it is cloudy.)
In Part 2 I’ll describe what happens when the colony increases in number and becomes too big for their hive.
(This is an extract from my article which you can read in full here)