Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Little Bee - All About Bumble Bees

There are more than 250 different species of bee and most of these exist in the Northern Hemisphere. They are social creatures with black and yellow hairs that are often arranged in stripes on the bee's body. They may also have red or orange coloring and some bees are almost entirely black. Bumble bees look and feel fuzzy. The thick fuzzy hairs help to keep bumble bees warm through the winter.
The bumble bee is a relative of the honey bee. They gather pollen which is used to feed their young. In queens that have been fertilized, the ovaries become active when she lays her eggs. The queen is able to store the male's sperm from mating in a special container known as the spermatheca that is used when she is laying her eggs. Some eggs are fertilized with the sperm and these bumble bees will grow into females or queens while other eggs go unfertilized and become males.
Hormones stimulate the development of the ovaries and lack of hormones will suppress ovary development. In worker bees, a lack of hormones makes it impossible for them to reproduce. Instead of being capable of reproducing, worker bees have salivary glands that secrete saliva and can be mixed with the nectar and pollen that they gather from flowers. The saliva is mixed with the materials used to build the nest to make them softer.
The tongue of the bee is long and hairy. It extends from a sheath and is used to lap up liquids like nectar. Nectar is drawn up through the tongue also through capillary action. When the bumble bee flies or rests, the tongue is kept folded up underneath its head. Wax is secreted from an area under the abdomen. Pollen is gathered by the bumble bee in part through electrostatic charge which builds up on the bee as it is flying through the air. When the bee lands on a flower, the electrostatic charge causes the pollen to be attracted to the bee. Though bees do not have ears, they do have the ability to sense vibrations.
The bumble bee is usually found more readily at higher latitudes and higher altitudes. There are a few tropical species of bumble bees however. The bee possesses the ability to regulate its body temperatures using several mechanisms such a "shivering" and solar radiation. They are also able to stay cool by radiating warmth out of their bodies through their abdomen.
Bumble bees exist in colonies that are usually smaller than that of honey bees. Mature nests of bees sometimes hold only about 50 individuals. Nests may be found under ground in tunnels made by other animals. They often build a waxy protective canopy that can help to insulate the colony through the winter months. A queen bumble bee from a colony will usually survive the winter and then construct a new colony in the warmer spring months are she emerges from hibernation. She collects pollen and nectar from flowers and then finds a suitable location for the nest to begin the cycle all over again.

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