Bees have been in the news a lot recently, with the publication of evidence that the neonicotinoid insecticides commonly used in farming and gardening have a toxic effect, changing the behaviour of bees, and even killing them. Traces of these chemicals persist in plant tissues, and accumulate in soil, affecting bees for months after application. The bees ability to find food, their ability to smell and taste, and their survival rate over winter can all be reduced. The toxins also seem to make the bees more susceptible to mites and viruses.
Honey bees are at additional risk from Varroa mites which not only feed on the body fluids of larvae, pupae and adult bees, but also spread viruses such as the deformed wing virus. Together, this can cause colonies to collapse completely, a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
As well as providing us with honey, and beeswax, bees play a far more important role as pollinators of plants, particularly food crops and it is estimated that one third of human food supply relies on pollination by wild or domesticated bees. Conservation of pollinating insects is therefore vital to biodiversity and agriculture.
Along with calls to regulate the use of insecticides in agriculture, strains of so-called hygienic bees are now being cultivated to reduce the impact of mites. These bees are able to detect contaminated cells within the hive, and remove the pupa before it becomes infectious. A natural trait within all colonies, hygienic bees are selectively bred from the most hygienic queens to increase their occurrence in a population.
It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide.
Here are just a few that visit our garden!