As winter comes to a close and the plants begin to blossom, the queen honey bee begins to stir. Surrounded by her loyal subjects, they have survived the cold season by huddling for warmth at the innermost core of their hive while consuming stored honey to generate heat and rotating positions in the cluster so that no bee gets too cold. As the local flora opens up to greet the warm sun, honey bee workers will leave the hive in groups to work in tandem as they gather pollen and nectar to resupply the stocks of the hive. Doing complicated dances (colloquially known as a “waggle dance”) the worker groups are able to communicate with each other regarding the locations of resources available.
With spring in full swing and the workers vigorously gathering nectar for themselves and pollen for their young, another very important event is taking place. The hair on a honey bee is not just for warmth, but is also used for gathering pollen from flowers and bringing it to every other plant the bee flies to. This is the most important role of the honey bee: cross pollinating flowers, trees, and anything else that has a blossom. The bees help the plants reproduce, the plants provide sustenance for the herbivores, which provide sustenance for the predators who in turn help ensure there aren’t too many animals eating the vegetation and leaving a desolate landscape in their wake. The entire habitat is based solely upon the pollinating abilities of the local honey bee, which unwittingly has the burden of the entire eco system’s survival on its tiny shoulders.
Once spring passes on and summer arrives, the hive is a busy place. A complex social hierarchy is in place to keep the nest organized, with the queen at the top. She decides which eggs she will fertilize, which eggs will become queens to build their own nests and which eggs will become workers. As new queens are born, they fly to other nests to mate with fertile males, who typically die in the process. After fertilization, the new queen will take a large company of worker bees to establish a new hive at a site predetermined by scouts, and the cycle begins again.
There are exceptions to the complex life cycles of the bee. Some species have an annual hive cycle, with only the queen surviving the colder months to repopulate again during the next spring. Other bees are mostly solitary, living without a colony and rarely coming into contact with one another except for mating. With such a diverse range of habits, social structures and even life cycles, it’s no wonder the bee has been so successful over the years. No matter the niche that needs filled, there is a type of bee that exists to fill it.