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Scientific classification

Bees are flying insects, closely related to wasps and ants. They are adapted for feeding on nectar, and play an important role in pollinating flowering plants. There are over 16,000 described species, and possibly around 30,000 species in total.

Bees may be solitary, or may live in various sorts of communities. The most advanced of these are eusocial colonies, found among the honeybees and stingless bees[?]. Sociality is believed to have evolved separately in different groups of bees.

Eusocial Bees

Eusocial bees live in large hives, each of which has a single queen[?] together with workers[?] and drones[?].

The queen, the only fertile female, deposits all the eggs from which the other bees are produced. Except for her one mating flight or to establish a new colony, the queen rarely leaves the hive. The queen deposits each egg in a cell prepared by the worker bees. The egg hatches into a small larva which is fed by nurse bees (worker bees who maintain the interior of the colony). After about a week (depending on species), the larva is sealed up in its cell by the nurse bees. After another week (again, depending on species), it will emerge an adult bee.

Eggs that are fed royal jelly[?] during the larval stage will develop into queens.

Worker bees are infertile females. They were not fed royal jelly during the larval stage. Worker bees secrete the wax used to build the hive, clean and maintain the hive, raise the young, guard the hive and forage for nectar and pollen. In honeybees, the worker bees have a modified ovipositor called a stinger with which they can sting to defend the hive, but the bee will die soon after.

Drone bees are the male bees of the colony. Drone bees do not forage for nectar or pollen. The primary purpose of a drone bee is to fertilize a new queen. Drones mate with the queen in flight. They die immediately after mating.

In some species, drones are suspected of playing a contributing role in the temperature regulation of the hive. Drone bees have no stinger, since a stinger is actually a modified ovipositor.

Queens live on an average about three years. The workers have but a brief existence, not three months long on an average.

Solitary, Communal, and Quasisocial Bees

Some other bees form small colonies. For example, most species of bumblebee (Bombus terrestris, B. pratorum, et al.) live in colonies of 30-400 bees. (By contrast, an average honeybee hive at the height of summer will have 40,000 - 80,000 bees.) The queen bee is typically able to survive on her own for at least a short time (unlike queens in eusocial species who must be cared for at all times).

Other species of bee such as the Orchard Mason bee (Osmia lignaria) and the hornfaced bee (Osmia cornifrons) are solitary in that every female is fertile. There are no worker bees for these species. Solitary bees typically produce neither honey nor beeswax. They are immune from tracheal and varroa mites. (see diseases of the honeybee)

Miscellaneous All bees eat nectar and pollen. Bees are excellent pollinators and play an important role in agriculture.

Bees are the favorite meal of Merops apiaster, a bird.

See Also honeybee, africanized bee, how to tell bees from wasps

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