If you’ve been on the internet lately, you may have caught a recent viral video of a pair of honey bees working together to open a Fanta bottle. The video shows two honey bees using their front legs to twist off the cap, working together slowly until the top dislodges from the bottle, all while an astounded onlooker comments her disbelief. While opening a soda over 20 times your size with only your legs is pretty impressive, it’s not the only surprising behavior bees rely on for survival.
There are over 20,000 known species of bees in the world: social species such as honey bees and bumble bees, and solitary species such as mason bees and leaf cutter bees. Social bees live together in colonies with a maternal hierarchy, a queen controlling and directing her workers and drones to carry out their duties for the colony. Solitary bees live alone, with a single female responsible for building a nest, collecting food in the form of pollen and nectar, and laying her offspring.
Honey bees are widely studied, due to their agricultural importance and a long-shared history with humans as a source of honey. Some of the earliest documented human connections to bees goes as far back as 8,000 years ago illustrated in cave paintings, when early humans raided bee hives for honey. Ancient Egyptians kept domesticated honey bee colonies to farm honey, and today we place honey bee colonies near farms and orchards to pollinate our plants. Some of the most interesting honey bee behaviors come from communication, such as telling each other about large patches of flowers through a ‘waggle dance,’ a term used to describe the figure-eight flight pattern honey bees take to tell their colony about a resource. These bees can actually communicate direction and distance to the flower patch, based on the variation in flight patterns they make during the dance.
Honey bees are also impressive engineers, crafting honeycomb out of hexagons made from wax. Hexagons are one of the most efficient shapes in nature, nesting perfectly with one another to make the most out of a small storage space. Honey bees pack the hexagons with bee bread, mixtures of pollen and nectar that are fed to developing larvae as they grow through the insect developmental stages into adult bees.
Solitary bees, such as mining bees, leaf cutter bees, sweat bees, and mason bees can be just as fascinating as social bees. They come in a variety of different colors, shapes, and sizes, ranging from as small as a sliver of fingernail to as big as your thumb. Some social species are brightly colored or iridescent, while others are completely black and may resemble large flies. These solitary species are amazing pollinators, with some species considered better at pollination of plants than honey bees.
Solitary bees build their nests out of different types of materials, making them extremely resourceful. Leaves, sticks, mud, and plant hairs are just a few of the nesting materials different solitary bees use to build a secure place for their offspring to grow. Solitary bees are thought to provide even better pollination than honey bees in some crops, solidifying their place as important pollinators.
Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem. Some species make honey, but there are many other reasons to love these fuzzy pollinators and support conservation efforts. Social and solitary bees pollinate our agricultural crops, backyard gardens, and a majority of all flowering plants. Their agricultural benefits are numerous, providing pollination to an enormous number of the world’s crops, and the honey for your daily cup of tea. Overall, it’s their contributions to biodiversity- their behavior, resourcefulness, creativity — that make them uniquely fascinating creatures. I hope the bees continue to astound you — even if it means working their way into your soda bottles now and then.