Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bees - 20,000 known species worldwide

Malta is justifiably well known for its honey. This natural product is produced by a domesticated species of bee. Although this is the best known species it is just one of at least 60 bee species that have been recorded in the Maltese islands.

Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants. They are known for their role in pollination. 

There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in the world with several still to be discovered. They are found in every continent except Antarctica and in every habitat where one finds insect-pollinated flowering plants. They are adapted for feeding on nectar and pollen which provide them with their energy and protein requirements. Pollen is used as food for larvae.

Bees play an important role in the pollination of flowering plants. When foraging they either gather nectar or pollen. While doing this they carry pollen from one flower to the other. Pollen is fine powder which contains the male sex cells of a plant. When the pollen reaches the female sex cells of a plant, a process known as pollination, fertilisation takes place. It is estimated that one third of the food consumed by man depends on insect pollination, mostly by bees especially the domesticated honey bee.

Most bees are fuzzy and have an electrostatic charge which attracts the pollen. The bees occasionally brush the pollen attached to their body and pack it into a structure that is usually found on their legs but sometimes on their abdomen. 

Some species of bees specialise on one species or a small number of related species of plants while others are opportunistic feeders and gather pollen from a large variety of plants.

Bees evolved from predatory wasps. When they first appeared there were already in existence insect pollinated plants which depended on other species of insects such as beetles for pollination but they have now become specialised pollinating agents much better at it than other insects such as flies and butterflies. 

This article was published in the Times on 23.02.10

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