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Apis mellifera (Honeybee). Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Arthropoda Class: Insecta Order: Hymenoptera Suborder: Apocrita Superfamily: Apoidea Clade: Anthophila

Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, and are known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax. Bees are a monophyletic lineage within the super family Apoidea, presently classified by the unranked taxon name Anthophila. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven to nine recognized families, though many are undescribed and the actual number is probably higher. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
Bees are adapted for feeding on nectar and pollen, the former primarily as an energy source and the latter primarily for protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used as food for larvea.
Bees have a long proboscis (a complex “tongue”) that enables them to obtain the nectar from flowers. They have antennea almost universally made up of 13 segments in males and 12 in females, as is typical for the superfamily. Bees all have two pairs of wings, the hind pair being the smaller of the two; in a very few species, one sex or caste has relatively short wings that make flight difficult or impossible, but none are wingless.

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A honey bee swarm

The smallest bee is Trigona minima, a stingless bee whose workers are about 2.1 mm (5/64″) long. The largest bee in the world is Megachile pluto, a leafcutter bee whose females can attain a length of 39 mm (1.5″). Members of the family Halictidea, or sweat bees, are the most common type of bee in the Northern Hemisphere, though they are small and often mistaken for wasps or flies.
The best-known bee species is the European honey bee, which, as its name suggests, produces honey, as do a few other types of bee. Human management of this species is known as beekeeping or apiculture.
Bees are the favorite meal of Merops apiaster, the bee-eater bird. Other common predators are kingbirds, mockingbirds, beewolves, and dragonflies.
Bees play an important role in pollinating flowering plants, and are the major type of pollinator in ecosystems that contain flowering plants. Bees either focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are more efficient pollinators. It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee. Contract pollination has overtaken the role of honey production for beekeepers in many countries. Monoculture and the massive decline of many bee species (both wild and domesticated) have increasingly caused honey bee keepers to become migratory so that bees can be concentrated in seasonally varying high-demand areas of pollination.

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Honey bees defend against wasp attacks

Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which aids in the adherence of pollen. Female bees periodically stop foraging and groom themselves to pack the pollen into the scopa, which is on the legs in most bees, and on the ventral abdomen on others, and modified into specialized pollen baskets on the legs of honey bees and their relatives. Many bees are opportunistic foragers, and will gather pollen from a variety of plants, while others are ligolectic, gathering pollen from only one or a few types of plant. A small number of plants produce nutritious floral oils rather than pollen, which are gathered and used by oligolectic bees. One small subgroup of stingless bees, called “vulture bees,” is specialized to feed on carrion, and these are the only bees that do not use plant products as food. Pollen and nectar are usually combined together to form a “provision mass”, which is often soupy, but can be firm. It is formed into various shapes (typically spheroid), and stored in a small chamber (a “cell”), with the egg deposited on the mass. The cell is typically sealed after the egg is laid, and the adult and larva never interact directly (a system called “mass provisioning”).

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An African bee Apis mellifera subspecies scutellata, extracts nectar from a flower as pollen grains stick to its body in Tanzania

In New Zealand scientists discovered that three genera of native bees have evolved to open flower buds of the native mistletoe Peraxilla tetrapetala. The buds cannot open themselves but are visited by birds such as the tui and bellbird which twist the top of the ripe bud. That action releases a mechanism which causes the petals to suddenly spring open, giving access to the nectar and pollen. However, when observing the native bees in the Canterbury province in the South Island, the scientists were astonished to see the bees biting the top off the buds, then pushing with their legs, occasionally popping open the buds to allow the bees to harvest the nectar and pollen, and therefore aid in the pollination of the mistletoe which is in decline in New Zealand. Nowhere else in the world have bees demonstrated ability to open explosive bird-adapted flowers.

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A solitary bee, Anthidium florentinum (family Megachilidae), visiting Lantana

Visiting flowers can be a dangerous occupation. Many assassin bugs and crab spiders hide in flowers to capture unwary bees. Other bees are lost to birds in flight. Insecticides used on blooming plants kill many bees, both by direct poisoning and by contamination of their food supply. A honey bee queen may lay 2000 eggs per day during spring buildup, but she also must lay 1000 to 1500 eggs per day during the foraging season, mostly to replace daily casualties, most of which are workers dying of old age. Among solitary and primitively social bees, however, lifetime reproduction is among the lowest of all insects, as it is common for females of such species to produce fewer than 25 offspring.
The population value of bees depends partly on the individual efficiency of the bees, but also on the population itself. Thus while bumblebees have been found to be about ten times more efficient pollinators on cucurbits, the total efficiency of a colony of honey bees is much greater due to greater numbers. Likewise during early spring orchard blossoms, bumblebee populations are limited to only a few queens, and thus are not significant pollinators of early fruit.

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