A pocket wilderness in the heart of Houston.

West 11 Street Park



Bees

Bees are flying insects that collect nectar and pollen.  Over 4,000 bees are native to the U.S. and Canada; around a 1,000 species occur in Texas.  A number of non-native bees have also been introduced into the U.S. with the best known being the European honey bee.  That bee is the only bee in the U.S. that produces honey.

Bees have a long complex tongue that lets them collect nectar from flowers, they all have antennae, they all have six legs and they all have two pairs of wings.  Bees are covered with hairs that carry an electrostatic charge which acts like a magnet for pollen, a feature that makes them excellent pollinators.  Most females have bristly combs on the hind legs or dense brushes on the underside of their abdomen to manipulate and carry pollen.  Some bees have additional stiff hairs on their bodies that form pollen-carrying baskets.  Female bees periodically stop foraging and groom themselves to pack the pollen into balls.

The best known species of bee is the European honey bee, which as the name suggests, produces honey.  Many bees are foragers and will gather pollen from a variety of plants, while other bees will only collect pollen from only one type of plant.  The act of foraging for pollen results in the transfer of pollen from flower to flower.

Only a small number of bees in Texas are social and live in colonies.  These social bees, like the honey bees and bumble bees, live in groups consisting of a queen and her daughter workers.  These colonies have relatively large work forces (10,000-40,000 workers in a honey bee colony and 300-600 in a bumble bee colony).  Because these colonies have a queen, her developing offspring, and food resources to protect, social bees will mount a defense against what they perceive as danger.

Bees are capable of delivering stings to ward off danger, however, only females possess stingers.  Male bees do not possess a stinger.  The majority of bee species in Texas live solitary lives and do not live in large, cooperative colonies.  Because they are solitary these bees do not actively defend their colonies through sting attacks.  These bees will fly off if their nest site is disturbed.

An interesting fact is that until recently, it was not understood how a bee could fly!  In 2005 a Cal tech study using high-speed cinematography revealed that sufficient lift was generated by the unconventional combination of short, choppy wing strokes (a rapid rotation of the wing as it flops over and reverses direction) with a wing-beat frequency of 230 times per second!  This is the buzzing sound you hear.

Below are some of the bees that can be seen at West 11th Street Park during the year.

Click on the photo for enlarged view of picture.


Bumble Bee Bumble Bee

Worker is 1/2 to 3/4 inch in size; Drone is 3/8 to 5/8 inch in size; Queen is 3/4 to 7/8 inch in size.  These bees forage in open habitats, such as meadows, forest openings and areas along roadsides. Queens live for just one year, while her daughter workers life-span may only be a month or two.  Male bumble bees (known as drones) do not possess a stinger.  Only female bumble bees are capable of stinging.  Like most other bees, bumble bees use nectar as their primary energy source as it is rich in sugars.  Pollen is the primary protein source fed to their developing larvae.  Bumble bees make small colonies in the ground, often using abandoned field mouse or other rodent burrows.

Carpenter Bee Carpenter Bee

1/2 to 1 inch in size. Part of the Xylocopa genus of the Apidae family of insects.  Carpenter bees are large, hairy bees, sometimes confused with bumblebees, but active throughout the summer.  They can be distinguished from bumblebees because their abdomens have no yellow hairs, but are black and shiny.  These solitary bees excavate nesting holes in old wood (they prefer dead trunks and branches but will also dig holes in old lumber.)  They avoid painted or treated wood.  They will colonize appropriate-sized holes if provided.  Carpenter bees can be important pollinators of open-faced flowers.

Photo by Fitz Clark.

Honey Bee Honey Bee

Worker is 3/8 to 3/4 inch in size; Drone is 5/8 inch in size; Queen is 3/4 inch in size.  Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination.  They are social insects, living in colonies of up to 80,000 workers led by a single queen.  Honeybees live in a highly organized society with various bees having very specific roles during their lifetime:  nurses, guards, foragers, housekeepers, construction workers and royal attendants.  They are raised commercially as pollinators and for honey, wax, pollen, venom and other products.  Colonies can live for several years.

Photo by Gene Hib.

Leafcutting Bee Leafcutting Bee

3/8 to 1/2 inch in size.  These bees are important pollinators of alfalfa and blueberries and belong to the Megachile family of bees. Leafcutting bees, as their name implies, use 0.25 to 0.5 inch circular pieces of leaves they neatly cut from plants to construct nests.  Even though Leafcutting bees often build their nest individually you will often find this soil nesting species nesting together in a small area. This is because they are very fussy about where they build their nests and if there is only a small area available that is suitable for nesting, then everyone will want to nest there. Hence you often get loads of solitary bees nesting side by side in one place.

Photo by Karl Hillig.

Mason Bee Mason Bee

1/8 to 5/8 inch in size.  There are a number of bees, called mason bees (Osmia species), that are very good at pollinating fruit trees, so much so that they are also known as orchard bees.  Mason bees and leafcutting bees are similar in many ways: they carry pollen on their bellies rather than on their hind legs and they nest in holes. When building their nests, mason bees do not use cut leaves the way that leaf cutters do; mason bees use clay to make partitions and to seal the entrance. This unique mud-building behavior leads to their common designation as masons.

Photo by Lynette.

Mining Bee Mining Bee

1/4 to 5/8 inch in size.  Part of the Andrena genus of the Apidae family of insects. Mining bees are solitary bees that live on their own, not in colonies like honey bees and bumble bees. It could be said that each solitary bee is her own queen. She builds her own nest, collects her own pollen and nectar, and lays her own eggs without any help from other bees. Some solitary bees may nest in large groups, but they do not actively help each other.

Photo by Rusty Burlew.

Sweat Bee Sweat Bee

1/8 to 1/2 inch in size. Part of the Halictus genus of the Apidae family of insects.  These shiny metallic green color bees are vivid.  They are several species commonly referred to as "sweat bees" and are they are known to have varing socializing behavior.  They are more tolerant of cool weather and are visibly active in late winter and early spring.  During spring and summer they are active in gardens, parkland and other open habitats.  They forage on many species of flowers. The females collect pollen on their bristly, dense hairs on their rear legs.

Photo by L West.


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