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Haus der Natur

Hardworking pollinators


The honey bee is originally a forest insect that used to live freely in our forests. Today, honeybees are mostly in human care and are therefore often referred to as "mankind's smallest domestic animal".

A honey bee colony functions like a single large organism. One honey bee alone would not be able to survive. The queen is responsible for laying the eggs, while up to 45,000 workers take over all the other activities. This includes building the honeycombs, feeding the larvae, cleaning and guarding the hive, collecting pollen and nectar and producing and storing honey. Honey bees use honey as food for the winter. Male bees, known as drones, develop from unfertilized eggs. They are only accepted in the hive during the mating season.

In order to collect the nectar for a 500-gramme jar of honey, the honey bees in one single hive have to fly a total of about 120,000 km. This corresponds to three journeys round the world.

Wild bees

Do you know of the wild relatives of the honey bee, wild bees? There are about 565 species in Germany. Most species of wild bees do not live in colonies, but alone. They occur wherever they can find sufficient food, nesting sites and building material for their nests. For example, they need cavities in the ground or in plant stems; but they also use boreholes, wall joints and insect nests. Wild bees do not need honey. The offspring of many wild bee types hibernate in their brood cell in a cocoon.

Wild bees play an important role in agriculture and nature because they pollinate wild herbs, shrubs and trees. In turn the seeds and fruits provide food for many other animal species. Their importance for pollination is even greater than that of honeybees.

Most wild bee species have only a very small or gentle sting that cannot pierce human skin. Only social species like bumble bees can be more defensive when protecting their nests.

  • The red mason bee is the insect of the year 2019. It sets up its breeding chambers in hollow plant stems. In each chamber it lays an egg and a supply of pollen for food. The larvae are left to their own devices. They consume the food, spin a cocoon, pupate and eventually develop into adult bees. The offspring do not leave the nest until the following spring.
  • Bumblebees are wild bees. However, they do not live alone but in one-year-old colonies with a queen and - depending on the species - with 50 to several 100 workers. They build their nests in small earth or tree cavities or under a layer of moss. There are 36 different species of bumblebees in Germany.