Bees, Bugs & Beetles
Have you ever wondered why there are so many types of bees, bugs and beetles? They all have a role to play in the delicate eco-system in which we live. I have a particular interest in bees as we currently have 3 hives of honey bees. I thought that I would write a short article on the important role that insects play in the cultivation of plants for both the essential oils we use and the food we eat everyday.
There are several types of bees that are all closely related to both wasps and ants. Bees are best known for honey and beeswax production. They play a huge role in the pollination of crops. It is often quoted that the population of the world could not survive if all of the bees died out. In certain parts of China the pear trees have to be hand pollinated as there are no longer bees to carry out the process. The main types of bees that we encounter are:
Recently there have been lots of larger sleepy queen bumble bees emerging from hibernation. They seek a suitable place to nest for the summer and build a home. This usually is in the ground but they also like small holes between stacked wood or places with soft fluffy material (the filters of tumble driers in garages are a favourite!). They then make their nest and start to develop a colony which can be up to 200 bees. At the first frost all of the worker bees die leaving only the queen to seek winter hibernation. They are perhaps the most recognizable bee and the largest wild-pollinator of plants
I have always been interested and mystified by honey bees. I took up beekeeping 2 years ago and seem to spend most of my time in awe of the organised life they lead. Contrary to popular belief the queen does not rule the hive; it is a very democratic lifestyle. When they know it is time to replace the queen or they need more room they produce queen cells so that a new queen can supersede or, the old queen can ‘swarm’ from the hive taking some of the colony with her to produce another colony. We recently had to artificially swarm a hive to a new location to prevent a swarm of bees taking flight to a new location. The bees produce honey on specialised frames which are taken from the hive usually in late May and August and spun to remove the honey. There has been much publicity recently about the plight of the honeybee with colony collapse, varroa and foul brood taking its toll on bees. Hopefully with careful management and increased awareness the honey bee will become strong once again.
This can be used to describe a multitude of creepy crawlies that lurk in our gardens. I have picked two out that commonly occur in the garden
Aphids or greenflies are small plant eating insects which appear in their thousands on some of my favourite garden plants ( I have long given up trying to grow lupins!). Their predators include ladybirds, wasps and crab spiders. There are lots of chemical treatments available but none seem as successful as soapy water or encouraging their natural predators into your garden.
These insects are long and slim with multiple pairs of legs. Traditionally thought to be 100 it can range between 30 and 600. The common centipede has 15 pairs of legs. They live under small stones and in soil and feed by praying on other insects, invertebrates and other centipedes. They can live up to 3 years and have the ability to regrow another leg if they lose one!
The most well known beetle must be the lady bird!
The family name for ladybirds is Coccinellidae and there are around 5,000 species found worldwide. In England we know them as ladybirds or ladybugs. They originated in the Middle Ages when they were known as “beetle of Our Lady” They gained their name from early pictures of the Virgin Mary wearing a red cloak. The seven black spots on the ladybird where thought to symbolise the seven joys and seven sorrows. They are excellent in the garden for pest control of other insects such as aphids. In America large amounts of ladybirds are released as natural pest control.