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Honey Bee Habitat

Honey bees are facing a struggle in our world. They, along with other bees, have been in decline for several years. One of the biggest problems is the loss of ideal honey bee habitat. As our modern world expands, all pollinators (including bees) are finding fewer places to live in peace. We can help bees face the natural and man-made threats to their habitats and save these important pollinators.

What is a Bee Habitat?

Honey bee foraging on white flowers in ideal bee garden habitat.

Habitat is defined as the “natural home of a living thing-plant, animal or organism”. Naturally, the ideal honey bee habitat is one that promotes good health and survival. The insects should be able to find everything they need to prosper in the local area.

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In general, things that are good for honey bees also benefit other pollinators. Abundant food and clean water – all contribute to a healthy ecosystem for native bee species (such as Bumble bees) and solitary bees.

Just as important as providing needed food resources, a good habitat lacks things that are bad for the bees. Contaminated soil, water and plants are not good.

Why care so much about honey bee habitat? Well, honey bees play a bigger role in your lifestyle than you may think. Even if you care nothing for honey? Honey bee colonies are responsible for pollination of many food crops. 

Billions of dollars of value per year are pumped into our agriculture system by migratory beekeepers and their hives.

Pollination by honey bees works so well because they live in large families and are able to be transported to the fields and orchards.

Natural Origin of Honey Bees

In considering what they need, we must look at the natural habitat of honey bees. Where did they come from and what is it like there? Originating in Africa, honey bees expanded to various parts of the world.  

Asia and Europe experienced the arrival of bees as they found homes in hollow tree cavities to build their nests and abundant food.

This movement took thousands of years but over time, the bees living in certain regions adapted to the living conditions. 

Later, humans moved bee colonies to new regions. Early European settlers brought the first honey bees (German Black Bees) to North America in the 1600s.

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They knew the value of having bee colonies and the products the beehive produced. These European Honey Bees were able to adapt to the similar climate.

Infographic of the ideal factors needed for honey bee habitat.

Characteristics of Good Honey Bee Habitats

A good location for honey bees to live provides all the resources they need in a suitable climate. 

  • a wide variety of food sources
  • water
  • shelter

Honey bees eat honey and pollen. Honey is made from plant nectar that is collected from a wide variety of flowering plants. Some flowers produce more nectar than others – some also produce pollen but not all do.

A healthy bee habitat contains a variety of food sources for foraging bees. The bloom time should extend over many months. This gives the bees time to make honey and store it for Winter.

Water is also important to insects. Bee colonies use water to dilute honey for feeding developing brood and to cool the interior of the hive. Water is so important that many beekeepers provide water sources for their beehives.

Shelter is another important consideration in honey bee habitat. Wild bees must have somewhere to live. Some of the native bees nest in plant material or burrows in the ground. Honey bees like to nest in hollow tree cavities.

Beekeeper managed apiary in grass field.

Beekeepers Provide Ideal Conditions

Honey bees are able to thrive in managed environments. It is the responsibility of the beekeepers to plan an apiary set up that provides a good habitat for the colonies.

Worker bees gather food, feed growing larvae and defend the hive – among other jobs. The queen bee fulfills her role she lays eggs providing the next generation.

And drones (males) are available to fertilize new queens in the area. The colony takes care of business when given good conditions.

Declining Bee Habitats Due to Humans

Over thousands (millions) of years, honey bees have proven to be quite adaptable. They are able to survive in all but the most extreme conditions.

Even though bees are cold-blooded insects, they can live in regions with cold Winters – with enough food reserves stored in the hive.

So what is the big problem for our bees? Why do we hear so much about declining bee habitats? Unfortunately, humans cause many of the problems facing bees today.

As important as bees are to the farming industry, modern agricultural practices are harmful to them.  Large farms that grow only one or two types of crops, do not provide a varied diet of proteins and minerals.

Also, herbicides and pesticides that are needed for pest control, kill or harm bee colonies. The chemicals might be sprayed on the bees or ingested through nectar and pollen. Contaminated water sources contribute to the problem too.

Another problem is the loss of natural areas. As cities expand wild areas are replaced with homes, roads, concrete and green lawns. These weed free lawns are pretty but they lack the weeds that feed bees.

Create New Areas Suitable For Bees

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help bees and other pollinators. It is very easy to create new areas of bee habitat. First, think of adding the big 3 – food, clean water, and shelter.

  • diverse food plants
  • clean water source
  • leave natural areas for shelter and possible nesting sites
  • use fewer chemicals
  • give to groups that are involved in habitat restoration

Consider adding blooming plants for bees that provide food over a long period of the Summer. If you have room, add one of the trees that bees like

Otherwise, there are many bee-friendly bushes that offer food and provide shelter for other animals and insects.

If you are a native plant person, you will find a long list of native shrubs that honey bees like. Leave some wild areas if you can for natural habitat. And, if you have a little extra space, plant a small plot of wildflowers as a diverse bee food source.

Another way to help is to use fewer chemicals on your lawn or garden. Choose bee friendly weed killers and also use the least harmful formulation. Ask your lawn care guys what they use to see if it is very toxic.

And if you can, leave a few weeds like clover or dandelions for a couple of weeks. They provide important early food for insects. You can even use them to make some herbal dandelion salve for yourself!

Maybe you live in an apartment of area without a lot of green space for bees. Don’t despair – you can still help. 

Add a few bee flowers to your containers or patio pots. You might volunteer or donate funds to groups that are involved in habitat restoration. 

As we strive to preserve and create better habitats for honey bees, we are also helping all pollinators. The same environmental stresses affect them. 

More diverse food and fewer chemicals is good for all – even us. Take action to support bees in your community and your landscape. You can create the perfect habitat in your backyard bee garden and be a part of bee conservation.