A Honey Bee’s Habitat

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Honey bees play an important role in pollination of many food crops. In recent years, honey bees and other pollinators have faced significant declines in population. One of the biggest problems is the loss of ideal honey bee habitat. If you understand the characteristics of the best habitat for a honey bee, you can take action in your own backyard to help them thrive. Let’s explore the key factors in increasing suitable living spaces for bees and other beneficial insects.

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

Even small bee friendly gardens can help fulfill the needs of bees. All is not lost – we can help bees face the natural and man-made threats to their habitats and save these important pollinators.

Understanding the Decline: Role of Honey Bee Habitats

In recent years, the decline of bee populations has attracted a lot of interest. Of course, this is not just honey bees but many other valuable insects as well. The population of the beautiful bumble bee is down as much as 90% in some locations over the last twenty years.

Honey bee losses totaling over 45% per year are still the norm – not the exception. This is especially alarming due to the importance of honey bees to food production. While honey bees are not “endangered”, conditions that affect them also affect other pollinators.

While there may be many reasons for the problem (pesticides, diseases, climate change, etc.), a loss of good bee habitat is one key factor. And it is a factor that we have a bit of control over – we can improve.

Characteristics of Good Honey Bee Habitats

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

  • ample food sources
  • access to water
  • shelter and nesting sites
  • safety

Diverse Food Sources

A healthy bee habitat contains a variety of food sources for foraging bees. Honey is made from plant nectar that is collected from a wide variety of flowering plants.

The bloom time should extend over many months. This gives allow a lot of time for the bees to make honey and store it for Winter.

Honey bees eat both honey and pollen. Some plants produce a lot of nectar – we call these “honey plants“.

Others provide a good nectar source but not enough to produce a honey crop. Having many different types of flowers that attract bees gives them the healthiest nutrition profile.

Each type of flower produces nectar or pollen with a slightly different nutritional profile. Healthy bees need a diverse diet with a wide range of different blooming plants.

Water Source

Water is also important to insects. Honey bee colonies use water to dilute honey for feeding young and to cool the interior of the hive.

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Water is so important that many beekeepers provide water sources for their beehives. Bees are very adapt at finding source of water, they only need a reliable source that is unpolluted and a safe place to drink without drowning.

Shelter and Nesting Sites

Shelter is another important consideration in honey bee habitat. Beekeepers house their colonies in a variety of different types of beehives.

But, even wild bees must have somewhere to live. Native bees often nest in plant material or burrows in the ground. An area with a few bush piles may provide home or nesting insects.

In the wild, honey bees like to build their combs in hollow tree cavities. They prefer a cavity to build their home.

Safety

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

Minimizing the exposure to pesticides, herbicides and harmful chemicals should be a key consideration. Ideally, bee habitats should not be located near large agricultural fields where crops are sprayed.

This is a challenging goal. Many food crops rely on bee pollination. 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.

Infographic of the ideal factors needed for honey bee habitat.

Geographical Distribution

Our bees originated from a diverse collection of natural habitats for honey bees. There are several different species that come from different parts of the world. And this does not even taken into account the thousands of other bee species.

Original habitats vary in vegetation and climate – each species evolved to survive with local conditions. Some come from forests and fields, others are used to tropical climates.

The most common type of honey bee Western Honey Bee ( Apis mellifera) came from regions of Europe and were introduced into other parts of the world. At home in forests or fields, they are managed for pollination and honey production.

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.

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.

Africa is home to several native honey bees. This includes “Apis mellifera scutellata” – Killer Bees. They are adapted to the natural tropical climate for their native region.

Beekeeper managed apiary in grass field.

How You Can Create Better Bee Habitats

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help save bees. You can create new areas for bees to visit and live. 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

Adding Plants

Foraging areas filled with a mix of trees for bees, annual and perennial flowers bees love and even some ornamental shrubs can provide a long season of nectar and pollen.

Choose plants that provide food over a long period of the Summer. You can find many different any bee-friendly bushes or shrubs that offer food and provide shelter for other animals and insects.

Consider leaving a few weeds like clover or dandelions for bees for a couple of weeks to provide food. You can even use them to make some herbal dandelion salve for yourself!

If you have a little extra space, plant a small plot of wildflowers for bees to visit. Apartment dwellers can help by adding a few bee flowers to your containers or patio pots.

Water Sources

If you lack a nearby natural stream, creating a suitable water source is a good idea. Even a small water station helps thirsty insects.

The requirements include providing a safe place for bees to gather water and you must keep it filled. A small container requires more frequent filling during the warm months.

Bee Safety

One way to provide safety in a honey bee’s habitat is to use fewer chemicals on your lawn or garden. Choose bee friendly weed killers and also use the least harmful formulation or any chemical product. Ask your lawn care guys what they use to see if it is very toxic.

Get Involved

Support bee habitat restoration projects that local groups initiate. This is a good way to help when you don’t have space at your home. You don’t have to be a beekeeper to be concerned about honey bee habitats.

Take action to support bees in your community and your landscape. You can be an important part of bee conservation efforts.

FAQs

Why are honey bee habitats important?

Honey bee habitats are vital because they contribute to global diversity. As essential pollinators of food crips, they help ensure the production of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Are honey bees the only pollinators that need help?

No, other pollinators like native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds also need help. Conserving honey bee habitats often benefits these other pollinators as well.

Can I make a difference even if I live in an urban area?

Yes! Urban areas offer many opportunities for container gardens, green roofs, and community projects to support pollinators and create honey bee habitats.

In Closing

Why care so much about 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 important pollinators.  

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

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