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The importance of being a bee

Keep your fear aside and make an attempt to know them and get your children to observe these busy creatures as well.
Last Updated : 23 April 2022, 20:15 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2022, 20:15 IST

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Are you afraid of bees? If yes, I ask you to keep your fear aside and make an attempt to know them.

Bees are of immense importance to nature. There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world. Not all of them live in giant colonies and build hives; there are solitary bees too. Bees, along with various other flies and insects, create an ecosystem where the flowers offer them food, and in return, they pollinate and keep some pests away. It is always good to have bees in the garden. Killing them by spraying pesticides will make your garden poorer.

I have fond memories from my childhood of chasing butterflies, watching bugs and being fascinated by dragonflies whirring above my head in a field near our house. Catching a damselfly was considered lucky amongst my friends and I’ve spent a fair amount of time running behind them. Even today, I spend a copious amount of time observing these insects in the garden.

A few years back, one morning, I discovered that water was not flowing in the disused garden tap and I tried to revive it. It looked like something was obstructing and after some tapping and banging a long green tube of glued leaves fell out of the pipe. It looked like a nest made of leaves, and I wondered who had built it!

My mind immediately went to those plants where I had seen the edges of leaves cut into half-moons: the rose plant, pigeon pea, butterfly pea, hibiscus, and yellow bell orchid. If you wait long enough near these plants, you will see a bee fly in, tear a leaf, and carry it. It is called a leafcutter bee.

In the life cycle of these bees, the male bee dies after copulation. The female lives for a few more weeks and builds a nursery for her offspring during this time. It searches for a cavity or tubular hole — hollow stems, bamboo poles, or an unused water tap outside the home to build a nest. Once she decides on a spot, she tears the leaves into neat crescents, carries them and stacks them inside the hole. This is precisely what had happened in my garden pipe. A leafcutter had built a nest in it.

Not an easy task

Building a nest is not a simple task. The bee spends considerable time stacking and glueing the leaves together inside the nest. The leaves don’t dry up quickly and maintain an ideal temperature for the eggs and, subsequently, the larvae. She creates multiple chambers and lays an egg in each one of them. She also collects pollen from flowers and stores it in each section as food for the larva. When a chamber is complete, she creates another and repeats the same step until she lays all the eggs. Finally, she closes the cavity leaving a small space for herself and rests there, protecting the entrance from intruders until the eggs hatch.

The flowers get pollinated while the bee collects the pollen. Though the plant may not look pleasing to the eye with cut leaves, it will not die. Many agriculturists and farmers encourage the presence of these bees and install bee hotels to aid them to build their nests.

There are other common bees and insects that you can spot in the garden such as the carpenter bees, stingless bees, black soldier flies, sugar ants, and ladybugs. These are worth observing too.

However, you should take a few precautions while observing them. Stand still while watching and do not make sudden movements. If you are using a camera, turn off the flash.

Use a camera that has a zoom to look closely. Better still, use a binocular. Also, keep a water bath in the shade. All our winged insects need water too.

Time flies by when you start watching these insects. Include your children in observing these winged friends. This helps create awareness about nature and gives them an experience that no textbook can offer. It is also naturally therapeutic: It helps you relax and enables you to forget your worries for a while. So go behind the bees!

Motley Garden is your monthly potpourri of observations and lessons from gardening and nature.

The author is a botanical artist from Bengaluru. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @neelavanam

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Published 23 April 2022, 19:33 IST

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