top of page

Home Page

Park Activities

   Calendar of Events
Volunteer Programs

   Park Regulations

Sky Meadows Park
   Visiting Park

   Virtual Tours

Crooked Run Valley

   Historic District

   Architecture Sites

   Mt. Bleak

   Historical Events

   Park History


Special Projects

   Blue Bird

   Biodiversity Survey


Home Page

Nature Guide
























Section Overview


Information Format

Overview of Bees

Description of Bees

Life Cycle of Honeybees



Inventory of Bee Families and Species

Honeybee Anatomy



Section Overview


Fifty-one species of bees, encompassing five bee families, have been identified through research conducted in a limited portion of Sky Meadows State Park. The following inventory of bees was dervied from the Virginia Working Landscapes Grassland Biodiversity Survey (2014), Conducted by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. It is anticipated that additional bee species will be added to the Inventory of Bee Families and Species as more comprehensive research is conducted in the park.




Information for bee species was obtained from two primary sources. The first source was the Virginia Working Landscapes Grassland Bio-

diversity Survey (2014), Conducted by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The second source is the Internet website Discover Life - a website established by the Polistes Foundation, a 501-c-3 non-profit organization established in 2002. It is now the legal umbrella and fiduciary of Discover Life, the International Center for Public Health and Environmental Research (PHER). Discover Life stated mission "is to assemble and share knowledge in order to improve education, health,
agriculture, economic development, and conservation throughout the world." Discover Life "provide[s] free on-line tools to identify species, teach and study nature's wonders, report findings, build maps, process images, and contribute to and learn from a growing, interactive encyclopedia of life with 1,292,977 species pages and 650,046 maps."


Information Format


The information format employed with the Bee section is differfnt than the other information formats included in the Nature Guide. For specific bee species, individual links to the applicable URL address of Discover Life have been used. This has been done for three primary reasons. First, for small animals, bees have complex anatomical characteristics, involving often minute variations that are difficult to examine while the animal is alive (and even difficult when not alive). Second, the complex internal and external anatomical characteristics of bees is described using very specific technical terminology not readily comprehensible to those not acquanted with professional melittology (the science of bees). Third, there are few on-line resources that are both comprehensive and complete for all the bees identified at Sky Meadows. Discover Life is the only on-line site that has full descriptions of all species of bees found in Sky Meadows.


It is recommended that at each Discover Life URL address for the different bee species, the reader should utilize the following five basic information components: 1) the extensive number of pictures, 2) female description, 3) male desciption, 4) species distribution, and 5) flower records. This information is derived from T. B. Mitchell's two volume work Bees of the Eastern United States. Additional information is also available, including taxonomic and synon



Overview of Bees


Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, known for their role in pollination and, in the case of the best-known bee species, the European honey bee, for producing honey and beeswax. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven to nine recognized families, though many are undescribed and the actual number is probably higher. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.


Description of Bees


It is usually easy to recognise that a particular insect is a bee. They differ from closely related groups such as wasps by having branched or plume-like setae (bristles), combs on the forelimbs for cleaning their antennae, small anatomical differences in the limb structure and the venation of the hind wings, and in females, by having the seventh dorsal abdominal plate divided into two half-plates.


Behaviourally, one of the most obvious characteristics of bees is that they collect pollen to provide provisions for their young, and have the necessary adaptations to do this. However, certain wasp species such as pollen wasps have similar behaviours, and a few species of bee scavenge from carcases to feed their offspring. The world's largest species of bee is thought to be the Indonesian resin bee Megachile pluto, whose females can attain a length of 39 millimetres (1.54 in). The smallest species may be dwarf stingless bees in the tribe Meliponini whose workers are less than 2 millimetres (0.08 in) in length.


A bee has a pair of large compound eyes which cover much of the surface of the head. Between and above these are three small simple eyes (ocelli) which provide information for the bee on light intensity. The antennae usually have thirteen segments in males and twelve in females and are geniculate, having an elbow joint part way along. They house large numbers of sense organs that can detect touch (mechanoreceptors), smell and taste, and small, hairlike mechanoreceptors that can detect air movement so as to "hear" sounds. The mouthparts are adapted for both chewing and sucking by having both a pair of mandibles and a long proboscis for sucking up nectar.


The thorax has three segments, each with a pair of robust legs, and a pair of membranous wings on the hind two segments. The front legs of corbiculate bees bear combs for cleaning the antennae, and in many species the hind legs bear pollen baskets, flattened sections with incurving hairs to secure the collected pollen. The wings are syn-chronised in flight and the somewhat smaller hind wings connect to the forewings by a row of hooks along their margin which connect to a groove in the forewing. The abdomen has nine segments, the hindermost three being modified into the sting.


Some bee species, including honey bees, bumblebees, and stingless bees, live socially in colonies. Bees are adapted for feeding on nectar and pollen, the former primarily as an energy source and the latter primarily for protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used as food for larvae. Bee pollination is important both ecologically and commercially; the decline in wild bees has increased the value of pollination by commercially managed hives of honey bees.


Life Cycle of Honeybees


The life cycle of a honey bee is perennial. Each colony contains three adult castes: egg-laying queens, sperm-producing male drones and nonreproductive female workers. The only job of the drone is to mate with the queen during seasonal mating flights, and soon after discharging their sperm, drones die. Worker honey bees are able to live for six weeks, while queens can survive up to five years.


The life cycle of honey bees begins when an egg hatches. During the first stage of its development, the offspring form a digestive system, nervous system and outer covering. Each member of a colony develops as an adult over varying durations. Queens become full-grown adults within 16 days; drones develop in under 24 days and female workers require 21 days during larval and pupal development.


Within each colony, a single queen rules her workers and drones. Future queens develop inside larger cells by constant consumption of royal jelly, while workers and drones are fed only royal jelly during the first few days of their lives.


When an existing queen dies or becomes incapable of laying eggs, worker honey bees raise a new queen. As the new queen becomes a young adult, she attends a nuptial flight, mating with several drones. With sperm stored from the mating flight, she begins to lay eggs inside the hive. Honey bee queens are able to lay unfertilized eggs, which will become male drones, and fertilized eggs, which become female workers or a new generation of queens.


In order for a colony to survive, the honey bee queen needs to lay a plentitude of fertilized eggs. These workers will forage for food, build a strong and well-insulated hive, take care of larvae and defend the colony from enemies. The queen examines each egg carefully before placing it into a cell. Laying an egg takes only a few seconds, and a queen can place up to 2,000 eggs within a single day.


When a young and healthy queen lays eggs, she packs them closely together within the cells. As a queen ages, her sperm stores decrease. In turn, she produces fewer eggs, and the pattern of the eggs within each cell begins to appear less orderly.



Back to Homepage

bottom of page