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(bees), a superfamily of insects of the order Hymenoptera. The superfamily includes the Colletidae, Andrenidae, Apidae, Megachilidae, and other families. The body length ranges from 1.5 mm to 5 cm (1-1.5 cm for most species). The mouthparts are adapted for licking and chewing; in most species the lower jaw and lower lip (labium) together constitute a proboscis. Many bees, except the Colletidae and parasitic species, have an apparatus for collecting pollen: in the Andrenidae, the hind legs are covered with thick hairs; in the Apidae, the tibias of the hind legs are enlarged and converted into a basket; and in Megachilidae, the underside of the abdomen has a thick brush of hairs. Bees, as a rule, are covered entirely with dense hairs. The stinger and poison glands are developed, particularly in social bees.
There are approximately 20,000 species of bees. They are widely distributed wherever there are flowering plants. Numerous adaptations by plants to pollination by certain bee species are known. For example, sage, clover, and other plants have adaptations for pollination by bumblebees.
All bees provide for their young. Nonsocial (solitary) and semisocial female bees build nests with one to several cells, which they fill with food—a mixture of pollen and nectar. An egg is placed on top of the provisions, and then the cell is sealed. Nests are built in the ground (particularly on sunlit sandy precipices), in dry plant stalks, in tunnels bored into wood, and in empty snail shells. Some nests are made from cement.
After egg laying, the females of nonsocial species abandon the nest. The young include both females and males. The females of semisocial species (several species of the genus Halictus) remain in the nest until the first generation, consisting entirely of females, emerges. These females build new cells and fill them with food. However, they do not lay eggs—this is done by the original female. After producing one to four generations of infertile females, the original female lays eggs from which develop both females and males, and then she dies.
Many bee species live in colonies consisting of one or several fertile females, or queens, and a large number of infertile females, known as workers. Such social bees include the honeybees, stingless bees, and bumblebees. Social bees store honey in their nests and are capable of maintaining a suitable microclimate for the development of their young. Parasitic bees lay their eggs on food stored by members of the host species for the latter’s larvae. Parasitic bees sometimes closely resemble their hosts; for example, cuckoo bees bear a close resemblance to their bumblebee hosts.
All bees serve as pollinators for flowering plants, including cultivated species (fruit trees and shrubs, legumes, buckwheat). Honeybees have been raised for a long time for honey, wax, beebread, propolis, and royal jelly. The venom is used medicinally. Attempts have been made to raise bumblebees for legume pollination (clover, alfalfa) and for honey production. The stings of a number of bee species are dangerous to humans and domestic animals. During nest construction, some species damage living plants (Melachilidae) and lumber (carpenter bees).
REFERENCEZhizin’ zhivotnykh, vol. 3. Moscow, 1969. Pages 461‣74.
G. M. DLUSSKII