BUzzing Bees

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon NParks Spotlight webinar series uploaded onto YouTube by the National Parks Board (NParks). Being someone who enjoys learning about biodiversity, I was instantly hooked onto the series and have been binge watching it ever since! These webinars cover many different facets of local biodiversity and are simple enough for the laymen to understand. Even though I enjoyed watching every webinar, I would like to take this chance to share more about one that intrigued me the most, that being the Befriending the Bees webinar by Mr. Zestin Soh, Senior Manager of the Horticulture & Operations branch at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

In his presentation, Zestin outlined the importance of bees which includes pollination for food production and supporting ecosystems and natural biodiversity. Furthermore, he emphasized on the need for conservation of both European Honey Bees (non-native species), which are suffering from colony collapse disorder (in which worker bees suddenly vanish, leading to the death of the hive) , and native bees, which conservation status’ are poorly known.

European Honey Bee (Source: Trishan’s Oz)

Zestin also addressed some common misconceptions about bees. Here are the myths he covered!

  1. “There are only a few kinds of bees in Singapore”

When we think of bees, our mind naturally latches onto the idea of a small hardworking, black and yellow insect. However, they are much more diverse than that. There are currently 132 known species in Singapore! Each of them differs from each other through their size, activities carried out, and their food and nesting sources.

Ever heard of stingless bees? These bees, as their name suggests, do not have stingers! These bees construct their hives not just out of bees’ wax but also resin from plants. Furthermore, their hives appear as pods rather than the familiar hexagonal cells.

Stingless Bee (Source: S. X. Chui)

2. “All bees are black and yellow”

Bees come in all types of colours, including black, yellow, green, red, and the colour which surprised me the most, blue. Who knew blue bees existed?

One notable species is the Himalayan Cloak and Dagger bee. This species is a type of cuckoo bee which sports a bright blue colouration on its body. Like a cuckoo bird, this species invades the nest of other bees to lay its eggs. Upon hatching, the larvae will consume the pollen within the host nest meant for the host larvae.

Himalayan Cloak and Dagger Bee (Source: George Cheah)

Colour differences can also occur between different sexes of the same species. This is called sexual dimorphism. An example would be that of the carpenter bee where the female is black & yellow while the male is fully yellow.

Golden male and black female (Source: T. Stone)

3. “All bees are colonial and live in hives”

Most bees in Singapore are non-colonial bees! They are either solitary, semi-social, or cuckoo bees and do not make hives or produce honey. These bees typically nest underground, in pithy stems, or in pre-existing cavities. For example, Leafcutter bees, a type of solitary bee, fly to leaves and cut out a portion of it for nest building, similar to how Weaver ants build theirs!

Leaf Cutter Bee (Source: Royal City Nursery)

On the other hand, the minority of bees in Singapore, namely honeybees and stingless bees, are colonial. Thus, they build hives and produce honey

4. “All bees are aggressive and dangerous”

Bees are generally docile and unaggressive, even at their hives. Honeybees are an exception as they will get aggressive and sting if their hive is disturbed. However, honeybees will remain docile while foraging for food, just like most bees! As someone who is terrified of bees (or rather insects in general), this piece of information gave me a huge sigh of relief.

Having watched this webinar, I have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for bees. They are such fascinating creatures and can be observed up close even in our neighborhoods. Never have I thought that bees could be so diverse and are not just comprised of the stereotypical honeybees you see in the media. With so much ecological and economic importance, conservation of bees is not a lost cause.

As Zestin shared, we can contribute to this through the planting of a variety of flowering plants to help improve the ecological connectivity for bees and other wildlife. Even though I am not one with a green thumb, I will try my best to grow some plants at home to help support the bees!

Another way to contribute to the conservation of bees would be to build bee hotels. These structures provide solitary bees a place to construct their nests and are simple enough to build on your own!

Additionally, you can help to record your bee sightings on the SG BioAtlas application. The pictures and data that you have submitted can go a long way in helping researchers understand the distribution of bees in Singapore to implement conservation programs.

To get up close and personal to bees, you can go to your local gardens or parks and find flowers that bees frequent. A great place to start is at the HortPark Bee Trail which is trail dedicated to the conservation and education of bees. Alternatively, you could grow your own native flowering plants at home to have the bees come to you!

Happy Buzzing! 😊

Written by: Wei Qiang

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