Gardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol CymruNational Botanic Garden of WalesNational Botanic Garden of Wales
Garden blogs

Finding the Bees Knees!

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Last weekend some of our staff and volunteer beekeepers caught a glimpse of what the honey bee (Apis mellifera) looks like under the lens.

Here at the Garden we use the Apiary to study honey bee foraging behaviour and their preferences for different flowers. Many of you will know what honey bees look like; small, fluffy and sometimes covered in bright orange and yellow pollen. You may even have watched them in your garden as they busily collect pollen and nectar from different flowers.

But have you seen what they really look like? Stephen Davies (a Master Beekeeper from the Swansea and District Beekeeper’s Society) taught us how to study the anatomy of bees under the microscope. This useful skill is very important for beekeepers that carry out checks for the Nosema parasite and acarine mites. Carrying out disease checks like this helps us look after our bees as best we can, it also gives us an opportunity to appreciate how beautiful they are close up.

Our day consisted of short presentations separated by practical sessions focussing on different aspects of the honey bee’s anatomy. With our individual handful of honey bees to work on, we began by pinning the bees to corks to stabilise the bodies so they didn’t spin around under the microscopes. After brushing up on our microscopy skills we analysed the trachea of the bees for acarine mites (to our delight they were not there!) and their stomach contents for nosema (again, clear results).

We were also able to explore the wings, mouthparts and legs of the bee as much as we wanted.

I found this experience to be invaluable and helpful towards my understanding of the honeybee. I love watching the Garden’s bees forage, and observing their behaviour in the Apiary, but to delve in deeper and explore the ins and outs of a bee is… unbeelievable (I can only apologise).

Hopefully this will inspire you to go out and appreciate the bees that buzz around in your garden!