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A Year in the Apiary - July


The bees are at their busiest in July. The honey flow is on and will end in mid to late August. They have to source the most plentiful of nectar-giving flowers. So, perhaps it is time to talk a little about the relationship honey bees have with flowers.



The reason flowers give nectar is to attract insects which will then accidentally pollinate it. Some plants communicate that their flowers have already been pollinated. One such plant is the Forget-me-not, a member of the borage family, which changes the colour of its centre from yellow to white. The bees are not born with the knowledge that white centres to the flower mean no nectar, they must learn it. Whilst observing the bee in the picture only inserting her proboscis in yellow centred flowers, a second honey bee arrived on the same plant and tried both yellow and white flowers. The bee soon learns that white does not offer nectar so instead concentrates on yellow centred flowers. Similar communication occurs with Horse Chestnut and Clover.


If you were a bee which shrub, would you forage on? If you are a Honey Bee or a Bumblebee you would only go to the holly bush and if you were a Solitary bee such as a Red Mason you would go only to the Lilac. Who would have guessed! It's all down to the accessibility and sugar content of the nectar. That's why you will see bees in your garden all over one flowering plant. but not another.


I bet you didn't know that what you see when you look at a flower is totally different to what a honeybee sees. Take a look at this photo of a dandelion. The two halves show the difference, and it is astonishing.


Ultraviolet photography approximates what bees see. Here a dandelion is half its “normal” yellow, half in the colour bees might see. (Photo: ultravioletphotography.com). There is a lot of information presented to the honeybee in this spectrum of light. Look at this next photo of an evening primrose:



(Photo: Bjorn Roslett.) You see the image on the left - the honeybee sees the image on the right. Those lines radiating outwards are 'nectar guides'. Yes - it's the same things as a big sign saying "Get your Nectar Here!" Fascinating. It puts a whole new meaning to 'rose-tinted spectacles'.


Did you know that bees can't see the colour red? For a bee (and most other insects) a perfectly red flower will appear black. And for us, any part of a flower that is strongly ultraviolet will look black.



(Photo: Max Pixel). On this Poppy, the iridescent spots that we see as black at the base of the poppy petals are actually ultraviolet in colour. This explains why bees visit even red poppy flowers, a colour that bees aren’t supposed to see. In fact, a flower that seems red to us might still include other colours that bees can distinguish. They don’t necessarily see all red flowers as entirely black.


There's much more to bees than their sting.

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