APRIL
2001

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

04-26-01

April Flowers Beckon Bees

April showers, it is said, bring May flowers. But what brings April flowers? The chill winds of March, perhaps? I don't know of anything that is given credit for the presence of April posies.

But I do know that the first flowers of the year in temperate regions are a welcome relief from winter. These early blossoms, in addition to warming the cockles of human hearts, are also a real attraction for insects-especially bees.

The first flowering trees are literally besieged by abstains of bees. Bees of many shapes and sizes can be found around the first flowers of spring. When in full bloom, the early flowering trees are literally alive with the sounds of buzzing.

These first insect visitors include honey bees. Honey bees have been confined to their hives for most of the winter. So when the spring flowers bloom, the bees eagerly begin to collect fresh food, replenishing the dwindling supplies stored in the hives during the previous summer.

Fresh pollen is also needed to feed newly hatched young. These larvae will develop into the bees that will do most of the work during the early summer. That is the time when flowering is at a peak, and the bees must take advantage of it to produce enough honey to sustain the colony during the winter. 

A few large bumble bees might also be noticed buzzing among the blossoms. These are queens that have overwintered as adults. The queens are also collecting nectar and pollen to feed their young.

At this time, the bumble bee colony consists of only the queen and a few larvae. The queen must care for the larvae until they hatch into workers. Then, the new workers take over the duty of nectar and pollen collection. The queen no longer leaves the nest site but functions to produce eggs.

Most of the bees buzzing about the early flowering shrubs and trees are neither honey nor bumble bees. These bees are smaller than the honey bees and might be brightly colored.

The smaller bees are known as solitary bees because they live their lives as individuals, not as part of a colony. These solitary bees generally nest in the ground. These bees feed their immatures pollen and nectar so they are collecting food for the kids, as in the case of the larger bees. As a group, solitary bees are responsible for much of the pollination of wild flowers and, in some cases, our domestic fruits.

The buzzing, six-legged menagerie around the flowering trees also includes a few wasps bent on having a swig of nectar or a bite of pollen. Flies are also found around these early spring blossoms. Some are even bee mimics.

So how do all of those buzzing insects concentrate around the flowering plants as soon as the plants are in blossom? The plant advertises, that's how. The plant produces those beautiful blossoms with color patterns that are attractive to insects. But color is not enough. The plant also produces a wonderful odor. That odor is what is distilled and made into human perfumes, but to the insect, it spells food! In other words, the plant advertises food with color and odor. And we humans take advantage of the insect advertisement as the sights and smells of spring!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox