After human beings, bees are the most studied organism on Earth. Evidence of our fascination with bees is everywhere – in science, art, politics, literature, medicine and myth – from the primitive rock art of ancient tribes to scientists sequencing the honeybee genome in 2006.
Bees are humanity’s greatest ally. For thousands of years, they have provided us with honey for sweetness, propolis for medicine and beeswax for light; precious commodities that were highly prized before the arrival of refined sugar, antibiotics and electricity.
There are about 25,000 different bee species in the world and they live on every continent except Antarctica. Now we understand that bees pollinate 75% of our main food crops and are essential not only to the biodiversity of our planet but also to our very survival.
Over millions of years, bees have proved to be the ingenious and adaptable vegetarian descendants of ancient wasps, living in perfect balance with flowers, eating nectar for energy, pollen for protein and filling the world with fruit, nuts and berries in the process.
Some live alone as solitary bees, others in small groups, while the famous honeybee (Apis mellifera) lives in giant colonies of many thousands of bees, producing great stores of honey to tide them through the seasons when there are fewer flowering plants.