Family and distribution
Bees belong to the order Hymenoptera, in the superfamily Apoidea. There are about 20,000 species of bee worldwide, and they are found on all continents except Antarctica.
New Zealand has 28 native bee species, compared with 925 in Australia. Most are small, have little colour, and live in solitary burrows (although in some species the burrows may be clustered together). They are effective pollinators and are often found on mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) flowers. However, although they collect and store nectar, they do not produce honey in commercial quantities.
In the early 2000s there were 13 introduced species of bee in New Zealand. These included honeybees, alkalia bees, leafcutter bees, osmia bees and bumblebees.
The first honeybees brought to New Zealand were the Northern European black strain (Apis mellifera). The first of the yellow Italian strains were imported about 1880. Other strains came from Australia and America.
The bumblebee queen starts a nest on her own, and colonies have 50–200 bees. Colonies do not last more than a year. Nests run down in late summer, and when the queen dies, new queens leave and overwinter in the soil.
Only female bees sting. Having stung something as big as a human, a bee will lose its entire rear segment, including the nerves, muscles, venom sac, and the end of the digestive tract. The sting consists of two spears with barbs on the outer sides. Even when detached from the bee, it continues to pump venom into the wound, so it is important to remove the barbs as soon as possible.
A number of insects other than honeybees and bumblebees can pollinate flowers and are important crop pollinators. These include leafcutter bees, solitary native bees and some fly species. None of them have yet been used to pollinate field crops, although research is being done to investigate this possibility.