Belfast Zoo has welcomed a colony of 2000 Irish black honeybees.
The new arrivals will take up residence in the Zoo's newly renovated ‘Buzz Stop’ which will open text week.
Native to Ireland, the black honeybees are much darker and have evolved thicker, longer hair and a larger body than their golden-coloured, southern European cousins.
This allows them to keep warm in the cooler climates of Britain and Ireland, which is thought to be one of the reasons for a reduction in honeybee colonies, by up to 30%, in recent years.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said: “Belfast Zoo is well known for the vital conservation work that we carry out to protect endangered species from around the world but we are also committed to protecting wildlife on our own doorstep.
"In 2004 we formed a native species group in the zoo to focus on local conservation projects. We have therefore worked with a number of native species facing increasing threats and which are disappearing at an alarming rate including the barn owl, the white-tailed sea eagle and the red squirrel.
"Our team are excited to work with the bees in order to educate visitors about the issues that these insects are facing but we are also delighted to be playing an important conservation role at a local level.”
Damien Rice from the Belfast and District Beekeepers Association, was fundamental in consulting with the zoo team on the project.
He provided vital advice on the design of the hive as well as beekeeping techniques for the staff.
Damien said: “Throughout history, animals have transformed human civilization and bees may just be the most critical to our future survival. Bees are essential in the pollination of plants, crops and native flora, making these small insects of huge economic and ecological importance.
"In fact, it is estimated that one of every three mouthfuls of the food that we eat depends on the work of bees. The world we live in would therefore be a very different place without bees, which is why their dramatic decline is of such concern.
Damien continued: “Sadly three bee species have become extinct in Ireland within the last 80 years with many more species in decline. Conservation strategies must therefore be proactive so that causes of the decline are managed before it is too late.
Over the next few weeks, Belfast Zoo’s bee colony will be given the privacy and opportunity to settle into their new hive.
The Buzz Stop will officially open on Friday 25 August and to celebrate Belfast Zoo will be holding a Big Bee Bonanza from Saturday 26 to Monday 28 August.