Article on Native Bees by Carolyn Scott, Sept. 2007

No one knows exactly how many species of bees there are in the world. More than 20,000 species have been identified and there may be many more. All bees, through pollination, are essential to the reproduction of many flowering plants. They also play a vital role in increasing food production especially fruits and vegetables.

Most people, when they think of bees, are referring to the honey bee,  Apis mellifera, commonly found in the garden. The honey bee is a pollinator as well as a producer of honey. However, the honey bee is not native to North America. It was imported from Europe in colonial times. Before it arrived there were just native bees.

There are over 4000 species of bees native to North America. Unlike the honey bee, most native bees do not live in colonies or have queens. They are therefore known as solitary bees. The exception is the bumble bee. It is classified as a social bee because it has a queen and lives in a colony in the ground.

Native bees come in many sizes. They may be small as a gnat or large as a bumblebee. Their colors range from black, brown, green to metallic blue. They are unlikely to sting because they do not have large nests (hives) or a store of desirable food (honey) to defend. Some cannot sting at all. They can be found in parks, gardens, along roadsides, and in open fields. They are active spring to late summer. They nest in the ground, in holes in wood and in hollow reeds. In many species the fertilized female makes her nest, provisions it with  pollen and nectar, and lays her eggs. Offspring most frequently emerge the following spring.

Native bees are fun to watch for they are easily approached and have fascinating behavior. Their favorite flowers in the spring are the pussy willow, cherry, and blooming cattails. You can see them dart from flower to flower collecting pollen in yellow clumps on their hind legs or simply feeding on nectar. Their nests are often burows the size of a pencil along dry, sandy trails or roads. Bumblebees, in the spring, can be seen flying low to the ground, landing and crawling amongst leaves. They are looking for new nests. Their favorite spots are old chipmunk, mouse or mole burrows.

The world of the bee in under threat primarily because of the loss of habitat and use of pesticides. Some species are threatened with extinction. You can help these beneficial and vital insects by offering them honey. Gardens with a variety of flowers provide food throughout the seasons as well as nesting sites and building materials.

For more information check these websites:

http://www.discoverlife.org

http://www.pollinator.org

http://www.fws.gov/pollinators

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