Bees – we have all heard “save the bees” and while it is concerning, most do not delve deeper into the issue.  And once you do, it – like many issues we face these days – seems overwhelming and not something we can actually do something about.

This brings to mind The Starfish Story – we have all heard it - about the man encountering a young boy on the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean. The man says, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

So with that in mind, let’s learn a little about the problem and see what we can do to make a difference.

The Center for Biological Diversity reports, relying on an evaluation done of more than 1,400 bee species, that more than 700 North American bee species are in decline due to habitat loss and pesticide use and nearly a quarter at risk of extinction.

For years what we read about was the collapse of honey bee colonies. And while it is important to conserve our honey bees, they are domesticated and have caretakers. But our 3,999 native bees, our solitary, stingless, ground-nesting bees that do so much to bring fruits and vegetables to our tables, have only us to protect them and are in grave danger.

In 2015, Gwen Pearson, wrote in her article entitled “You’re Worrying About the Wrong Bees”, “Incredible losses in native bee diversity are already happening. 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species disappeared from their historic ranges in the last 100 years. Four of our bumblebee species declined 96 percent in the last 20 years, and three species are believed to already be extinct. A little part of me despairs when I read in a scientific paper: ‘This species probably should be listed under the Endangered Species Act if it still exists.’”

In 2017, the US added the rusty patched bumblebee to the endangered species list. If you love your tomato plants, you should cherish the bumblebee because it is the bumblebee that has evolved to pollinate our tomatoes. Many bees, such as the small blueberry bee, squash bee, and orchard bees have co-evolved with many of our fruits and vegetables and need our protection.

Major crops dependent on pollination include: Beans, Cucumbers, Peppers, Squash, Tomato, Asparagus, Beet, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Celery, Lettuce, Radish, Apple, Blueberry, Cherry, Peach, Pear, Melons, Raspberry, Strawberry, Watermelon, Sunflower – so basically everything we love to eat and need to survive.

While we know pesticides adversely affect our native bees, no studies have been done to know what level of pesticide is lethal to our solitary bees.

So what can we do? Whether we have acreage or a small postage stamp yard, we need to stop using pesticides, plant more native plants and leave some areas wild for bees to nest in the ground. It will make a difference.

Some things we know have contributed to declines in bee population:

  • lack of diversity in flowering plants

  • loss of habitat due to urban development and agriculture

  • introduction of invasive non-native plant species

  • widespread use of pesticides

  • air pollution

  • climate change

  • diseases and parasites

Some interesting facts about our native and wild bees.

  • Solitary bees live for only one year and are only active for a short time throughout the summer

  • Of the social native bees – bumblebees and some sweat bees – their colonies only consist of 100 to 400 individuals versus the 40,000 to 80,000 of a honey bee hive

  • Social bees are foragers, meaning they will collect pollen from a wide range of different flowering plants

  • Solitary bees tend to specialize on one or only a few species of plants, making provision for this type plant even more important to their survival

  • 70% of solitary bees nest underground, while the other 30% build their nests above ground in hollow tunnels

  • Most bumblebees construct nests underground in existing cavities like rodent burrows or under rocks and tree roots

The common names of many bees is derived from their choice of nesting site

  • leafcutters (Megachile spp.) create nest cells with leaves

  • mason bees (Osmla spp.) use mud

  • mining bees (Andrena spp.) dig in soil

  • plasterer bees (Colletes spp.) secrete a waterproofing substance that they use to coat the inside of their cell

  • carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.) nest in wood and are able to excavate their own tunnels

A few things all bees have in common are their need for water when constructing their nests and a preference in having their nests face the the morning sun, so east and south facing areas may be preferred.

References you may find useful:

The Xerces Society is dedicated to protecting our pollinators. At their website they offer information on your area of the country, what bees you can help protect and what seeds you can sow to aid the invaluable native bees in your neighborhood.

Watch a very informative video on bees:

Video on Planting for Pollinators:

Download a PDF chocked full of information on pollinators.

A quick google search under images and the type of bee will help you identify these bees in your garden.

Learn here about our Mason bee nest kits and other information on Mason bees.