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Posts Tagged ‘native bees’

Biologist Laurence Packer writes that “humans will be better off if we rely less on honeybees in managed hives for pollination and more on some of the 20,000 species of wild bees.”  in his book, “Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them” Laurence Packer

 

He was interviewed recently on NPR’s  ” Fresh Air”

Listen to his interview here

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Native bee

Native bee

Did you know that honeybees are not the only bees in town?  While a lot of attention has been given to the plight of the honeybee,  “colony collapse disorder”, and it’s impact on  our vegetable, nut and fruit crops, there are many, many native bees that are busy doing the job.  The honeybee ( Apis mellifera ) is not a native bee…. in fact it was brought over by European settlers to provide honey and pollinate crops.  Native bees have evolved with our native plants and are much better pollinators than the honeybee.  Blueberries for example, are almost exclusively pollinated by native bees, and the colorful sweat bees are major pollinators of commercial sunflower, alfalfa and watermelon crops.

Green sweat bee on echinacea

Green sweat bee on echinacea

There are more than 4000 species of native bees in north America.  Most native bees are solitary, which means that they live and raise their brood alone, not in large colonies as does the honeybee.  Most are small, inconspicuous ,  overlooked and mistaken for flies.  The exception to this is the bumble bee and carpenter bee which are giants of the native bees!  About 70% of native bees live in the ground, while the rest live in rotting wood or tunnels in trees and branches.  One of the most beneficial of all native bee groups are the mason bees, so called because they seal up their young with a dab of mud to protect it as it develops.

Blue Orchard mason bee

Blue Orchard mason bee

The Blue Orchard Bee is a more efficient pollinator of fruit trees than the honeybee.  Native bees do not produce honey and will not normally sting, as they do not have a large cache of brood or honey to protect.  The female will lay her eggs in the tubes,  feed the larvae  and then seal it off once it reaches  the pupa stage.   In winter, the adults die, but the pupae remain in the tube, and then hatch out the following spring.  For the most part, native bees usually just produce one set of young a year.

Ranch style Native Bee HouseHaving a native bee house in your yard will not only provide habitat for  native bees but will be a visible reminder to provide a “bee friendly” yard and garden for all pollinators.  It is easy to make, and there are many sites online to show you how it’s done.  Here are a few of the ones I have made.  Place the house so that it faces east to get the early morning sun and then don’t disturb it.  By autumn you should see many of the tubes have been filled up with a mud seal.  Next spring they will emerge and start the cycle all over again.

To learn more about native bees, check out the following sites:

Xerces Society

Pollinator Partnership

Bee Basics: An introduction to our Native Bees

 

 

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Apricot blossoms and bees

Apricot blossoms and bees

The apricot trees have just finished blooming and now the cherries are starting to bloom. ( Apple trees will bloom later) There are so many bees that the the trees are literally humming!  Walking past a low branch I stopped to observe the bees as they busily climbed in and about all the flowers.  I was startled to see 4 different kinds of bees on just a few flowers!  Besides the honeybee, I recognized the small Blue Orchard bee, one of the most common native bees around. But the other two?  One was a bit smaller than the honeybee and the other, about twice a large. What were they?  I did a search of native bees in the area and found out that there are over 500 species of bees just here in New Mexico!

http://aces.nmsu.edu/ipm/documents/native-bees-booklet-final.pdf

Further investigation uncovered the fact that there are over 4000 native bees here in the U.S.  Amazing.  If you want to learn more about these bees, check out this great bug site:  http://bugguide.net/node/view/475348

As it turns out, these native bees do most of the pollinating of our trees and plants, as the honey bee is an import from Europe and Asia. Did you know that a honeybee doesn’t know how to pollinate a tomato or an eggplant flower,  while some native bees are masters at this?    More on this later………

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