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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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