Posts Tagged ‘native bee’

Bring Back the Native Pollinators! We Need them More than Ever

May 20, 2015
A long-horned bee on sunflower © Beatriz Moisset

A long-horned bee on sunflower
© Beatriz Moisset

Excerpt from the USDA document prepared by the Division of Bee Culture in 1942: “The Dependence of Agriculture on the Beekeeping Industry—a Review.”

Wherever a proper balance exists between plants and pollinating insects, both flourish. Agricultural development, however, has seriously interfered with this balance. It has demanded the growing of certain plants in enormous acreages and has unwittingly destroyed native pollinating insects as well as their nesting places. As a result the burden of pollination has been increased to such an extent that wild bees are no longer adequate or dependable. . . In many places the depletion of wild pollinators is so acute that honeybees have to be brought in especially for pollination, and so in practically all agricultural areas honeybees are now the most numerous of the flower-visiting insects.

Read the full article in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens 2014

Pumpkin patch teeming with bumble bees © Beatriz Moisset

Pumpkin patch teeming with bumble bees
© Beatriz Moisset

Gallery of Leaf-cutter and Mason Bees

March 3, 2012

The bees of the family Megachilidae include the leaf-cutter bees and the mason bees. They have big powerful jaws, which is what Megachilidae means.

Megachile





Chelostoma

Anthidium


Coelioxys

Osmia



Pollinators and other flower visitors. A field guide for young people

March 26, 2011

Insect flower visitors of many sorts

Flowers are visited by a great variety of insects, and some spiders too. Some of these insect visitors are very beneficial to the flower. They carry pollen from flower to flower performing pollination. This is what the plant needs to make seeds and thus make new plants and new flowers.
The list of flower visitors is extremely long and some of the insects are impossible to tell apart by sight only, so this guide doesn’t attempt to cover them all. I will just merely highlight some of the most common flower visitors, in particular those that pollinate flowers. You will be able to recognize some of them or, at least, you will know what group they belong to.

What do pollinators look like?

Insects have three body sections, called head, thorax and abdomen. The head carries the eyes, the mouth parts and antennae. The thorax is made of three segments and carries three pairs of legs and generally either two pairs or only one pair of wings. The abdomen is made of a series of segments.

What kind of pollinating insect is that?

Different groups of insects vary on the shape of the head, thorax and abdomen. Of special importance are the variations on the kinds of wings. Future blog entries will cover four main types of flower visitors: 1. bees and wasps, 2. flies, 3. butterflies and moths and 4. beetles.

Bee, hairy, pollen combs

Wasp, hairless, “wasp waist”

Bees and wasps have two pairs of membranous wings, they look like saran wrap. The main differences between bees and wasps are that wasps usually have a narrow waist (the separation between the thorax and abdomen) and are less hairy than bees. Female bees usually have a means to carry pollen, the so called pollen baskets or pollen combs, either on their back legs or on the underside of their abdomens. Sometimes these baskets are loaded with pollen.

Ants are related to wasps and resemble them in their appearance, but they have no wings. Only queens and males have wings, but they are seldom seen. Ants are also frequent flower visitors. They rarely can pollinate flowers because they don’t fly and are not likely to carry pollen a significant distance.

Fly, two wings, big eyes, very small antennae

Flies  are important pollinators too. Their wings are also membranous, like those of bees and wasps but they have only one pair instead of two. The flies that visit flowers often look like bees or wasps. They lack stingers so they are good mimics that try to fool hungry birds into thinking that they can sting. Some of the ways to tell them apart is by the eyes which are very large and by the short antennae, made of two separate parts. They are usually hairless and the legs are very thin when compared to those of bees.

Butterfly, wings with scales, knobs at end of antennae

Butterflies and moths  have wings covered by very tiny scales. If you touch them some of those scales come off and they look like dust. They have a very long tongue which they use as a drinking straw to sip nectar from flowers. When not in use they keep it rolled up under their chins.

Moth, wings with scales, antennae without knobs

Butterfly’s antennae end in little knobs, while the antennae of moths can either be feathery or like a string, but never with a knob at the end. Butterflies usually fly during the day, while moths fly at night, although a number of them fly during the day. Night flying moths tend to be rather colorless, but those that fly during the day can be as brightly colored as many butterflies.

Beetle, hardened wings

Beetles have two pairs of wings but the first set is modified and hardened into a wing case that covers and protects the second pair of wings.
You only see this second pair when the beetle is flying or getting ready to fly. This second pair is also membranous like those of bees, wasps and flies and they remain folded under the first pair.

Where can you find pollinators?

Field of goldenrods in the fall

Look for pollinators at flowers. The best flowers are native ones. Garden flowers, especially the double ones don’t attract many pollinators, so tulips or fancy roses are not very good for pollinators. Most pollinators are active when it is warm enough, when it isn’t windy and when the sun is shining. There are a few that fly when it is dark and visit night blooming flowers.

Common milkweed, flowers

Some flowers attract many visitors. Two of the best ones are: common milkweed and all the goldenrods.

Common milkweed blooms in June and early July. The plants can grow 6 feet tall. They have large oval leaves and bunch of flowers arranged like a ball. The flowers are pink and emit a very strong sweet scent.

Goldenrod

Goldenrodsbloom in the fall, from September to November, depending on where you live. There are several types of goldenrods; they all have yellow flowers arranged in rods that give the name to the plant. Their scent is not particularly strong but many insects are attracted to it or to the colorful display.

Asters and related flowers attract large numbers of pollinators.

Asters, blooming in the fall

Sunflowers and skipper

These include many daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, ragworts, cornflowers, as well as some plants which are not native, dandelions and thistles. The above mentioned goldenrods belong to this family, too.

Mountain mint and Queen Anne’s lace are also good attractants of a variety of flower visitors.

Bees
Honey Bee
Bumble Bees
Carpenter Bees
Halictid Bee or Sweat Bee
Mason Bees and Leaf-cutter Bees
Andrenid Bees

Wasps
Potter Wasps and Mason Wasps
Grass-carrying Wasps
Great Golden Digger Wasp
Hornets and Yellowjackets
Paper Wasps

Flies
Flower Flies or Syrphid Flies
Bee Flies
Blowflies. Lucilia

Butterflies
Monarch
Tiger Swallowtail
Hair Streaks
Pieridae Butterflies: Whites and Sulphurs
Silver Spotted Skipper

Moths
Hummingbird Moth
Hawk Moths
Ailanthus Web-worm Moth
Yellow-collared Scape Moth

Beetles
Tumbling Flower Beetles
Flower Long Horn Beetles
Soldier Beetles
Japanese Beetle
Ladybugs or Lady Beetles

Other frequent flower visitors
Ambush Bug
Crab Spider

——————————————–
Further readings
Overview of Orders of Insects
Native bees of North America
Bumble bees

 

You may purchase the electronic version:

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

You can help pollinators in your own garden

March 9, 2011

Here are some of the things you can do to help pollinators in your garden:

Plant a pollinator garden. Turn some of your lawn into a wildflower meadow. One major objection of gardeners, the fear of stings, doesn’t need to be a serious concern. Most native bees are quite different in this respect from honeybees and hornets; they hardly ever sting and if they do, it is very mild. In fact there are some, such as the Andrenids, that are incapable of doing so. Their stingers are too small to penetrate human skin.

Avoid pesticides or if you absolutely need to use them, inform yourself carefully about the specific pesticides that kill only the target species, rather than decimating many others unintentionally. Furthermore, avoiding pesticides may not be as bad as it sounds since nature has its own checks and balances and manages to keep most pests under control without resorting to pesticides. There are some cases in which use of pesticides backfires by destroying these checks and balances. Avoid herbicides also; they can be bad for pollinators. They either deprive them of food or poison them.

Plant native flowers, that is flowers that grow locally, not just native to the United States; these are best for pollinators. Some bees may be able to adapt to non-native plants, such as many fruit trees or some of the less fancy cultivars. But native pollinators and native plants have become mutually adapted through millions of years, so they make the perfect match in most cases.

Grow a variety of flowers that bloom through the seasons. This is good for native bees; fortunately this is also what most gardeners aspire to have in their gardens. However highly selected cultivars or those with doubled-flowers don’t take care of the needs of pollinators. In general they have lost all the cues that pollinators need, such as scent. In some cases, they have also lost the pollen or nectar and so they don’t provide any food to bees.

Plant the kind of lawn that provides habitat beneficial to bees. A perfectly manicured, pesticide saturated lawn is a desert to wildlife, including pollinators. Reducing the size of the lawn would benefit native pollinators. But it is also possible to have a lawn that is good for bees while being esthetically pleasing. As mentioned before, stay away from pesticides and herbicides as much as possible. Second, allow some small wildflowers; the look of your lawn may change as a result but it will continue to serve its purpose. Clover is great food for native bees; it also fixes nitrogen cutting down the need for fertilizers. Other small plants that benefit bees are ground speedwells (Veronica), wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), smartweeds or knotweeds (Polygonum), wild strawberries (Fragaria, several species), etc. Rather than calling them weeds we should call them grass companions or pollinator food.

Provide housing for bees. A simple bare spot here and there (no mulch or grass, just bare soil) may be enough for a few hard-working soil nesters. A sand pile may be even better. It bears repeating: There is no real need to worry about stings from solitary bees.

Dead logs or snags can supply housing for bees. You probably can’t have a dead tree on your property, but it is possible to keep a stump or a standing log and use it as an attractive planter; perhaps it will in turn provide housing for some little bees. Drilling holes on an old post or even a tree trunk would also make good nesting sites. They should be 3/32” to 3/8” in diameter and at least 4” deep.

Or you can make your own bee houses. It is possible and relatively easy to build one by following instructions posted in several websites. Or you can buy one; some resources listed below. I have discovered that watching the comings and goings of those busy mother bees can be as much fun as observing a bird house. Once again, stings don’t seem to be a real problem; I have had my face right in front of their houses and have even let them climb on my finger without any consequences.

Hollow tubes, just about the size of drinking straws, can also be used as bee nests. Some of the suppliers listed sell them. You can also tie up a bunch of hollow twigs, such as elderberry, or paper drinking straws (plastic ones are no good) together or pack them into a container such as a small milk or cream carton and place them horizontally. They should be closed at one end with the open end facing south or southeast. If you have trouble figuring out where the south is, step outside sometime between 10 AM and 1 PM and face the sun. That is how you want to place the nests. (See links below for instructions).

You can let some of your ornamental grasses stay all winter; they can be quite handsome and add variety to your winter landscape while providing nesting to your friendly native bees.

Helping the native bees would benefit us because of their invaluable services to the environment and to our gardens.

Resources

Ross, Edward S. (2003) Pollinator Conservation Handbook. The Xerces Society and The Bee Works. Portland, Oregon ISBN 0-9744475-0-1. (Bee gardens, bee houses, etc.)
The Xerces Society Guide (2011). Attracting Native Pollinators. Storey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60342-695-4 (Everything you want to know about pollinators and their conservation)

Urban Bee Gardens. Berkeley University
Nests for Native Bees. The Xerces Society
Bee houses. National Wildlife Federation. (How to build a bee house)

Sellers of bee houses
Mason bee homes.

Native bees, conservation

March 7, 2011

In recent years the general public has become aware that honeybees are in serious trouble. What most people don’t know is that not just honeybees, but also some native bees and other pollinators, seem to be suffering difficulties for a number of reasons. Unfortunately we know so little about this huge number of species of bees that it is hard to assess fully the situation and the causes. Buchmann and Nabhan called attention to this problem as early as 1996 in their book, The Forgotten Pollinators. There, they discussed the need to learn more about native pollinators and to take steps toward protecting them.

It may seem strange to most but honeybees may be contributing to the extinction of some native bees. Honeybees can out-compete many of them. We can only guess what the impact of the arrival of honeybees has been on the populations of native bees starting with the early settlers.

It appears that, as in many other cases, habitat reduction and fragmentation affect the populations of native bees. Pesticides are without doubt bad for many species of native bees. This became dramatically apparent in New Brunswick, Canada years ago when the blueberry crop was disastrously low, despite the fact that the plants appeared healthy. Finally, it was found that the battle to control the spruce worm in the nearby forests had wiped out the native bees. Blueberry farmers started a litigation that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada until they succeeded at placing restrictions on the use of pesticides. It took a number of years before the populations of bees were restored and the blueberry crops became plentiful again.

The situation of native bees in the United States has caused enough concern that the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report titled “Status of Pollinators in North America” in October, 2006. The document presents conclusive evidence of downward long-term trends of the populations of some native pollinators, including solitary bees and especially some bumblebee species. Additional data on trends and their causes keeps coming in recent publications.

Some of the recommendations of the Research Council are the creation of economic incentives for the study of bee populations through a system of long-term monitoring and for the development of practices promoting pollinator preservation. Another recommendation is to encourage land managers and owners, including farmers and homeowners to develop “pollinator-friendly” practices, many of which require only a small increase in expenditures.

A number of organizations are creating pollinator gardens with the types of plants and habitats that benefit bees and other pollinators. The Xerces society supplies information to those who want to start one.

In Canada the citizens of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have gone a step further creating the world’s first Pollinator Park at the Eastview landfill site. In part they were inspired by the experience with the blueberry pollination disaster. They are turning an ordinary landfill, about one hundred acres, into an oasis for bees and other pollinators with the right plantings and proper habitat for nesting.

Resources
Status of Pollinators in North America . The National Academies.
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
How to Protect and Enhance Habitat for Native Bees.