Native Bees Reign Supreme

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In October of 2011, Cornell did an article on Chronicle OnLine that talked about Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth’s research into native bees.

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It found that native pollinators are two to three times more effective than our beloved honeybees at pollination. The honeybee was an import from Europe and quickly became the bee most associated with the species. Native bees are more numerous than previously assumed and less prone to colony collapse disorder, attributable likely because many of the bees are solitary and live not in hives.

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His study looks at pathogens, viruses and fungi that are damaging honeybee colonies and if they in turn affect native bee species.

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The reasoning that natives are more effective pollinators is that honeybees are more interested in nectar and the native bees are primarily pollen collectors. That seems simple enough.

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But what honeybees have over native bees is they are farmed. They can be shipped to crops where it would be too early for native bees to be active.

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But since bees are shipped long distance, they are also exposed to additional pathogens and stresses according to Danforth. One thing of special note he mentioned, was that much of the pollination attributed to the honeybees, might likely be the work of the native bees.

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And no one was much looking at native bees until the issue with colony collapse became headline news.

I have no idea which of the bees in my post are true natives since I cannot positively identify them, but I do suspect a number are. One I know for sure is the digger bee shown popping out of the nest in the ground. It is a pollinator of Spring fruit trees I showed at the tree and shrub farm. Another ground dweller is the Squash Bee, whose underground nest typically is tunneled a foot or so beneath the surface. This bee was new to me, but was photographed in my yard. The Carpenter Bees in my yard are native as is the mason bee in an image above.

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I did not realize that bees are descended from wasps until recently. Most wasps either prey upon or parasitize other insects to feed their own brood, but millions of years ago wasps made the switch from hunting prey to gathering pollen for their young. This coincided when flowers started blooming. Somehow, the wasps ingested pollen and decided it was tasty, leading to the changeover from hunting to pollen collecting.

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Pollen was a safer food source since it did not fight for its life when attacked. It is also rich in proteins which the wasps needed, so it was easy to make switch to be pollen gatherers. Gathering pollen and nectar is a much different job than that of hunter. New adaptations, like a pollen basket, allowed the wasp to become a bee.

Here is an interesting publication from Cornell on Native Bees that may be something you might want to read.

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You can download this by clicking the image above or from the source Danforth Lab. Both take you the same place. It has very good information in the article, much more comprehensive that I can put in a post.  It identifies the native bees and the plants that they use to collect pollen. Cornell Labs is a wonderful resource in so many areas.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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29 Responses to Native Bees Reign Supreme

  1. Christy says:

    Thank you for such an interesting post. Great information and, as usual, your pictures are amazing!

  2. A.M.B. says:

    How interesting! Great pictures, too. It reminds me of warmer times, which is nice when it’s only 15 degrees outside (unusually cold for my area!).

  3. Yes, there a number of pollinators aside from the honeybee, and they are not as choosy either. Great post!

  4. HolleyGarden says:

    Our poor little native bees work so hard! I do wonder about the effects CCD has on them. I would hate to think our native bees are dying at the rate that some of the honeybees colonies are.

  5. alesiablogs says:

    I have a high buddy who has his doctorate in the study of these critters. It just amazes me what we can learn from nature and others that inhabit this planet with us. As always breathtaking photography.

  6. alesiablogs says:

    I meant high school buddy…haha

  7. This is such an interesting comment about native bees in your area. There is a huge drive in the UK for gardeners to keep bees for the pollination of fruit and flowers etc which act as a food source to other insects. The net reult of the honey bee is the glorious golden coloured honey we love. Honey can be a great remedy for coughs and colds. I always like to source my honey from and aviary close to home as the bees may have visited my garden. Great post, very thought provoking and we need to look after bees

  8. Patty says:

    Interesting articles. I am happy to know that our native bees are still going strong. We used to have a bumblebee nest under the front steps and I would sit on them and watch the bees come and go, slowly into the nest and quickly out.

  9. Very interesting, and even a little encouraging (that native bees are not as vulnerable to disease). We have tons of bumblebees, I believe they are all natives.

  10. As you know, we keep honey bees, but also strive to support our native bee populations. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the new (to us) native bees exploiting some of the plantings we’ve installed here over the last few years. We had a new bumble bee species frequenting the gardens last year that I’d never seen. There really is a tremendous diversity of native bees out there, we just have to encourage them to visit. A number of farmers in this area are finally recognizing that, as insurance against honey bee population decline, it’s worth supporting native bees too. Sadly though, farmers that are chained to pesticide use are unlikely to benefit from native insect pollination. Just one reason, of many, we don’t use pesticides, or herbicides. I’d rather see the native bees.

  11. This was wonderful to read especially since I’m adding mason bee houses to my garden this spring. I already have the little cocoons in my fridge and a bee house in my garage, just waiting for some action. 🙂

  12. Andrea says:

    Hello Donna. It is just sad that commercial bee species always get much attention because of much advertising, more studies too. The natives do not get equal attention, which is the case in our situation too. We imported the honeybees, to the neglect of our own Apis cerana, which they say produce less honey. But i fully know the taste of its honey and it is still better and more delicious. And now because of the so called ‘modern technologies we might even loose the natives.

  13. b-a-g says:

    Glad to read the honey bee is our native bee.

  14. Donna, I give a MG presentation on how to attract native pollinators to your garden in light of the decline in the honeybee population, but I learned a lot from this posting — didn’t know about the wasp connection, for example. I have carpenter bees, mason bees and digger bees in my garden. Stunning photographs as always. P. x

  15. Emily Heath says:

    Part of the problem with the monocrops like the almond orchards is that native weeds are deliberately removed from around the trees. This puts the honeybees shipped to the orchards onto an unhealthy single flower diet, but also means native pollinators struggle to survive there year round, as the almonds only flower for part of the year.

    Bumblebees and some species of solitary bees can also do a type of pollination that honeybees very rarely do, called buzz pollination (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buzz_pollination). This is needed for effective pollination of some crops such as bell peppers, tomatoes and blueberries.

  16. Charlie says:

    I am adding housing for Mason Bees for my Garden. This will be the second year so I am anxious to measure my progress. I enjoyed you photos and found the reference site very useful. Thank you.

  17. What a great posting on bees. Your photos are stellar, especially like the one of the Carpenter bee all covered with pollen. This year is the first time I saw what I believe to be honey bees in my garden, though not 100% certain it was a honey bee. Will head over to read the Cornell info.

  18. I am learning about native bees as well. I am learning so much and I am doing what I can to create an ecosystem in my garden that will attract and support native bees. An odd, but interesting hobby.

  19. Shirley says:

    Fascinating information as we head toward spring. This explains the presence of solitary bees in my yard.

  20. Great post Donna. I find I have mostly native bees in my gardens although there are some honey bees from some local hives. I found a great book from Pollinator Partnership showing Eastern Bumbles. There are so many of them.

    http://pollinator.org/books.htm

  21. Fossillady says:

    I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds of native bees and that honeybees are not native. Very interest too how wasps adapted to bees . . . that’s news to me! lol

  22. It was a pretty natural progression for wasps…adults do not consume pollen (or prey for that matter) as all they require is a sugar source for metabolic energy. However, the developing larvae require a protein source, so the switch was from animal based proteins (ie prey) to plant based proteins (ie pollen). Bees are just vegetarian wasps!

  23. PS there are still some wasps included in the Apoidea…namely the Sphecids and the Crabronids…I write about them here: http://standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/wondering-about-wasps/

  24. flora says:

    awesome shots! love them!

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  27. Yes! Finally someone writes about bee.

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