This month we are focusing on the importance of the pollinator. Coming from an urban background (Brainerd, MN so please allow me to be liberal with the term) I have a limited experience with pollinators in general. However, looking into the many types of bees and then looking at the central focus they have on pollinating our yards, gardens, and crops, it can be eye opening to see anything more than the common honeybee.
It’s no surprise that with the popularization of the honeybee in our culture, it’s the most recognized pollinator out there. There are THOUSANDS of species of bees in this world. But, did you know that the vast majority of the pollinating done by bees is NOT done by the socially inclined bee.
Pollinating is done mainly by solitary bees, like Carpenter Bees, Leaf cutter Bees, and Sweat Bees. These species perform the majority of pollination throughout the world. And it’s pretty easy to get them naturally in your garden.
I found out that there are, in fact, stingless bees! Check out this video. Stingless bees don’t make honey at the rate of the honeybee, so it’s pretty neat to see them part of someone’s yard like that.
On campus, we’ve housed several colonies of honeybees, but are currently taking a break from hosting duties. We did this as a method of getting our gardens pollinated adequately, encouraging a natural ecosystem, and, (of course!) for the honey. On some of our collection days, we collected up to 14 quarts of the sticky gooey treasure. But we also fed the bees sugar water before the plants bloomed and kept them safe from natural predators with a fence around their hives. Check out this video from when we harvested our honey.
So, the question stands: What does your garden (or even just your lawn) need to attract busy little bees (stingless or otherwise)? Instead of creating a common green desert of Kentucky bluegrass you should try to grow things that bees will actually like…you know, like flowers.
However, let’s talk a bit about how important the bee is and why it’s more important that ever to create locations where they can thrive.
The Great Disappearing Bee Trick
I came across an article the other day and the title practically forced me to read it.
“Are Zombie Bees Infiltrating Your Neighborhood?” brings visions of bees flying around, buzzing the words, “Nectar. Nectar!” over and over again. But, unfortunately, it seems that zombie bees (zombees, if you will) are becoming more and more prevalent. Here’s the article for quick reference.
Apparently, a fly species (Apocephalus borealis for those keeping track) is infecting honeybees by laying eggs on their bodies. Once infected the bee will wander off in a stupor, collect pollen at night and loiter around lights, and eventually fly away from the hive and die. Several days later the larvae will hatch, dine on the body, and then find other bees to infect. Pretty weird stuff, right?
Scientists are theorizing that this little fly is one of the causes of the colony collapse phenomenon (the widespread loss of natural beehive colonies throughout the continent.) It certainly looks like it could contribute to it.
There are other ideas that scientists believe are contributing to the phenomenon. Loss of habitat, global warming, pesticides, and even the increase of cell phone are just some of the theories.
A recent National Geographic article cites the increase of neonicotinoids (used in pesticides) as the most likely culprit. Here’s a snippet:
In April 2019 a major study warned that 40 percent of all insect species face extinction due to pesticides—particularly neonics, since they’re the most widely used insecticide on the planet—but also because of with climate change and habitat destruction.
They go on to say that “farms using neonics had 10 times the insect pressure and half the profits compared to those who use regenerative farming methods instead of insecticides according a 2018 study. Like agroecological farming, regenerative agricultural uses cover crops, no-till, and other methods to increase on-farm biodiversity and soil health”
How would we pollinate the fields when the most productive cost effective pollinator is gone? Bees account for the pollination of one-third of the US crop-base. That’s a lot of production to replace.
We could focus on the environmental impacts of a loss of bees. Bees are wonderful
pollinators. They account for around 70% of all the crop pollination in the world. Without these creatures, it’s theorized that unless a new pollinator takes the bees’ place, those plants will lose the ability to reproduce. Which means smaller crop sizes. Which means less food. Imagine the strain on the worlds resources.
So, looking at the disappearing bee in both an economical and environmental light, we can begin to see how important these little buggers are to us. Therefore, it’s in our best interest to keep what bees we have happy.
But, the facts are there.
There are less beehives now than there were just thirty years ago.
The Xerces Society (a nonprofit that expounds the values and importance of invertebrates…namely pollinators) has a wonderful article on farmers who are taking acres from their fields and planting flowers and shrubs in an effort to entice more bees. This quote by Mace Vaughan says it all well.
For bees to thrive, they need a diverse diet, so we’re trying to bring pollen diversity to farms, more plants to be part of the bees’ buffet…this isn’t a panacea to pollination woes. This is part of the solution overall.