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Native Bees: Beneficial, Amazing and Bee-utiful!

You probably know a little about honeybees, but very few people know much about our native or wild bees, even many scientists. There are 4000 native species of native bees in the U.S.  Some native bees, like the Rusty Patch Bumblebee, one of several Bumblebee species found in Illinois, are experiencing severe declines just like other wildlife.

Learn more about the Rusty Patch Bumblebee in this wonderful video: “ A Ghost in the Making”.

A Few Benefits of Native Bees

  • Native Bees forage on nectar and pollen from mostly flowers, including flowers found on vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  In the process of collecting nectar and pollen, they pollinate many plants. Bees collect pollent and nectar to feed themselves and their larvae. See photo below. 

    Nutritious clumps of  bee bread (mixture of pollen and nectar, plus other bee enzymes), pollen and a carpenter bee larva found on my deck. These fell from carpenter bee nest overhead. 

     

  • There are a large quantity and variety of native or wild bee species, over 500 species in Illinois alone, pollinating a large number and variety of plants. They do so in a broad range of conditions because they are adapted to our local environment.

  • Most native bees have hairy bodies, allowing them to carry more pollen. Some native bee vibrate the pollen loose from flowers in a process called buzz pollination.  Buzz pollination is required by many plants, including crops in the Potato family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes) and some native plants.

  • Some native bees are specialist because they are picky about the pollen they collect and only visit certain plant species, while other specialists require certain habitats. Without each other, both would decline greatly. Studies indicate these declines in turn impact other plant species and wildlife, since nature is so interconnected.

 Helping Native Bees

There are three simple things we can do in our landscapes to help bees : provide habitat (food, shelter, nesting sites, and clean water), reduce pesticide use and become a Citizen Scientist.  Most native bees are solitary, meaning they don’t nest in colonies, with a few exceptions  including native Bumblebees. Although some people are allergic to bee stings, most stings come from Yellow Jackets,which are wasps not bees. Wasps are also beneficial, and not all wasps are aggressive, but this is a topic for another time.

Educational  Resources:

Introduction to our Native Bees
The Bees In Your Backyard – Joseph Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril
Native Bee Awareness (Facebook)

 Denise Sandoval dsandoval@theconservationfoundation.org , Conservation@Home assistant 

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