Ahhhh, Spring! This is the time of year that I always notice the busy activity of some ground-dwelling bees that live near our house. They never bother you as you walk by, even though they are quite numerous. A few years back when I was installing some steps in that area, I noticed their small holes in the ground. That’s when I was reminded of the solitary bees I had learned about in beekeeping class many years ago. Most people are aware of honey bees, and more are becoming aware of their economic importance in pollinating commercial crops. But most people have never heard about the native bees that just don’t have the rock-star status of the non-native honey bees.
It so happens that there are over 4,000 species of native bees in north America – and, bees are the most important pollinator in most ecosystems in the world. Seventy-five per cent of the flowering plant species in the world are pollinated by bees. Even commercial crops that rely on honeybees for pollination are also visited by wild native bees and other pollinators. Without pollination, flowers cannot develop into seeds and fruits, which feed many birds and mammals large and small. As a matter of fact, fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.
Most native bees live solitary lives rather than in colonies, such as honeybees do. And many live in the ground. So they go mostly un-noticed by people most of the time. Unfortunately, wild bees and other pollinators are experiencing declining populations, and possible extinction. According to the Xerces Society, “Many of our native bee pollinators are at risk, and the status of many more is unknown. Three bee species: the rusty-patched, the yellow-banded and western bumblebee, have dropped in number over the past decade. A fourth species, Franklins’ bumblebee has only been seen once in the past several years. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, pesticide use, climate change, and introduced diseases all contribute to declines of bees.
To attract native bees and other pollinators to your yard, add some food plants that provide pollen and nectar. Grow a diversity of plant species to attract a diversity of pollinators. And try to have something in bloom over a long period of time to provide a continual supply of food. If you want to help the wild bees gain in social status, you can go online and vote for them. Yes! You can vote for the rusty-patched bumblebee to be featured on an Endangered Species Chocolate bar wrapper. But, hurry, you only have until Sunday, April 21. (Got to www.xerces.org for details). After voting, go back to the Xerces Society website and take the “Pollinator Pledge”. There, you can also learn more about the wild native bees, some of whom may inhabit un-noticed areas in your own backyard.