Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Native Pollinator Bees

Photo courtesy of Crown Bees
Picture this: A native mason bee diving into a flower with abandon covering its undersides with dry pollen before buzzing to the next pollen-laden flower. Contrast that image with the non-native fastidious honey bee that carefully wets the pollen and carries it tidily on its legs. The “dive with abandon” method makes for a better pollinator. According to Dave Hunter, owner of Crown Bees, a Woodenville, Wash. company, “Roughly one foraging female mason bee is equivalent to one hundred foraging honey bees.” Honey bees serve different roles in the hive; some gather pollen while others gather nectar. The result is that not every flower visited by a honey bee is pollinated. Mason bees, on the other hand, collect both pollen and nectar, pollinating almost all flowers they visit.

Like the majority of native bees, mason bees are solitary. They don’t have a hive or a queen to protect like honey bees. Consequently, they are very gentle and don’t sting unless under great duress, a real plus for those allergic to bee stings. “...the vast majority of bees, nearly four thousand species in the U.S., are solitary nesting. They tend to create and provision a nest on their own, without cooperation with other bees. Although they often will nest together in great numbers when a good nesting area is found, the bees are only sharing a good nesting site and not cooperating.” (Source The XercesSociety)

I want to do my part in helping the native bee population thrive, which includes providing habitat and purchasing bees that are native to our area. “In natural conditions, solitary bees will nest in all sorts of places…Most species nest in the ground, digging a tunnel in bare or partially vegetated, well-drained soil. Sadly, a human desire for tidiness often results in the planting or covering of bare soil, and the removal of snags and other suitable nesting places.” (Source The XercesSociety) Nesting places can be as simple as hollow, dried blackberry canes.

Like the honeybees, native bee populations are suffering. To read more about their plight and importance to our food supply, Crown Bees recommends reading “The Plight of the Bees,” an article written by Marla Spivak, Eric Mader, and Mace Vaughan. This may be the year for me to invite more native bees into my garden. Visit Crown Bees for fascinating facts about our native solitary mason bees. TheNature of Portland also has an interesting post about mason bee “housing” tips.

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