Native bees pollinating flowers for centuries

Unlike honey bees, native bees do not produce surplus honey or wax

Did you know that there are over 450 species of native bees in B.C.? They’ve been pollinating our native wildflowers for millennia.

Most are solitary or stay in small groups. Some species are cavity dwellers in dead wood or hollow stems. But over 70 per cent of our native bees live underground. Bees have a short active life span (only a few weeks) with one generation per summer and have a short foraging range of only 100 to 200 metres from their nesting sites.

Honey bees are introduced agricultural livestock in Canada. They’re originally from the Mediterranean area. Beekeepers (apiarists) own and take care of them and their hives for orchard flower and cash crop pollination and also for their excess amounts of honey and wax. Since honey bees have been introduced, they have competed with our native bees for nectar and pollen, and have brought bee diseases.

Some of the differences between our native bees and honey bees are:

Honey bees form massive, dense colonies or live in hives of up to 50,000 bees. Our native bees live in small groups or are solitary dwelling in underground tunnels and crevices or are cavity dwellers in holes in logs, stumps or snags (usually made by beetles or ants) or in hollow stems.

Honey bees have a dominant social order of a queen, female workers and male drones whereas, apart from bumblebees, our native bees don’t.

Some native bees specifically nectar and harvest pollen from one or a few species of native plants. Honey bees are generalists.

Unlike honey bees, native bees do not produce surplus honey or wax. The only native bees that store nectar for any period of time are bumblebees, which can store concentrated nectar for a few days. Bumblebees also produce wax. They form it into little pots to store nectar and pollen and the queen also lays eggs in these pots. The worker bees feed the larvae pollen until they grow into adult bees. Solitary bees do not store nectar at all. They need flowers to provide nectar for adult bees and pollen for their brood. They do not produce wax, but sometimes line their nests with secretions which protect it from moisture and mold.

Some honey bees form a protective ball around the queen in winter. Native bees overwinter in their nests as eggs or pupae.

Except for bumblebees, native bees don’t sting, and they rarely sting people.

Unfortunately, our native bees haven’t been well studied or publicized. Yet we have such an amazing diversity that bee watching could be as popular as bird watching. Maybe you’ve heard of bumblebees, mason bees or leaf-cutter bees. These are just a few.

Entomologists know that some of our native bees are becoming endangered due to many factors including competition and disease from honey bees, and loss of habitat. Since most of our native bees are ground dwellers, they get dug up for roads, buildings, houses, yards, farms, etc. Parasites and birds are their main predators.

So if you want to help our native bees, get to know them and plant native flowering plants rich in nectar and pollen in your yard; it’s called naturescaping or rewilding. Help protect native habitats like Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and eco-reserves. Once you attract native bees they return quickly. It’s highly rewarding.

What’s the biggest difference between wasps and bees? Wasps are carnivorous or parasitic and bees are vegan.

Roseanne Van Ee shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature.

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