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Saving The Bees

native bee

SAVING THE BEES – TUESDAY, MARCH 6, STEVE CLARK – 88.9 WCVE producer Steve Clark and entomologist Dr. Art Evans comment on an article in Popular Science about the importance of native bees.

SC: I’m Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You. I’ve got a bee in my bonnet. (laughing) Well, we’ve been talking about bees. I saw an article in Popular Science about bees, . . .

AE: Right.

SC: . . . and you have some observations. Well, these are not new for you either.

AE: Well, no. I think the Popular Science article brought up several important points, and many of them are things that we’ve talked about over the years. When we talk about bees in trouble, yes, European honey bees get a lot of attention. Yes, we’re absolutely dependent upon European honey bees for agriculture. And our food supply is no laughing matter, so I don’t want to short-change them there, but there’s a much bigger world out there that’s in need of bees. And honey bees aren’t the ticket.

SC: You say that the honey bee was probably brought here because of the honey, not for agricultural purposes.

AE: Well, I think by the time they were introduced to North America there was awareness of their importance as pollinators, but I think they were more valued for their products and services – their production of honey and wax. And it’s only later did we really appreciate their enormous value of their services as pollinators.

SC: And that’s pollinators for . . . ?

AE: Fruit trees and vegetable crops and things like that.

SC: But not corn, wheat and all that.

AE: No, those are primarily wind-pollinated.

SC: Okay.
AE: And so now there’s a lot of press talking about honey bees being in trouble, and it’s well-deserved. They are in trouble. Our link to copious quantities of healthy food is jeopardized by honey bees being in decline. But we really need to focus our attention, as well, on native bees. You know the vast majority of bees are solitary, and other plants depend on those bees for pollination. Honey bees aren’t necessarily efficient pollinators either. You can be looking at these other flowering plants, and you see that honey bees are visiting them. But what are they really doing? Some studies have shown that, yes, honey bees are the most frequent visitor of a particular flower, but they aren’t necessarily efficiently moving pollen around. But it’s the native bees that are really doing the heavy lifting when it comes to plants that are not of any agricultural importance. Keep in mind that even though bumble bees are a notable exception as being social, the vast majority of these native bees, some 4,000 species just here in North America, are solitary. Included in this article are some gorgeous pictures of bees, so we’ll be sure to include a link on the website. We need to focus on creating habitats for those solitary bees, and that gets into another topic that we’ve covered a number of times – get rid of your lawn. (laughing)

SC: Oh, that’s a prime offender, isn’t it?

AE: It is. First of all, it doesn’t provide any food for pollinators. It is a food desert. Also, it covers up a lot of bare ground that many of these solitary nesting bees need in order to keep their populations going. And if you can’t bring yourself to get rid of your lawn, then seriously consider creating some edges, you know, some plantings of native plants that will be blooming throughout the year along the edges. It will look nice, and it will attract native pollinators. At every opportunity use native plants and use a variety of native plants that will provide blooms throughout the season.

SC: Dr. Art Evans is the author of Beetles of Eastern North America. You’ll find photos, audio, and a link to Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.

Photo: The solitary Augochlora pura (Hymenoptera: Halictidae) is a native bee that nests under loose bark or in abandoned wood borer tunnels and visits flowers in several plant families. For more information and a list of flower-visiting records, visit here.

Read the Popular Science article here.