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Thursday, May 28, 2015

All the Buzz about Pollinators

When we think of bees, often the only ones that come to mind are honeybees, bumblebees, yellow jackets and hornets. But there are actually around 25,000 known species of bees worldwide, 4000 here in the United States. 

Buzzaboutbees offers a lot of further information about the bee world. According to this site, "These 25,000 species can be divided into over 4000 genera (types of bees) belonging within 9 groups or 'families', all under the banner - or 'Super-family' - 'Apoidea'.
Apoidea also includes 'sphecoid wasps', from which bees are believed to be descended."

The Honey Bee -(Family: Apidae)
Honey bees are classed as ‘social’ bees, as they live in colonies usually consisting of around 50,000 – 60,000 workers.

 We hear so much about colony collapse disorder that studies have been done to learn whether native pollinators can supply the pollination needed for food crops.

 While honeybees are social insects that live in large colonies, or hives, most native pollinators are solitary bees that nest in the ground or inside vegetation.

Natives pollinators can do a lot of benefit, but you can't manipulate them like honeybees. You can't throw them on a truck and move them across country to get pollination services. Native bees have evolved in a specific region and have adapted to the climate and forage of that region. Human influence on habitats have greatly affected the bees.

With so many of our crops being large monocultures, only a few weeks of abundant food is available. Baseline habitat guidelines encourage the inclusion of at least three different plant species that bloom at an given time during the growing season. In the natural scheme of things, a much greater variety of plants are available.

Harm to pollinators through pesticide use could be greatly reduced if farmers and homeowners would consider the bees before spraying. Avoiding treatments around blooming plants or areas where bees are nesting would help enormously. Or reduce harm by waiting to spray till evening when bees are less active. Of course, the best action would be to not spray at all, especially to gardeners for whom insect damage is cosmetic rather than economic.

Here are some of the pollinators we are most familiar:


The Bumblebee (Family: Apidae)
Most bumblebee colonies are fairly small, from 50 to 400 workers, but usually around 120 to 200.
Bumblebees are fuzzy. There is a saying that goes, "If it's fuzzy it's friendly."  I've worked plenty with these bees just doing their thing around me amidst the flowers.
For their homes they use burrows and openings in buildings.

Digger bee
 Digger Bees and Carpenter Bees (Family: Apidae –originally, they were classified in the family ‘Anthophoridae’)
These are also solitary bees, and are good pollinators.
Digger bees usually make their nests in soil. They have hairy bodies, and can be up to 3cm long.

Carpenter bee
 Carpenter bees (Xylocopinae) are frequently a pest to homeowners who dislike the large holes they burrow into wooden eves, decks or other wooden garden structures.
Bumblebees often get mistaken for Carpenter bees. Bumblebees are fuzzy, whereas the abdomens of carpenter bees are shiny black.

Mason bee
Leafcutter and Mason bees (Family: Megachilidae)
These types of bees are solitary bees. With solitary bees, usually, a single female mates, then constructs a nest alone (though near each other) and provides for the egg cells that will become larvae.  Mason bees lay their egg within a hole and separates that egg with mud, resin, leaf bits, pebbles, or chewed up vegetation/mud. Leaf cutter bees like hollow stems and ready made holes in wood. These solitary bees typically have life spans of about 6 weeks and are active only a part of the season.

Yellow Jacket
It is incorrect to call a wasp a bee. Bees have branched hair and look fuzzy, while wasps usually have smooth single hairs or no hair at all. Wasps don't actively collect pollen, but pollinate incidentally while foraging for food. Bees actively collect pollen to feed to their offspring. Wasps hunt for bugs to feed to their offspring. The stinger in a bee is attached to the end of the digestive system. Once a bee uses that stinger it will die because the barb stays in the skin of the victim. Whereas wasps are more aggressive and can sting over and over again.

Yellow Jackets and Hornets, though they're presence is generally not appreciated, they are beneficial in that their carnivorous ways do help control the insect population.The main reason Yellow Jackets become a pest is that they are social and defensive. They are very attracted to anything sweet. Being they dwell in the ground where grass is mowed and people walk, they tend to get stirred up and irritated.
Hornets are often feared but unless the nest is in an area where there is a good chance of disturbing them, it is best to just leave them alone. Here is a good post about whether hornet nests should be disturbed. The comment section is very informative.
Wasps control many insect populations with their carnivorous ways.

Read more :
most common are honeybees and bumblebees for the bees and paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets for the wasps.

Read more :

most common are honeybees and bumblebees for the bees and paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets for the wasps.

Read more :
Paper Wasp


Like them or not, we need the bees! Food doesn't just appear on our tables, we have to take an interest! As with most wild creatures, leave them alone and they'll leave you alone.
Help the pollinators by providing plants that will offer food throughout the growing season. These are just a few choice selections:

Redbud, small tree, blooms in the spring

Crabapple, small tree, blooms in the spring

Carolina Rose, blooms in the spring
Ironweed, a perennial, blooms during the summer
Globe Thistle, a perennial, blooms during summer
Lamb's Ear, a perennial, blooms during summer
Lavender, a perennial, blooms during summer
Coneflowers, a perennial, blooms during the summer
Beebalm or Monarda, a perennial, blooms during the summer
Sunflowers, these are perennial Helianthus, blooms during the summer
Catmint, a perennial, blooms during the summer
Lemonbalm, a perennial, blooms during the summer
Goldenrod, a perennial, blooms in the fall

Sedum, a perennial, blooms in fall
New England Aster, blooms in the fall

To deal with pesky yellow jackets during summer outings try not to encourage them in the first place. Once picnic food has been served, cover or put away exposed food and dirty dishes. Sweet soda is going to attract wasps therefore cover the top of the can with a lid if it is going to sit around and dispose of the empty cans and bottles. Gently brush away any wasps buzzing around the table, don't swat or you'll anger them. Remember, yellow-jackets can sting over and over again if angry.

If you find a honeybee colony nesting on your property leave them alone since they are endangered and non-aggressive or call  a local beekeeper to safely remove them and relocate the nest somewhere else.

If you find a hornet or wasp nest there are a few ways to handle them. 
Worker wasps will die off with the arrival of winter, so if it is late in the season you can just use caution around the nest and leave it alone. The nest is not reused in the spring so it can be safely removed at a later time. 
Commercial sprays can be used to kill bees and wasps. If you choose this route, wait until evening when the wasps are all back in the nest and quiet. Follow the instructions on the can. If over the next few days you still see activity, repeat the spray application.
A way to get rid of the nest without using chemicals would be to wait until evening and carefully cover the nest with a plastic bag. Leave as little opening at the top as possible.and cut the branch holding the nest. Move slowly and then place the bag in the freezer or lay it in the hot sun. Either method will kill the wasps within a day or two. 

Use caution when around bee activity. They are necessary so we need to just respect their presence and be knowledgeable of their behavior.