What was Buzzin’ in Your Backyard Last Summer?

By Janet Wissink

honey-beeAs a gardener, I understand the importance of having bees in my yard. But I didn’t always appreciate the buzzin’ around me, nor did I distinguish between bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, wasps and hornets. Now, I realize that bumble, honey and solitary bees are not aggressive towards me as I work in the garden among my flowers, vegetables and fruits. These bees are too busy working to worry about me. Instead of running away from the buzzin’, I stop to take a closer look at what kind of bee is diligently visiting blossom after blossom.

Bees play a key role in agricultural production and the beauty of our yards through pollination. The disruption of natural habitats, the widespread over-use of pesticides, and many bee diseases and parasites has brought bee numbers down precariously low, especially honey bees. The honey bee crisis is broadly termed Colony Collapse Disorder.

Almost 20,000 known species of bees populate the earth. 3,500 live in the United States and close to 400 in Wisconsin. Less than 2% of these are honey bees and bumble bees. The other 98% are mostly solitary bees. Solitary bees live on their own, not in colonies with a queen and workers like honey bees and bumble bees.

Bees are unique among all pollinators (hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, flies and some beetles). Not only do they sip nectar to fuel their own flight, bees are one of the few animals to actively gather large amounts of pollen which they inadvertently scatter widely between flowers. The pollen of many plant species serves as the primary food source for bee larvae because it is rich in protein.

Bee pollination is an ecological service valued at $20 billion a year in North America. More than one-third of the world’s crop species such as alfalfa, sunflower, fruits and vegetables are dependent on bee pollination. Honey bee numbers in North America have been de- clining since the 1950s while the amount of crop acreage requiring bee pollination is at an all time high.

WE CAN HELP BEES

1. Plant bee flowers everywhere! Flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees. Bees obtain all of their carbohydrates from floral nectar, and all of their protein from floral pollen. Honey bees convert nectar into honey and use the protein in pollen to f1-Honey-Bee-001eed their young. Provid- ing a diverse array of plants will help ensure that you support a diverse array of bee species.

2. 60-70% of bees dig burrows in the ground preferring dry, sandy soil bare of vegetation. You can attract ground-nesting bees to your property by leaving some spots of exposed, undisturbed soil. The other 30-40% are cavity-nesting bees. These bees use hollow plant stems or holes in wood left by wood-boring beetles. You can attract cavity-nesting bees by providing tunnels in a man-made structure.

Pesticides are designed to kill insects. Depending on the formula and concentration, they can be harmful or fatal to bees and other benefi- cial insects. Herbicides kill flowers that provide nectar and pollen for bees.

In June 2013, over 50,000 bumble bees were poisoned in Wilsonville, Oregon, after a insecticide was sprayed on linden trees to control aphids, which secrete a sticky residue while feeding, making them a nuisance to parked cars.

“The Oregon bee poisoning is a clear warning. We have to stop pesticide use in cases where human health or food security is not at risk,” stated Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, a leading global authority on bee health. According to Spivak, neonicotinoids are now the most widely used insecticides. They are long-lasting in soil and readily move into water. Sadly, most neonicotinoid insecticides have no warning labels to alert consumers about the potential hazard to bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

To learn more about Wild Ones Fox Valley Area visit www.wildones.org.

Resources: University of Minnesota Bee Lab, http://beelab.umn.edu

The Xerces Society, http://www.xerces.org 

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