I decided it would be a good idea to write about this concentrated interest in saving the honeybees, because it’s missing the point in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, I think saving the honeybee is 1/20,000 important, as it is 1 species out of 20,000 on our planet, but shouldn’t take the spotlight. So, let me tell you about some of the thousands of bees that live on our planet. We can’t possibly cover 20,000 species in one post and keep your attention, but let’s cover some basics to get your wheels turning.
Estimated bee counts worldwide. Honeybees are 1 out of the 20,000.
This will blow your mind, but not all bees live in social hierarchies….wait, no queen? Yep, no queen. In the state of Colorado, 70% of our native species live and nest alone, and are labeled as solitary bees. Keeping in line with this title, solitary bees nest in individual tunnels, whether it be underground, in wood, in pithy plant material, or manmade holes.
These are mason bees nesting inside our observation bee house. The yellow is pollen, and the brown is mud that separates each bee from the others. As they grow the pollen goes away and eventually a cocoon is wrapped around the bee until next season.
Inside a tunnel are individually packaged developing bees inside cocoons, who will remain in that tunnel through the winter months in a hibernating state until the temperatures are right for them to emerge from their cocoons.
Mason bees emerging from cocoons.
Some species of solitary bees space timing of emergence years apart, meaning one generation might emerge the following season, and others could emerge 2,7 or even 10 years later.
This species of bee, Anthophorini, spaces out the timing of emergence.
As you can imagine, this is a survival tactic as every year is very different in the weather patterns and floral growth.
Solitary bees do not make honey, but many are over ten times better at pollinating than honeybees. This is because many have thick abdominal hairs, or simply have more hair than a honeybee, and they are fast.
Look at this leafcutter bee’s belly! That’s hair covered in pollen!
I have observed the speed of native bees vs honeybees, and the native bee species are incredibly efficient and fast as they fly from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen. Trust me, when I am out there trying to snap photos of these little guys, honeybees are so much easier to shoot, because they meander and take their time from flower to flower. Many of the shots I take of native bees are blurry! I chalk up the slower pace of honeybees to having thousands of sisters to divide the tasks, so that sense of urgency isn’t as pressing on the honeybees. When you are the only bee future generations are relying on, you bee stressed!
Look how hairy bumblebees are!
So, what are bees good for, if there’s no sweet treat for us? Pollinating services performed by the many species of bees, and other pollinating species, is most important to us for many reasons, but also essential to ecosystems relying on plant resources, whether it be shelter or food. For example, tomatoes, and plants related to tomatoes need a special kind of pollination to reproduce, buzz pollination. Many bees can perform this service, but not honeybees. The best at buzz pollination is done by the bumblebee, but other solitary bees can do a fantastic job of it too.
Here’s a little info on the bumblebee. Bumblebees are social, but do not make honey, and only live in the warm months of the year. One mated queen will hibernate underground through the winter, and start her colony from scratch the following spring. When she starts her colony she looks for vacated rodent burrows or vacated birds’ nests; very resourceful.
The egg cells look like cereal, and the glossy filled pots contain nectar.
Let’s get back to why I am writing. The thing is, most of the bees on our planet are not living nestled high inside hollowed out trees or in manmade boxes. Most of our bees are living under our feet, a place where we seldom think to look. When you know this, you should concern yourself with what you are putting into that ground beneath your feet. The ground is a giant nursery of babies, and very important pollinating babies at that. We cannot relocate those babies, as we can honeybee colonies. So, doesn’t it make sense to stop the madness of pesticide use in our very small plots of residential land?
Digger bee returning to stuff an egg cell full of pollen and nectar. She’s heading into an 18″ deep tunnel, underground.
When you hear about “saving the honeybees” please raise the concern about the 19,000 other species of bees that support our planet, and furthermore the 179,000 other pollinators who support our planet. This fight isn’t solely for the honeybee; it’s for a world of interconnected pieces of life!
Pollinator assisted pollination is essential to many plants for reproduction. Plants (many of which produce flowers to invite pollinators in) clean our air, sequester CO2, keep fresh water on land, and provide food, fibers, and shelter. There are an estimated 180,000 pollinating species on our planet, making honeybees 1/180,000 important players needing recognition. Beyond the list of pollinators are all the living species relying on their pollinating services for food and other resources. Don’t get me wrong, I do love honeybees, but come on people, what about all the others?
Join the movement and remind people that honeybees do not represent all bees, and we should care about how we treat the ground.