Honeybees, Move Over

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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.

map for native bee journal

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.

IMG_3374These 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.

IMG_5513Mason 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.

IMG_0216This 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.

img_4447Look 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!

IMG_4374Look 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.

IMG_4068The 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?

img_4749Digger 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!

logo-included-posterPollinator 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.

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Mason Bee Larva!

Check out this video to spy some live mason bee larva.

Below is a picture of the inside of my observation native bee house.  You are looking at two males nestled in the top rows resting, and three individual egg cells filled with pollen and nectar, and separated by mud in the bottom rows.  This is before the eggs hatched into larva, and the video I took tonight shows the larva, which are growing more chubby every day.  The next phase will be the larva spinning a cocoon around themselves to develop into pupa and then adults, which will emerge next March.  This is so cool watching the entire process!

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Making History

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In 2017 I find myself busier than ever toiling away at raising awareness for pollinators, many of which are insects that people generally dismiss as nuisances. Everyday I rise with the sun and begin pondering ways to reach people regarding the importance of pollinators, and many of my days I don’t have the privilege of witnessing the fruits of this labor, but I press on nevertheless, in hopes of reaching even the smallest of numbers to promote positive change.  I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing people on this journey who are also tirelessly toiling away for change.

2016 marked the beginning of my involvement with, and the establishment of the Colorado Pollinator Network, and what a wonderful journey this has been! We are looking forward to establishing the first annual Colorado Pollinator Month, which will take place in June of every year.  Our goal is to create state-wide awareness around pollinators to bring about positive change for pollinator species in our state.  My team on the Education and Outreach Workgroup has been working to invite as many entities as we can to help raise awareness during the month of June, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for my team!

I am so very lucky to be working on Colorado Pollinator Month with:

Amanda Accamando (co-chairs the Education and Outreach Workgroup with me) of Hudson Gardens, Angela Jewett of Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, Rebecca Coon of CU Museum of Natural History, Jane Crayton of CSU Extension of Pueblo, Deryn Davidson of CSU Extension of Boulder, Jessica Romer of Denver Urban Gardens,  of Audubon Rockies, Greta Mae of BBBSeeds.

All the hard work we have been putting in has been supported by Public Policy and Advocacy Workgroup of the Colorado Pollinator Network.  They brought a proclamation  to make Colorado Pollinator Month official, and thus a lasting mark on our state, to Governor John Hickenlooper, and he signed it!

When my family heard this news our house erupted with celebratory cheering!  My team of awesome go-getters were overjoyed.  This is a moment I will never forget, and I will always smile when June rolls around in Colorado, because we have already begun making history for pollinators!

Now, let’s do this!  Look for #pollinateCO to see the happenings for pollinators in June, and tag some pollinator photos of your own too.

12 x18 CO Pol Month Poster

I am buzzing with excitement, and determined to keep this state beautiful.

Jessica

Colorado Pollinator Garden

2017 harvest

Fall is a time we can appreciate what pollinators have helped to bring to our tables, but also a great time to plant for pollinators, and this is the number one way to help pollinators.

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The plants you choose should be pesticide free, and most importantly, neonicitinoid free.  “Neonics” are systemic pesticides, and end up in all parts of the plant, including pollen and nectar.  And once you plant them in the ground, roughly 90% of those nasty pesticides end up in the surrounding environment they are planted in, including the water.  If the nursery you shop at is unfamiliar with this type of pesticide, and cannot guarantee their absence in the plants they sell, don’t buy the plants.  Additionally, if there is a label stuck in the plant that reads “pest resistant,” that is likely containing neonics, or some type of pesticide.

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A garden that provides food from spring to summer to fall is most helpful, which means you will need a variety of flowering plants, and this also means your yard will be a rainbow of colors for you to enjoy!

I did some research to construct a garden consisting of food for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, as well as many other pollinators in Colorado.  Additionally, I have chosen plants that would bloom at varying times to provide food for pollinators from spring to fall.  Be sure to consult with your nursery about when to begin your fall planting for each type of plant, as this may vary.

Here’s the list:

Lavender

Yarrow

Turkish Veronica

Dalmation daisy

Catmint (bees of all sizes congregate on this plant)

Hissop/Agastache (of any variety, especially the red ones)

Coneflowers

Columbines

Hummingbird trumpet mint

Chocolate flower

Smooth blue aster

Cashmere sage

Russian sage

Bluebeard

Rabbitbrush

Mountain Mahogany

Sedum

Yucca 

And here are some more with pictures for your enjoyment!

Sunflowers are always wonderful for pollinators, and later for songbirds.

Salvia 

Lupine

Bee Balm

Blanket Flower

Penstemon

White Aster

Black-eyed Susans 

As always, I thank you for joining the movement to save our bees, and in doing so, saving all of our pollinators!

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Andrena Mining Bees

Andrena are early risers, and this year I was very luck you witness the emergence of a very large aggregation of these solitary bees in Highlands Ranch!

Andrena bees are solitary bees who happily live next door to many other solitary nesters. Some bees in this family will begin their season early spring, as is the case with these mining bees. Others will begin late summer, hoping to visit many of the sunflower family plants.

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Andrena can be social or solitary, depending on the weather conditions.  They can live in large aggregations, which is like a large housing development for humans.  This seemed to be the case with this group, however they can also live in a social structure with one queen laying all the eggs, and workers collecting all the necessary resources.

To identify the nesting hole of Andrena bees, you must be very observant of the smallest of details.  The following pictures show mounds of sandy soil, with and without holes.  This is evidence of some kind of ground burrowing bee.  The mounds without holes are either finished, and full of developing bees, or the mother bee has decided to close up shop and get some rest.  They will use dirt, plant debris, petals, or any kind of small covering to cover the holes.

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It can be alarming to stumble upon the activity of a large aggregation, however, there is no cause for concern.  These bees are too busy to concern themselves with humans or other animals, so long as there is no threat.  A perceived threat would be digging into their nesting site, or grabbing a bee out of pure harassment.  Wouldn’t you sting something if you felt threatened?  I sure would, and sometimes I wish I could sting to get the “point” across…he,he.

Andrena are of the few early rising bees, and that means the few flowering plants that are also early bloomers depend on these bees for their pollinating services.  So, consider yourself pretty darn lucky when you have been chosen to host these tiny ladies on your property.  Sit back and enjoy the very busy show.

Thank you for joining the movement!

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Look at all that pollen! She’s covered in yellow dust.

Let’s Make a Plan to BEE Good Hosts

In previous posts I have gone into great detail about the ways we can bee good hosts in our own yards.  You can review by clicking here.  There are lots and lots of great bits of information inside that link!

Here’s a quick list of to dos for a good host to pollinators:

  1. PLANT lots of flowers of a wide variety, and make sure they are organic.  I love seeds because if they grow, they will likely survive the rest of the season in my Colorado soil.
  2. DIRT won’t hurt. Leave a little bare soil for native bees to use for nesting sites.
  3. WATER is for everyone! Place a watering dish with marbles, rocks, or sticks for insects to land on and safely get a drink.

Cheers to another season buzzing with pollinators!  Thank you for joining the movement!

Jess