Your Garden is Abuzz... With What?
Summer is the season when bees of all sorts are foraging for pollen and nectar. They are working full throttle, taking advantage of the profusion of blossoming and blooming flowers everywhere.
Honeybees are by far the most well-known bees, but they are non-native bees in North America and relative newcomers. Early European colonists brought them here in the 1600s.
This 3:01-minute video by Truechuser shows the heavy collection of pollen on this stunning metallic Halictid sweat bee that is gathering pollen on a Gerbera flower.
In comparison, approximately 4,000 species of native bees already called North America home when the honeybee arrived. In Texas alone, there are several hundred species. Native bees are incredibly important pollinators in our environment. Their hairy bodies make them totally effective pollinators.
There are many differences, but some of the most obvious ones are: tens of thousands of honeybees live in one structured colony whereas native bees live in smaller colonies or are independent, with 90% or more being solitary, living alone. Solitary mother bees rarely ever see their offspring hatch.
Native sweat bees and bumblebees live in small colonies. Sweat bees can be tiny, and some of them are the most beautiful bees you will ever see, with a wide range of colors. They tend to nest in the ground with chambers interconnected by tunnels, similar to bumblebees. Their colonies have a queen with 100-200 of her offspring. Normally only the fertilized females survive winter. Believe it or not, they are true to their name—they really do collect sweat and feed it to their larvae. There is even a tropical sweat bee that drinks tears.
This 2:33-minute video gives a great insight into how the Halictus sweat bee moves and grooms herself. It's fascinating to see how peaceful this cute little bee is on a human hand.
In contrast, the largest bee in the garden is probably a bumblebee, especially if it has a persistent buzz. This bee has a specialty that other bees don’t have: buzz pollination. A bumblebee clings to a flower and uses its weight and its buzz to turn the flower to face downwards. Then the buzz acts as a vibrational tool to shake pollen out of the depths of the flower and onto the bee’s body, getting trapped in the hairs. She then carries the pollen from flower to flower as she forages.
Then there is the extremely resourceful leafcutter bee, considered by many to be like an architect. She carves perfect round holes into the leaves of some garden plants so she can use the cut-outs to line her nest in cavities and hollow stems. The female lays eggs in the tube, one per chamber. Walls made of plant material separate the eggs. She seals the chamber with chewed leaf material, then dies. The new generation of mature bees emerge from these chambers in the spring.
If you have any of these three native bees in your garden, you are blessed and should do whatever you can to make their lives a little easier. They are all vital to our ecosystem. What can you do, you ask? Make sure there are pollen and nectar-rich native plants blooming in your garden, so these bees have a plentiful food source nearby. Help them find a place to nest by leaving deadwood, fallen leaves and the lower parts of pruned stems in place. It is also important that there is some bare ground so they can tunnel if they choose to. And last but by no means least, make sure there is some clean and clear water available even if it is just a bowl with stones in it on a tabletop. Bees get thirsty, especially in the summer heat.
If you follow some of these suggestions it will almost ensure that your garden will be abuzz with the joyful sounds of various native bee species as they enrich your world with their presence.
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