More Buzz About Bees

Personally, I'm buzzing with irritation tonight at the park manager in Pohick Bay, Virginia, who has put out a flier for campers here with instructions on how to "re-purpose" water bottles by making them into bee traps. Can you believe it? And then waiting till they are full of bees and throwing them away. Egads!! Oh yes, he will be hearing from me (Sue Dingwell, your roving blog reporter) tomorrow. And guess what? I will be directing him here to our very own blog, where by incredible good fortune, Peg Lindsay has come to my assistance - read on!

Peg says in a report to her HOA:
I was at a meeting and one of the attendees said that our very lives and the survival of our species depend on preserving native plants and native plant ecosystems.  I thought he was a little over the top – one of those wild-eyed, proselytizing environmentalists.  Now, I’m not so sure.

Last May I attended the annual Florida Native Plant Society Conference. Two of the speakers presented topics about native bees.  Both speakers were from different universities and engaged in very different types of research on native bees.  And although off-topic, as the European Honey Bee is not native, both speakers said that unless scientists discover the cause of “colony collapse disorder”, that the European Honey Bee is doomed.  Both speakers said that the cause is not one single agent but an unknown combination of agents (e.g. pathogens, nutrition, stress, pesticides) which causes the colony to collapse.

I had first heard about colony collapse disorder on the TV program “60 Minutes.”  They interviewed principals from a major bee-keeping agri-business who said the honey bees are disappearing from his hives from an unknown cause.  This may drive up the price of honey, but if all the European Honey Bees die off, what will pollinate our crops?  Our food supply depends on pollination.  For some crops, farmers are now being encouraged to plant a hedgerow of wildflowers around their fields to encourage native bees and other pollinators to visit.

One of the speakers at the Florida Native Plant Society Conference, Steve Buchanan, co-authored a publication “Bee Basics, An Introduction to Our Native Bees.” This is a free booklet co-published by the USDA, the US Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership.  It’s a short, easy read. (Type the title into Google and it will take you to PDF) I learned some bee facts.  There are over 4,000 species of native bees in North America and over 600 species of native bees in Florida.

Click to read about this sleeping bee

Some of the bee behaviors described in this booklet sounded bizarre.  Like the fact that bees are more active in the mornings and sometimes sleep the afternoons away, tucked inside a flower.  So I checked out the bees in my wildflower garden and sure enough, there were bees “sleeping” in my flowers!
While I was looking for sleeping bees, I spied a dragonfly munching on a bee.  Bad for the bee, good for the dragonfly.  Dragonflies are amazing insecting-eating machines and consume large quantities of mosquitos.  And everyone knows dragonflies are one of the favorite snacks of swallowtail kites.  I am happy that my little garden contributes to snacks for the kites. 

But back to the bee story - not every bee can pollinate every flower.  Flower sizes vary, and so do the head sizes and tongue lengths of the different species of bees.  Blueberries, for example, have tiny flowers, and the head of the honey bee is too large to fit. 
Vaccinium arboreum
Paul Rebman

Shiny Blueberry
Vaccinium myrsinites
Shirley Denton
Blueberries are pollinated by blueberry bees.  In Florida, we have 3 species of wild blueberries plus the closely-related deerberry and sparkleberry, all pollinated by the blueberry bee, Habropoda laboriosa.  These wild bees also pollinate the Florida blueberry crops

The honey bee does poorly when compared with native bees in pollinating food crops derived from native, north-American plants, including pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries and cranberries.  The honey bee cannot pollinate eggplant or tomato flowers – these crops also require other pollinators. 

Like our migratory songbirds, bee populations are being decimated by habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as from direct effects of pesticides.  A program to control the spruce worm in our northern forests wiped out native bees from the forests.  Blueberry farmers in Canada could not produce blueberries although their plants were healthy.  These farmers initiated litigation that led eventually to Canadian government restrictions on the use of pesticides.  The blueberry bee population rebounded.  In Guelph, Ontario, Canada the citizens created the first-ever Pollinator Park inspired, in part, by their experience with the blueberry pollination disaster.

Rather than bore you with more bee facts, you can read up for yourself on-line (see the link, below)    And be the first in YOUR neighborhood to have a bee house in their garden!

For more information:
Bee Basics, An Introduction to Our Native Bees”, Moissett and Buchmann, 2010, also available on-line at
The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996


Elizabeth said…
Fascinating article! I love to see bees come to my yard. I'm originally from the Midwest (farming country), and bee hives along the fields are a common sight. Many of us don't realize how much we depend on bees for plentiful harvests of some types of fruits and vegetables.
Anonymous said…
Great blog! Check out this beekeeping article featuring the Beekeeping Association of South West Florida!
FNPS said…
Very good introduction to the brochure and the problem. I am reading the booklet next. I love to see native bees in my yard.

Popular posts from this blog

Wednesday's Wildflower:Spanish Needle

Australian Pine: One of Florida's Least Wanted

Florida Native Plant Society Position on Monarchs and Milkweeds