ShadyGardens Blog

May 17, 2014

Bumble Bees are in Trouble Too!

Filed under: bumble bees, decline, endangered, honeybees, native, pollinators — shadygardens @ 7:11 pm
We often hear about the decline of the honeybee due to overuse of pesticides, herbicides, loss of habitat, and Colony Collapse Disorder (a general term used to express the decline of the honeybee population due to bees leaving the hive to die for reasons we do not know.) But did you know our native bumblebees are in trouble too? Honeybees are not the only pollinator in trouble. Our native bumblebees have faced a sharp decline all across the United States. The loss of bumblebees would severely affect our nation’s ecosystem, not to mention our farming system and our food supply.




Bumblebees love our Native Buttonbush,
Cephalanthus occidentalis

As a child I would sit on the back door step and watch bumblebees for an hour or more. The beautiful buzzing little bees just fascinated me. I think the reason there were so many bees there is because it was the only spot in the yard where lots of clover and other wildflowers grew. The bees loved it, and so did I. I enjoyed watching them, but I did not know then how important they are.



Bumblebees are more important to our environment than the non-native honeybees. Bumblebees pollinate native plants and wildflowers that produce seeds for birds and other wildlife. Bumblebees are the most important pollinators for many of the crops we depend on like blueberries and tomatoes. I just learned that farmers actually depend on bumblebees to pollinate crops grown in a greenhouse like peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes. Wow! That is fascinating.

According to the Xerces Society, several species of the North American Bumblebee are on the verge of extinction. The main cause of bumblebee decline is the overuse of pesticides which kill not only the bad insects but also pollinators like the bumblebee.

You might be thinking, “Yes, but what can I do about it?”

Well, first of all, don’t use pesticides. Let nature take its course. If you don’t spray pesticides on your grass, flowering plants, and shrubs, birds and good bugs like Lady Bugs will take care of the problem naturally.

Secondly, plant flowers. Any kind of flowers. Bumblebees are not picky–they will visit any and every flower available to them. So just plant what you like. Try to have flowers available for them in every season. Here in the mild climate of Georgia, bumblebees are out from late winter to late fall. I’ve even seen them buzzing around on a warm day in January when our Mahonia was in full bloom.

There might not be much you can do about some some problems occurring in our environment, but this is one area where your actions can definitely make an impact.

If you are interested in trying to identify which kind of bumblebee you are seeing in your garden, take a look at BumbleBee.Org.

April 11, 2014

Native Bees ID Chart

Filed under: bees, chart, description, ID, identification, native, plants, pollination, pollinators — shadygardens @ 1:43 pm

Identifying the bees on the poster “Join the Conversation about Native Bees”
Written by Stephen Buchmann, Ph.D., Interim NAPPC Coordinator, Pollinator Partnership

  1. Macropis nuda. There’s oil in some flowers. Flowers including Spotted       Loosestrife (Lysimachia spp.) produce energy rich and nutritious floral oils which some female bees (Macropis nuda) collect using modified leg hairs like “oil squeegees” to enrich their brood provisions. This happens in some tropical bees (especially the genus Centris) but in the northeastern USA, only in these interesting little Macropis oil bees.
  2. Agapostemon texanus. US sweat bee (a male Agapostemon texanus) is especially colorful. Males of this species have a shiny green/brassy head and thorax but a wildly contrasting black and yellow-banded abdomen. Look for these bees on sunflowers and other common plants in the late spring and summer. 
  3. Peponapis pruinosa. Squash and gourd bees (like our Peponapis pruinosa) are common bees across much of the United States. They are specialist pollinators preferring the pollen and nectar of squashes, gourds and pumpkin flowers. The genus Peponapis is a colorful bee about the size of a honey bee. They are solitary; each female constructs her own nest with no help from kin, and nest a foot or more underground, usually in or near patches of their favorite cucurbits. 
  4. Bombus impatiens. The Impatient Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) is the preferred bumble bee of commerce. Since it can buzz pollinate, while honey bees never do, it is reared in large numbers and its colonies flown to distance localities, greenhouses needing pollinators. Since it does not naturally occur west of the Mississippi, efforts are underway to only allow it to be used in the eastern states as a managed pollinator. Its colors are muted, the yellow hair bands are often more white than a bright yellow. Compare with Morrison’s bumble bee of the western states.
  5. Osmia lignaria. The Blue Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria) is a member of the leafcutter and mason bee family (Megachilidae). Its distribution includes the Pacific Northwest USA where it is a common visitor to fruit trees in gardens and yards. This bee is often first noticed as females searching for just the right size beetle or nail hole in which to nest and raise their brood. Blue orchard bees are specialists on trees in the rose family and superb pollinator of sweet cherries and other orchard crops. They are currently being tested as pollinators of almonds in California. This bee can be very easily provided for by drilling 7-8 mm diameter holes 5 inches deep into scrap lumber. These “bee condos” can be attached to a garden shed, fence or tree. Nesting females will take up residence and you will be rewarded with bountiful fruit harvests. 
  6. Hylaeus sp. Yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus spp.) usually go unnoticed by most gardeners and hikers. These slender black/brown bees are relatively hairless and most think they are wasps. Under a microscope, they are distinctive with a bright yellow face. The only bees natives to Hawaii are a group of these Hylaeus. Due to habitat fragmentation and loss in the Hawaiian Islands, several of these rare native bees have gone extinct, while others are declining. Hyleaus nests in hollow stems. Unlike most bees, Hylaeus carries its pollen and nectar back to the nest internally, inside the crop, or honey stomach.
  7. Habropoda laboriosa. The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa) is a digger bee (anthophorid in the family Apidae) from southeastern states including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. This handsome large gray bee is an efficient pollinator of southern rabbit eye blueberries. This is one of the bees, unlike honey bees, which uses sonication, produced by rapid flight muscle contractions, to eject pollen grains from the blueberry flowers.
  8. Xylocopa varipuncta. Males of the Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) are common in the southwestern states. These bees have striking colors, a large golden amber body with long hairs and brilliant green eyes. During the spring, males leave the nest galleries in which they emerged, inside a large log or tree branch and go courting. They establish hovering territories in a non-flowering shrub or tree and release a pheromone, a rose-scented blend of volatiles from within massive thoracic glands. Passing females decide which male to mate with based up his particular bee “cologne.”
  9. Bombus morrisoni. Morisson’s bumble bee (Bombus morrisoni) is one of the most colorful bumble bees found in western and southwestern states. It’s mostly yellow fuzzy body attracts our attention as it visits diverse flowers in gardens and native wildflower areas. This bee is one of several that turns its body into a living tuning fork on plants with pored anthers, like tomatoes or deadly nightshades (Solanum spp.). Other species are managed for greenhouse pollination of tomatoes which require this form of buzz pollination. 
  10. Perdita minima. The smallest bee in the United States is only 2.0 mm (about 1/16th of an inch) long. These small amber colored bees (Perdita minima) in the andrenid family nest in the soil and visit the small white flowers of mat-forming Euphorbiaceae that come up in sidewalk cracks and along dirt roadways in the southwestern states.
  11. Xylocopa virginica. Many gardeners mistake the Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) for a large bumble bee. Although both bees are large and colorful, they are only distantly related, both belonging to the large family Apidae. Carpenter bees collect pollen and nectar from a wide variety of plants, thus they are known as generalist feeders. Large carpenter bees construct their nests inside dead but sound wood. Sawdust scrapings are glued together to form the first “particle board” separating individual brood cells within their long galleries. In the east, X. varpipuncta is a minor structural timber pest, often constructing its galleries in sheds, outdoor beams or fence posts. On the bright side, these bees are amazing to watch at flowers or at their nests, and it takes decades of residency before there is any serious structural damage to support beams. The females reuse the same nesting tunnels year after year. 
  12. Bombus vosnessenskii. The Yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnessenskii) is a handsome bumble bee mostly black with a yellow face and prothorax and narrow yellow abdominal band. It occurs in the western states of California, into Nevada, Washington, Oregon and into British Columbia. It does not seem to have been affected, in decline, like the formerly widespread Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis)13. Bombus affinis. The Rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) is a bee that was formerly common across large areas of the United States from the Midwestern states to the northeast. It started to become rare in its former ranges after 1997. The reason(s) for its demise are not entirely settled but may include pathogen spillover from European parasites, contamination in the greenhouse bumble bee rearing industry. 
  13. Bombus affinis. The Rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) is a bee that was formerly common across large areas of the United States from the Midwestern states to the northeast. It started to become rare in its former ranges after 1997. The reason(s) for its demise are not entirely settled but may include pathogen spillover from European parasites, contamination in the greenhouse bumble bee rearing industry
  14. Megachile sp. Leafcutter bees like this handsome Megachile sp. are members of a very diverse family, the Megachilidae, which includes the leafcutter, resin and mason bees. Females of many of these bees get their name from the pieces of leaves they collect. Have you seen neat circles clipped from the edges of rose bushes or other plants? These leaf pieces are used to line the brood cells; literally the bees are usurping the chemical defenses, against microbes, found in the leaves. Please tolerate some non-harmful cosmetic damage that the females cause and you’ll be rewarded with bountiful harvests in your home garden or orchard.
  15. Andrena cornelli. Miner bees, the family Andrenidae, are represented by the huge genus Andrena, with over 2,000 described species. Females of Andrena cornelli are common spring visitors to the large pink flowers of eastern Azalea (Rhododendron canescens). The cobwebby pollen of these flowers are carried away in strings as brood food by the Andrena females.
  16. Anthophora centriformis. Digger bees, or anthophorids like this Anthophora centriformis are members of the large family Apidae. Anthophora species are large, strikingly colored fast-flying bees that visit tubular flowers like Penstemon (“beardstongue”) in gardens and natural areas. Most digger bees nest in the ground and are solitary, living out their lives without any help, like solitary wasps. 
  17. Nomada sp. The Wandering Cuckoo Bee (Nomada sp.) is a type of digger bee (family Apidae) which does not collect pollen to feed its brood. These colorful and nearly hairless bees are cleptoparasites, or cuckoos in the nest of other bees. Like cowbirds, a female cuckoo bee sneaks her own egg in the nest while the host female is away. Once hatched, the cuckoo bee kills the host egg or larva and consumes the pollen and nectar provisions left by the host female. 
  18. Augochorella pomoniella. Sweat bees like this beautiful metallic green Augochorella pomoniella are members of the large and diverse “sweat bee” family, the Halictidae. This southwestern species is a common resident of Arizona and adjoining states. These bees have sparse hairs and their integument is a shiny metallic green.

The above information was borrowed from The Pollinator Partnership.

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