You probably know a little about honeybees, but very few people know much about our native or wild bees, even many scientists. There are 4000 native species of native bees in the U.S. Some native bees, like the Rusty Patch Bumblebee, one of several Bumblebee species found in Illinois, are experiencing severe declines just like other wildlife.
A Few Benefits of Native Bees
Native Bees forage on nectar and pollen from mostly flowers, including flowers found on vegetables, fruits, and herbs. In the process of collecting nectar and pollen, they pollinate many plants. Bees collect pollent and nectar to feed themselves and their larvae. See photo below.
Nutritious clumps of bee bread (mixture of pollen and nectar, plus other bee enzymes), pollen and a carpenter bee larva found on my deck. These fell from carpenter bee nest overhead.
There are a large quantity and variety of native or wild bee species, over 500 species in Illinois alone, pollinating a large number and variety of plants. They do so in a broad range of conditions because they are adapted to our local environment.
Most native bees have hairy bodies, allowing them to carry more pollen. Some native bee vibrate the pollen loose from flowers in a process called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination is required by many plants, including crops in the Potato family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes) and some native plants.
Some native bees are specialist because they are picky about the pollen they collect and only visit certain plant species, while other specialists require certain habitats. Without each other, both would decline greatly. Studies indicate these declines in turn impact other plant species and wildlife, since nature is so interconnected.
Helping Native Bees
There are three simple things we can do in our landscapes to help bees : provide habitat (food, shelter, nesting sites, and clean water), reduce pesticide use and become a Citizen Scientist. Most native bees are solitary, meaning they don’t nest in colonies, with a few exceptions including native Bumblebees. Although some people are allergic to bee stings, most stings come from Yellow Jackets,which are wasps not bees. Wasps are also beneficial, and not all wasps are aggressive, but this is a topic for another time.
Habitat: Food (nectar and pollen) – Provide a variety of flowering plants in drifts from early spring through late fall, including plants for specialist bees. Here is a list of native plants, which will not only provide food for bees, but other wildlife and are an important part of our ecosystems.
Ladybird Johnson Pollinator Plants for Midwest (narrow your search further by selecting items on the Left Hand Side)
Even lawn weeds such as Dandelions, Dutch White Clover, Creeping Charlie, Violets are beneficial to bees.
Habitat: Shelter and Nesting Sites – You can provide nesting areas, plus create or purchase commercial nests for bees. Artificial nests should be maintained to prevent the spread of disease. The links below give some maintenance tips.
For ground nesting bees leave areas of bare (not mulched), undisturbed soil in your landscape.
For twig, wood or cavity nesting bees:
Leave some dried stems, especially hollow ones, up throughout the year. Do not cut back or chop every stem during spring cleanup. Also leave some snags (dead trees), logs and wood piles in strategic places.
- Build a bee block
Build a bee bundle
Build a bumble bee nest
Old dried stem with bee and other insect holes. Sweat bee nesting in bare soil.
Tips for reducing pesticide use by Becoming a Monarch, Bee and Wildlife Champion
Become a Citizen Scientist for our native bees. By collecting data, you are helping entomologists learn more, while learning and having fun yourself.
Denise Sandoval firstname.lastname@example.org , Conservation@Home assistant