A day of good bee hunting

I enjoyed hosting today on the Life-Friendly Garden Tour. Nice people stopped by and let me show off my bees. If you’re interested at all in bees, you know about honeybees going missing. If you want to help honeybees, the best way is to keep a hive. It’s not hard, so they say, and it means more bees in your neighbor’s yard. But I want to support the native bees, and that’s even easier.

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Don’t use chemicals (the theme of the Tour!).

Grow flowers (preferably native flowers).

Avoid disturbing the ground (and leave some bare).

The honeybees probably came from a beekeeper’s hive within a few miles of my house. (Thank you, unknown beekeeper!) I think the bumblebees nest in the holes in the walls and/or clumps of grass.

Most native bees nest in the ground. The females dig a tunnel into the earth, gather balls of nectar and pollen, and lay an egg on the ball. It’s like what honeybees do in the brood comb of a hive, but one by one by one.

Squash bees only emerge during a few weeks of summer. They specialize in squash, melon, and cucumber flowers. Like the mystery plant. The females sleep in their nests in the ground. The males look for a squash blossom that’s about to close and sleep in there. I still haven’t seen any actual squash bees in the flowers, but a beautiful green Agapostemon or two showed up to get covered in squash pollen deep inside. Like honeybees and bumblebees, Agapostemon are generalists, and they show up all summer and fall.

Woolcarders get their name from the way the females take the soft part of fuzzy leaves to line their nests. The males patrol patches of flowers that the females like, such as the clump of catmint. They chase other bees away, even head-butting the bees they don’t like. The females they do like get pounced on.

The carpenter bees, big and small, drill holes in wood or thick stems. The big ones look like huge bumblebees, but their butts are shiny, not fuzzy. The little ones are tiny and so dark green  they look black. There’s no shortage of trees and woodpiles they might be nesting in, but I have yet to find where they’re coming from.

The two littlest bees are sweat bees, a broad group of tiny bees that nest in the ground. The one on the goldenrod is Halictus ligatus, which I sometimes call “saddlebag bees” because when they get a fat load of pollen, their legs stick out like saddlebags. The other one is a Lasioglossum. All I know for sure is that I always guess wrong, but the experts at Bug Guide straighten me out.

All together, I saw eight species of bees today: honeybees, bumblebees, Agapostemon, woolcarders, two kinds of carpenter bees, and two kinds of sweat bees. Hope you enjoyed them!

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About Pam Phillips

I am a writer and gardener. I never cease to be amazed by the wonder and beauty of bees.
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