Mainstream calls to “Save the Bees!” have been prevalent in the United States for a few years now, but do we know which bees we’re trying to save?
Most assume that honeybees are the most endangered species of bee, and with good reason — thousands of dollars have been funneled into campaigns focusing on how beneficial honeybees are as pollinators. But it turns out our unsung heroes are solitary bees — and they’re in more danger than many may realize.
What is a solitary bee?
Did you know there are over 4,000 species of bees around the world? Solitary bees make up most of these species. Solitary bees don’t live in hives, don’t produce honey, and don’t have a queen. These bees prefer to nest in a variety of habitats, including:
- In wood
- In tall grasses
- Wildflower meadows
Some solitary bees will even find their home in abandoned snail shells!
Are solitary bees dangerous?
For the most part, solitary bees have no beef with people. Because they have no queen or hive to protect, many male solitary bees don’t even have the ability to sting. Female bees will only sting if stepped on or otherwise handled roughly.
Benefits of Solitary Bees
The importance of solitary bees cannot be overstated. Although many people don’t know much about them, solitary bee species affect one of the most vital aspects of human life — our food.
Solitary Bees Are the Best Crop Pollinators
A 2014 study of 41 different crop systems worldwide found that “wild pollinators improved pollination efficiency, increasing fruit set by twice that facilitated by honeybees.” Honeybees fall into a category of bees known as ‘general pollinators’ — which means they can pollinate a wide variety of plants.
But many solitary bees have developed pollen specialties that make them more effective than honeybees in pollinating certain kinds of plants. In fact, many solitary bee species evolved to improve the quality or crop yield of common fruits and vegetables such as:
- And more
Although we thrive with the support of wild bees, humanity’s constant tampering with the natural world threatens the survival of many of these bee species.
Why are wild bees in decline?
Dr. Gwen Pearson, Outreach Coordinator for the Purdue Department of Entomology, fears the worst. “Incredible losses in native bee diversity are already happening. 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species disappeared from their historic ranges in the last 100 years. Four of our bumblebee species declined 96 percent in the last 20 years, and three species are believed to already be extinct.”
Shrinking habitats, widespread agriculture practices, parasites, poor nutrition, and pesticides are some of the biggest contributing factors to the decline of wild and solitary bees.
Modern society leaves very little space for preserved wild areas. With every development carved out of the woods and every field cleared for our crops, thousands of bees lose their homes and aren’t able to relocate over the course of their short lives.
Many of us don’t pay too much attention to insects around us, but bees don’t just show up in the spring to pollinate flowers, only to disappear. Wild bees require plants and flowers as their main source of nutrients. Some species of solitary bees have even evolved to survive off the pollen and nectar from one specific plant — when that plant is removed from their habitat, they starve.
This problem is tied to the increased use of monoculture planting (when only one species of plant or crop is grown in a field at a time) in the United States. In fact, one study conducted between 2008 and 2013 found that wild bee populations declined across nearly a quarter of the United States as a result of intense agricultural use.
If research teaches us anything, it’s that — although the honey bee has gotten the lion’s share of attention — the other thousands of bee species are significantly more at risk of becoming extinct.
How You Can Help Solitary Bees
How can you help the bees?
- Grow seasonal plants and flowers in a wildflower garden
- Leave exposed areas of soil for mining bees
- Build or buy a beehouse
Take the pledge with Natura Pest Control to protect wild bees and improve natural conditions. Learn more about our Bee Careful initiative, and feel free to contact our team online or by phone at (360) 506-6071 to learn how we can help you solve your pest problems and protect solitary bees and other wild pollinators.