by Rebecca Hansen
Bees are one of our agricultural industry’s most important resources and indeed one of our planet’s most important resources, and the survival of the human race is in the hands of the pollinators. The pollinator issue is a hot topic these days, but, there is more to pollinating a crop than meets the eye. There is great complexity in the relationship between the bees and the plants in an agricultural setting and a lot to learn when it comes to honey bees vs native bees. The needs of the plant species and the pollinators must match up pretty closely. When it is all working together everybody benefits! The farmer has successful crop yields and the bees are happy, healthy and well fed. The flower structures, pollination method, pollen size and shape, nectar content are just some of the plant qualifications that a bee species looks for when ‘shopping’ for food and nectar.
Some bees such as the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) are polylectic which means that they will be able to find good food sources from many different plant species. That is why a wildflower mix of several species is really great for the Honey Bee, as the time when nectar and pollen sources are available is lengthened. Other bees are oligolectic, like the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata), that is very picky about the plant species that it chooses for its nourishment. In fact, these bees primarily like alfalfa. The Honey Bee has specialized pockets on its hind legs where it stores the pollen which it then takes back to the nest for food storage. The Leafcutter Bee has special hairs on its front where it collects the pollen that is used and stored in the nest where the eggs are laid. The honey bee is a social bee in that it lives in colonies with males and females with differentiated duties. This allows for the nests to be collected and moved to various crop locations. The leafcutter bee is a solitary bee in that, after mating, all females, individually, collect pollen and nectar and build their own nest for eggs and protection. But because they prefer to build their nests in close proximity to other leafcutter bees, they can be lured to man-made nests and can also be transported to other crop locations.
Both of these bee species are so different from each other but both are commercially used to pollinate different crops for just that reason. They don’t compete with each other for the resources available. Take a bit of time to learn more about the pollinators in your pollinator gardens and look at the flowers that they most frequently go to for food. Find out their ‘favorites’ so you can plant more of those. All l those hardworking critters are “‘busy as bees” helping to ‘save the human race’ by making food and agriculture products for you and me.
Watch a movie on setting up a new Honey Beehive:
Great learning video about the lifecycle of bees:
Watch a Leafcutter Bee making a brood cell:
Making a Leafcutting bee house:
leafcutter bee photo: http://www.ars.usda.gov/images/docs/14415_14609/ALCB1.gif