by Naomi Jackson, Becketwood Member
Since Minnesota now has a state native bee, the rusty patched bumble bee, this seems a good time to introduce you to the rest of Minnesota’s native bees. Many native bees, including the rusty patched bumble bee, are endangered owing to habitat loss, pesticide use, and disease. The more you know about native bees, the more likely you are to be able to help save them.
There are at least 4,200 species of native bee in North America, many of which can be found in Minnesota. They come in many sizes, colors, and degrees of fuzziness.
Honeybees aren’t native. They arrived with European settlers.
Native bees won’t sting you--except for bumble bees if you annoy them.
Yellow jackets (“ground bees”) aren’t bees. They are wasps. They sting to protect their nests. Or just because they feel like it.
Wasps are carnivores. Mainly they eat insects, but I watched one scrape up a bit of leftover salmon, roll it into a ball, and fly off to its nest.
Bees are herbivores. Pollen and nectar provide protein and carbs, although they wouldn't say “no” to a nice rotting pear or some spilled maraschino cherry juice.
Most native bees are solitary. They may nest in an underground tunnel, a pithy plant stem, an old log or a crack in a rock. We once had a leaf-cutter bee nest in a decaying board in our picnic table.
Many native bees are oligolectic, meaning they rely on one species of plant for pollen and nectar. Because Becketwood has so many violets, we are almost certainly home to the tiny violet miner bee.
Native bees are better at pollination than honey bees. Did you know that honey bees can’t pollinate tomatoes? Bumble bees can, and it’s fun to watch.
Bumble bees are the only native species that make honey. They make only enough to feed their young, so don’t get your hopes up.
Some bee species look like flies. Some fly species look like bees. Flies have two wings; bees have four. Good luck getting them to hold still long enough to count the wings.
At Becketwood, we have an abundance of nesting habitat and native flowering plants, so keep your eyes open, particularly in the member gardens. We may have anywhere from several dozen to several hundred native bee species on our grounds. All we need is someone to count them.