Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Pollinators give us much to 'bee' thankful for

Going Nature’s Way

 


In recent years we have been hearing a lot about the crisis facing pollinators – those insects which are critical for the production of a third of our food items - as diverse as cranberries, alfalfa seed, blueberries, apples, melons, tomatoes, wild flowers, almonds and more. Most of these are pollinated by non-native honeybees, which were introduced to this country in the 1600s. Overall, insect pollinators contribute a value of around $29 billion to our agricultural industry with about 15 percent coming from native bees. It also is important to remember that they are also pollinating wild plants, the food source for birds and other wildlife

We have been encouraged to plant flowers that attract and provide nectar or protein rich pollen for these insects. There are other insects that go from flower to flower, aiding pollination but bees are by and large the most important. This week I have been drawn to the sound of buzzing around the flowers on and near our deck, especially among the pink Azalea flowers and the Calibrochoa in the hanging pots.

We have 16 pots, including five that are hanging and three window boxes filled with a variety of flowers. Yesterday, when the wind wasn’t blowing a buzzing sound caused me to look closely at the action around the Azalea flowers. I saw a bee that I would call bumblebee, but it was big and buzzed whenever it moved. This one had a black abdomen and fuzzy yellow thorax with a black dot in the middle. I wasn’t worried about getting too close, in order to see it better, because bumblebees and others bees are not aggressive, unless threatened. Most stings come from hornets or wasps.

I called Mike to come and look at it and then we went inside and did a search on the computer and discovered that what we were seeing was a carpenter bee, the largest bee in America. We learned that the males of this species are sometimes called “teddy bears” because of their soft, fuzzy, but burly appearance. This species doesn’t have a hive to protect, since they are not social. Instead they build individual nests in soft wood or the pithy stems of some plants. The nest usually is a series of tunnels a half inch in diameter and six to 10 inches deep. There may be several brood chambers in a tunnel. When building the nest carpenter bees may buzz like saws (hence their name), but they do not eat the wood.

The bees I was watching were out foraging, feeding on nectar, with the females collecting pollen for their offspring. The pollen is carried on their legs in specialized “baskets’ called corbiculae which is made up of hairs that together form a concave shape. Other wild female bees have specialized leg hairs called scopae that are long or sticky.

When the carpenter bees have a sufficient ball of pollen in a cell, the female lays an egg on it, and seals the chamber with woodchips. Over a period of three months the eggs develop from larva to adult. They can then overwinter as adults, often in old tunnels. There is only one generation a year.

The threats faced by all bees and other pollinating insects includes disease, pests such as mites, pesticides, herbicides, climate change and loss of habitat due to both agriculture and urban development. Forgoing the use of chemicals around our flowers is one important way to protect these critical contributors to our existence. When you buy flowers from garden centers to decorate your patios or decks, be sure to ask whether they have been treated with neonicotinoids; chemicals that cause neurological damage to insects, especially bees.

Whenever possible plant native species of shrubs and flowers. A short list contains plums and cherries, wild roses, bee balm (monarda) aster, sunflowers and blazing star.

Take time this summer to really look at and appreciate these buzzing, beautiful creatures that give us so much to be thankful for.

 

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