Wild bees are vital pollinators within our eco system. Whilst honey bees are well recognised for this role, the contribution of their wild cousins is often unrecognised, although this is changing, if rather slowly!
It's worth remembering that there are relatively few wild honey bee colonies left. The resurgence in beekeeping is a fairly recent phenomenon, and so you have to ask yourself this question:
"given that honey bees are generally limited in location by the presence of beekeepers and where they keep their hives, which species have been pollinating the vast majority of gardens, countryside, public planting schemes all these years?"
The answer of course has to be wild bees, along with a zillion other unsung pollinating heroes from flies to moths and beetles.
So, here are a few snippets of information about our amazing wild bees, especially with regard pollination.
- Not all bees are able to ‘buzz pollinate’ which involves releasing pollen by shaking it from the anthers in flowers. Bumblebees manage this by placing their thorax close to the anthers and vibrating their flight muscles, thus shaking the pollen from the anthers. They are therefore excellent pollinators of tomatoes and other fruits, and pollination by bumblebes results in more abundant crops (the Dutch have been using bumblebees commercially for pollination since the 1980s).
- Some flowers must be ‘tripped’ in order for pollination to occur. This is the case with Alfalfa, which has two petals which hold the stamen which in turn holds the pollen-bearing anthers. Solitary bees - especially from the megachilidae family, perform this task particularly well, and have been found to be excellent pollinators of alfalfa.
- Different bee species have differing body shpes, weights and tongue lengths. Basically, some are better adapted for pollinating certain plants than other species. For this reason, all of our bee species (and other pollinators!) are important.
- Some bees pollinate faster than others! Under similar conditions, bumblebees reportedly pollinate more flowers per bee than honey bees (from: Bumblebees Behaviour and Ecology; Prof. Dave Goulson; citing Poulson 1973; Free 1993).
- Some wild bees are super-efficient pollinators! A study by Bosch and Kemp, 2001 showed that only 250 female Osmia lignaria (blue orchard bees) are required to pollinate an acre of apples, yet this would usually have needed the service of one to two honey bee hives, with 15,000 to 20,000 workers in each!
- Some studies (such as Corbet et al 1993) state that some bumblebee species especially, are quite tough little creatures, and are able to pollinate during adverse weather conditions, such as cold weather. Indeed, you can learn about how the bumblebee queen gets warmed up as she emerges following hibernation, and prepares to face a cool morning on this page (opens new window):
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This page provides you with links to more information.
Learn more about why all bees are such important pollinators.
A great way to help bees is to provide lots of great bee plants. Whether you have a small or large space, or even clay soil, shade or dry conditions, there are plants for bees!