Are Important Pollinators
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
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.
Indeed, insect pollination
is vital for many crops, and yet, with the a few exceptions, we hardly
know which species is best suited to pollinate which plant or food crop!
So, here are a few snippets of information about our amazing wild bees, especially with regard pollination.
The Importance Of Wild Bees For 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).
The southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda laboriosa) of the southeastern United States is another example of a bee that is able to buzz pollinate. This species forages primarily on blueberries. The southeastern blueberry bee attaches herself to the blueberry flower and vibrates her flight muscles very rapidly, which releases pollen from the flower which is then collected by the bee. Of course, some of the pollen shaken from the flower clings to the hairy body of the bee, and is transferred from one flower to another, causing pollination to occur.
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):
Learn more. Go from Wild Bees to.....
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!
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