Updated: 24th February 2021
Wild bees are vital pollinators within our eco-system. Whilst honey bees are well recognised for their role in pollination of food crops, 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. Humans have long kept bees through history, but the resurgence in beekeeping is a fairly recent phenomenon, and so you have to ask yourself this question:
"given that honey bees are often limited in location by the presence of beekeepers and where they keep their hives, which species have been pollinating the vast majority of gardens, allotments, countryside, and 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, wasps and butterflies to moths and beetles.
This does not mean that honey bees are irrelevant. Honey bees play an extremely important role. Honey bees are absolutely vital for some crops, such as almonds. In addition, a honey bee colony is a fascinating super organism. See below for a link to further information about the importance of honey bees.
But indeed what we have to accept is that, insect pollination generally 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 wonderful wild bees, especially with regard pollination.
Some studies (such as Corbet
et al 1993) state that some bumble bee 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
bumble bee queen gets warmed up as she emerges following hibernation, and
prepares to face a cool morning on this page (opens new window):
Bumble bee queen. However, the fact remains that few wild bees are around to pollinate crops early in the winter January/February months.
Some bumble bee species do not even emerge until later in the year, and it takes time for a colony to become established with workers. I have, however, seen wild honey bees active in very cold conditions when no other pollinators were to be seen.
Indeed, the authors of 'Bees In Your Backyard' comment:
"One aspect of honey bee biology that makes them particularly valuable for agriculture is that they are active primarily on the basis of temperature rather than seasonality the way other bees are. Honey bees are most active between 60 °F and 105 °F, though they can forage at temperatures as low as 55 °F. This characteristic makes them valuable pollinators of crops that bloom before many native bees are active. For example, almond trees in California will flower in February, earlier than most native bees typically emerge, but honey bees will effectively pollinate the almond trees as long as the temperature is warm enough. The ability of honey bees to forage at such a large range of temperatures means that they are active somewhere in North America during every month of the year".
Quite simply, all pollinators have their role to play, and that includes all bee species as well as a myriad other pollinators.
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