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What Kind of Bee Is That?

Written collaboratively by: The People’s Garden Team

Today, Sam Droege with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) led a workshop on The Native Bees in Your Garden at The People’s Garden at USDA Headquarters. Did you know there are about 4,000 species of bees in North America and that one eighth of them have not even been named yet?

Despite their importance, there has been little research on native bees. Much of what we know comes from before the 1930’s when collecting and studying insects was popular. Since there has been little research, we do not know if there have been wide spread declines in native bees like there have been with the non-native honeybees. Sam and other scientists and taxonomists are working together to create online identification guides for the bees of North America. You can find out more about this collaborative project at National Biological Information Infrastructure.

Did you know that most of the native bees do not sting?  Only the few “colonial” bees (bees that form colonies) will sting and only if trapped or if their hive is attacked.  Most “bee” stings are in fact from wasps, like yellow jackets, not bees.  Sam noted that in general bees are vegetarians while wasps are meat eaters.  While bees are attracted to and pollinate flowers, wasps generally do not. Honeybees are important for agriculture since native bees are frequently not available around industrial farms.  The reason is that industrial farmland is devoid of the natural habitat native bees need.  Instead, beekeepers bring in beehives to provide pollination services. Another problem is that the pesticides used to eliminate insect pests in agricultural land also kill bees and other beneficial insects.  Because of the lack of research, we do not know the impact of pesticides on native bees or the honeybees. The presentation ended with a tour of the garden and Sam showing the attendees all the many bees peacefully pollinating the garden.

Throughout the month of June, The People’s Garden is celebrating pollinators in honor of National Pollinator Week, June 21-27 with workshops and exhibits. Come join us next Friday (June 11) from 12 noon to 1 p.m. for the workshop Pests and Their Natural Enemies.

Sam showing different species of bees.

Sam showing different species of bees.

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