Explore, Living Wenatchee

The Humble Yet Magnificent Bee

My fascination with bees started years ago. Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, Mason Bees, Leafcutter Bees the list goes on. To be exact, there are 25,000 known species of bee. They range in size from the tiny tropical stingless bees which are only about 1/16 in long, to the giant carpenter bees which have bodies about 1 and a 1/2 inch in length. At about 1/2 inch long, honeybees lie in the middle of this huge range.They are all lovely creatures to me so much so that you can usually find me talking to them when I am in the garden. The buzz of a Bumble Bee or whiz of a Honey Bee doesn’t phase me anymore while deadheading plants. They are so busy with what they are doing, they don’t seem to mind me one bit. What I have learned about bees in the last few years has given me even more appreciation for them. Did you know that bees:

  1. Pollinate 130 different fruit and vegetable crops that we are dependent upon for our food supply.
  2. Having a pollinator friendly garden is more important than keeping bees yourself. A pollinator friendly garden includes having blooming plants that may have long bloom times or a variety of blooms in your garden that bloom at different times. Not spraying with chemical pesticides on our near where the bees are foraging (your blooming plants). Avoid spraying for dandelions early in the spring as this is a vital time for bees to use the dandelions for food.
  3. Most bee species live solitarily. Leaf Cutter Bees and Mason Bees are a good example of this (both of which can live in the Wenatchee area)

Leafcutter and Mason Bees (Solitary Bees):

  • Hive-less solitary bees, like the Mason and Leafcutter Bee, are gentle, easy to raise and are amazing pollinators.
  • No hive to defend means solitary bees are gentle and non-aggressive.
  • They can pollinate up to 100 times more effectively than honey bees.
  • They do not build a hive or make honey, instead they raise their young in nesting holes.
  • They do not induce anaphylactic shock and rarely sting.
  • They are native to North America, this means they will not become invasive.

    Leafcutter Bee cocoons. Each cocoon has a number of chambers each with a Leafcutter egg in it along with a pollen loaf for the growing bee to eat while it is incubating . Photo taken by Sarah Shaffer.

    Honeybees:

  • The Queen Honeybee is unable to care for herself. She has attendant bees that follow, feed, groom her and carry away her waste. Her main job is reproduction.
  • Honeybee colonies have many tasks including scouting for new forage sources, collecting nectar and pollen, collecting water and taking it back to the hive. Receiving food from returning workers, storing some in the honey cells. Bees located within the hive are in charge of building new comb, clearing out debris including dead bees and unwanted drones (male bees), challenging incomers at the nest entrance and defending the colony against honey thieves. They also fan the combs to cool them.
  • Honey is broken down into byproducts such as methylglyoxal, giving honey its antioxidant, antibacterial, and analgesic properties. It is for that reason people have used honey in wound care and pain management for a sore throat.
  • Honeybees do a waggle dance to communicate to one another. Their dance is able to communicate the direction, distance and nutritional strength of nectar and pollen sources to their nest mates.

There are so many amazing and complex aspects to the different species of bees. See the video below for a small glimpse at how Mason Bees build their nests to protect their eggs and see the Crown Bee website below for more information on how to raise solitary native bees.

A busy bee. Photo by Sarah Shaffer.

References:

The Beekeeper’s Bible

The Whole U-University of Washington

Crown Bees-The Native Bee Expert

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wenatchee Outdoors.org

Sarah Shaffer

Sarah is fortunate to have her dream job as the Executive Director for WenatcheeOutdoors.org. Her interests include people, nature, wildlife and getting her sweat on outside. Alpine rock climbing, mountain biking, nordic skiing are her outdoor passions. When she is being domestic, she enjoys gardening, baking, utilitarian sewing and home remodel projects. Sarah is the mother of a toddler which keeps her busy and happy on a daily basis. Activities she would like to pursue that would be new to her are skate skiing, kayaking and backcountry skiing.