Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bees

…From Bee Expert Tim Stanley

 (An Student Conservation Association, SCA, Interview), 2016

When residents of New York’s Hudson Valley want to know something about bees, Tim Stanley is thier go-to-guy.  He’s a beekeeper, and a veritable expert on the region’s wild bees (which, as you’ll learn, differ substantiallly from the bees we raise for honey).

We recently interviewed him in an attempt to find out everything we ever want to know about bees.  Check it out!

Tri-colored Bumble Bee on Goldenrod
Tri-colored Bumble Bee on Goldenrod

What are a couple of little known facts about bees that you wish more people were aware of? There are nearly 4,000 wild native bee species that live in North America and they evolved alongside native flowers. These bees have the know-how to pollinate more efficiently than non-native bees such as the honey bee. Native bees are better pollinators; 250 blue orchard bees are able to pollinate an acre of apple trees as effectively as 40,000 honey bees. The squash bee emergence coincides with the blossoming of the squash flower. Though other bees are drawn to the surplus reservoirs of nectar, the squash bee alone ensures successful pollination for a bountiful harvest of pumpkins.

How do the bees that we typically raise for honey differ from the bees native to your region of New York? Honey bees were introduced to the Americas and have perennial hives in which the colony survives the winter by eating honey. Most of our native bees survive the winter as pupae in cocoons or like the queen bumble bee hibernates overwinter to emerge in the early spring. In all cases, none of our wild native bees produce honey in the excess quantities of the honey bee.

Blue Orchard Bee
Blue Orchard Bee on Strawberry Blossom

Why are bees so important to the health of agriculture and the environment?   Native wild pollinators, such as bumble bees and the blue orchard bees, also contribute substantially to the domestic economy. According to the USDA, the economic value of the pollination service provided by native insects is estimated at $3 billion a year. Many native bees are able to buzz pollinate, a process where the bee vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out of the flower. The tomato and the blueberry, both native to the Americas require buzz pollination, a skill mastered by bumble bees and other native species.

What are some of the top threats that bees are facing? On top of the list are Neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that is absorbed by a plant and remain active throughout the plants lifecycle. The side effect to bees and other pollinators is a neurological disorder that causes them to become disoriented and confused. This insecticide is collected in the pollen, an important source of protein needed by bees to raise their young. Climate change, habitat fragmentation and other factors are also contributing factors to bee declines.

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What’s your favorite species of bee? My favorite bee species is the green sweat bee. What about it makes it your favorite? This bright metallic green bee with a stripped black and white abdomen is a jewel among bees. It is a fast flying bee and can often be tricky to spot but well worth the effort.

 

What are some things that the average citizen can do to help keep America’s bee population(s) in good shape? Many of the smallest bees have a short flight radius (about a quarter mile) and a single backyard could be their entire world. Therefore, it is important to avoid using herbicides and insecticides on your lawn and gardens. Buy plants and seeds that are neonicotinoid free.  Encourage bees and other pollinators by planting a variety of flowering plants with different bloom times from early spring to fall. Consider native plants and encourage perennials will grow back from year to year. Wild edges will provide habitat for nesting bees and other wildlife.

Female ining bee working in nest chamber with male bee looking on.
Female ining bee working in nest chamber with male bee looking on.

In all your years working with bees, what’s the most amazing bee-related thing you’ve experienced? I can think of a few, but twice I have come across aggregations of ground nesting solitary bees. Imagine sitting among hundreds of bees digging out their earthen tunnels in preparation of laying eggs for the next generation of bees. The first thought is that they would attack and sting! But quite the contrary, social bees that have one queen and one hive with hundreds or even thousands of bees have an invested interest to protect the hive. Solitary bees like the ones I encountered, though nesting in a group, are each working independently.  Each female lays only a few eggs and has less reason to protect their brood. These bees are to busy at work to be bothered by a single curious human.

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