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Extension > Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Education News > Sharing the Spotlight: Native Bees

Monday, February 27, 2017

Sharing the Spotlight: Native Bees

As spring nears, you may start to see headlines like "10 Amazing Facts About Bees!" or "How to Attract Bees to Your Garden."  These articles and the photos in them almost always refer to honey bees.  Although they are an important and charismatic part of our agricultural system, honey bees are not native to North America.  With an estimated 400 different species of native bees in Minnesota, we think they deserve their own list of amazing facts.

1.  Bees in Minnesota show tremendous diversity, ranging in size from small sweat bees to large bumble bees.  They may be black and yellow striped like cartoon bees but can also be green, orange, or metallic blue.
2.  Most Minnesota bees are solitary, meaning they do not nest with other bees and do not share responsibility for maintaining a hive or colony.
3.  Many bees spend most of their life as larvae or pupae and may only be active as adults for a few weeks of the year.  You probably have many bees in your yard that you've never noticed.
4.  Bumble bees, as well as a few other bees, use a process called "buzz pollination" to shake pollen from hard-to-reach flowers like those in the family Solanaceae. By vibrating their flight muscles at a particular frequency, they are able to shake the pollen off the flower.  You can see buzz pollination in action in this video.
5.  None of the bees native to Minnesota make honey.  Bumble bees may store 1-2 days worth of nectar in “honey pots” in case of poor weather or other events that may prevent them from foraging but they do not make honey from the nectar.
6.  Some bees are kleptoparasites meaning that instead of building their own nests and providing food for their offspring, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees.  This isn't altogether unusual in the animal kingdom; cowbirds are also known for this behavior.

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