Native bees are essential for the pollination of a wide variety of plants that we depend on. We should help them out all we can.
Summer is in full swing and garden flowers and wildflowers are alive with colorful blossoms. The air is filled with the scent of flowers and is literally buzzing with activity. The buzzing comes from a wide spectrum of insects that appreciate the nectar and pollen flowers produce, but arguably, the most important of these may be the 4,000 species of bees native to this continent.
Right away, I should differentiate between native bees and honey bees. Honey bees are not native. Colonists brought honey bees to our shores in the 1620’s as a source of wax and sugar. These are the bees cultivated by beekeepers and used widely to pollinate crops. There are so many honey bees in the world that they are considered the world’s most abundant livestock. Despite a recent trend in home-based beekeeping fueled by the assumption that this is helping nature, maintaining honey bees does nothing to promote native bees. It is like keeping a dog to support wild canines. Beekeeping can even be detrimental to native bees as honey bees are strong competitors for resources.
Native bees evolved from wasps (and specialized wasps called hornets) but differ in several ways. First, bees feed exclusively on nectar and pollen whereas wasps are generally carnivorous. Bees are usually covered in setae, or “hairs”, while wasps generally have shiny bodies with little hair. Bees often have a pollen sac on hind legs and wasps do not. Wasps also have a narrow “waist” between abdomen and thorax where with bees this is not as noticeable.
Native bees are surprisingly variable. The common black and yellow pattern is just one of many colors for native bees. They may be black, metallic blue or green, red or a mix of colors and patterns. Among our 4,000 species (20,000 species worldwide), they range in size from giant bumble bees to the two millimeter-long (about 1/16th inch) Perdita minima bee.
Other than bumble bees, the majority of native bees do not form hives or colonies nor do they make honey. Most bees are solitary, building nests in the ground, rotting logs or hollow stems of plants. Each female is fertile and there is no “queen”. In these chambers the bee lays eggs and provides a food supply of pollen and nectar for when the eggs hatch. She does not care for the egg or the larva. This may seem harsh, but the fact is, most adult bees live only a month or two and just aren’t around for tending duties.
Bees do have stingers and can inflict a painful wound, but because native bees almost never have food sources or hives full of larva to defend, they seldom sting. As with the honey bee, only females have stingers and this is because the stinger is a modified ovipositor and only females have those.
We should care about native bees for a very selfish reason. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “bees pollinate a staggering 80 percent of all flowering plants, including approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States.”
Native bee conservation should be on everyone’s radar, especially since their numbers are declining dramatically. Habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, disease and climate change are all taking a toll. We can help by planting lots of native flowers and by establishing bee nesting boards, sometimes called, bee hotels (see the following website for ideas: https://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/bee-protective-pollinators-and-pesticides/pollinator-curriculum/build-your-own-native-bee-house).
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho