Discovering Honeybees

Discovering Honeybees: Bee Approaching Sunflower Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Bee Approaching Sunflower
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
I was a bit surprised when I met a local beekeeper who insisted she’d never eat any honey except that produced by bees in the mountains above Cache Valley. It made sense that the taste of honey would be determined by the flowers where the bees collected nectar and pollen. It turns out the Forest Service issues permits to local beekeepers to put hives around Tony Grove

Wanting to know more, I dropped into the Honeyland store in Cache Valley and was soon mesmerized by the active cut-away hive on display. It was a teacher’s dream come true – hundreds of bees – all diligently on task. Wide-eyed, I watched as a bee flew in at the bottom of the screen through a tunnel under the window looking very much like a bike rider with two full paniers She deposited the full sacks of pollen and then she began to dance. This took me quickly to the internet to learn more.. The bees dance is called a “waggle dance” – a straight line calibrated to communicate how far away the food source is, and a circular return arc to orient the path to the food. The waggle dancing bee can direct her sisters to a food source up to five miles away.

  • It takes 550 worker bees visiting 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey.
  • Top speed for a bee is 15 mph.
  • Each honey bee makes one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

  • I soon returned to the store’s cut away hive and finally found the queen – a bit tricky as she looks like all the others except she’s one and a half times bigger. I watched as she dipped her tail into one hexagonal cell after another. On a good day a queen will lay 2,000 eggs.

    Busy, busy bees working together to set aside enough honey to feed themselves during the winter.

    The poet Dick Paetzke once called honey “the soul of a field of flowers”

    Mountain honey looks and tastes a little different than honey made by bees pollinating Cache Valley alfalfa. Both are incredibly delicious.

    Aristotle got it right: “Honey is the nectar of the gods.”

    This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
    Text: Mary Heers

    Additional Reading

    Burlew, Rusty, Honeybee Suite,

    Honeybee, National Geographic Kids,

    About The Honeybee, American Beekeeping Federation,

    Utah Beekeepers Association,

    Moab Bee Inspired Gardens, Utah State University,

    Bee Fest 2020, Sponsored by Catalyst Magazine and Utah Museum of Natural History,
    Recorded Facebook Livestream:
    SLC Bee Fest Homepage:

    Sunflowers, the late summer feast

    Sunflowers, the late summer feast: Click for a larger view of the sunflower garden. Image courtesy and copyright Jim Cane
    Stand of ornamental sunflowers
    in Cache Valley
    Image courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane

    Click for a larger view. Image courtesy and copyright Jim CaneHoney bee foraging at sunflower
    Image courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane

    Click for a larger view. Image courtesy and copyright Jim CaneMale Melissodes bees and a skipper
    butterfly sleeping on a sunflower at dusk
    Image Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane

    Now, in late summer, the sunny golden blooms of sunflowers adorn gardens, roadsides and wild places across much of the United States. Utah is home to five sunflower species, four of them annuals. You are most likely to see Helianthus annuus, the aptly named “common sunflower”. Early domestication of common sunflower by Plains Indians led to the major oilseed crop that the world enjoys today.

    Humans are not the only species seated at the sunflower dining table, however. The grub of one specialist weevil bores in sunflower stalks; as do larvae of 2 long-horned beetles. Another weevil hollows out the seeds. A third decapitates the flowerhead before ovipositing. One moth’s caterpillar gnaws the roots; several cutworm species topple seedling sunflowers, and several more kinds of butterfly caterpillars skeletonize sunflower leaves. In your garden, though, sunflowers generally escape pestilence. Chickadees and both American and Lesser Goldfinches cling to the ripe seed heads to pluck out the nutritious seeds. Listen for the plaintive call of the Lesser Goldfinch which is very distinctive.

    [Lesser Goldfinch, Audio recording courtesy Kevin Colver, Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country]

    All those sunflower seeds are the direct result of pollination by bees. In the American West, more than 200 species of native bees visit sunflowers for nectar or pollen, a remarkably large fauna for any flower. None is more charming than the male of the bee genus Melissodes. They are discernible by their extra long antennae. Melissodes males dart among sunflowers all day long, seeking willing mates. Come sunset, the males bed down on the flower heads to snooze. They become drowsy enough to pet with your fingertip, and being males, have no sting. So if you have sunflowers at hand, chances are you have Melissodes bees around too. Look over your sunflowers this evening, and you may be lucky enough to find these dozing bachelor bees with their extra long antennae.

    This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


    Audio: Courtesy Kevin J. Colver, and On
    Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane
    Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

    Additional Reading:

    LeBuhn, Gretchen, Greenleaf, Sarah, Cohen, David, The Great Sunflower Project, Department of Biology, San Francisco State University,

    Charlet, Larry D., Brewer, Gary J., Sunflower Insect Pest Management in North America, Radcliff’s IPM World Textbook, University of Minnesota,

    The Native Bees of Utah

    Male Melissodes Bees
    Sleeping on Sunflower
    Courtesy and
    Copyright © 2010 Jim Cane

    The industry and cooperation of honeybees have inspired many a philosopher and society, including the Mormons who settled along the Wasatch front. The hive, or more specifically a skep, was later chosen as the emblem for the new state of Utah. But the honeybee, like it’s pioneer admirers, is a recent European immigrant, brought over for the wax and honey that colonies produce.

    Utah did not lack for pollinators, however, prior to European settlement. More than 1000 species of native bees inhabit Utah, with several hundred species in any given county. A few of these bees — bumblebees and sweat bees — are social. They produce annual colonies headed by a queen. However, the vast majority of our bees are not social. For these, each adult female makes her own nest with no help from her sisters or mate.

    Most solitary bee species nest underground; others use old beetle burrows in deadwood. The resident female subdivides her tunnel into bee-sized cavities. Each cavity receives a cache of pollen moistened with nectar and a single egg. There each grub-like larva will feed and develop in solitude. Most solitary bees will spend the winter here in their natal home.

    Bombus griseocollis Queen
    Foraging on Hedysarum
    Courtesy and
    Copyright © 2008 Jamie Strange

    Native bees pollinate many of Utah’s wildflowers, doing so inadvertently as they busily gather pollen for their progeny. Many solitary bee species are taxonomic specialists, focusing all of their pollen foraging efforts on one or a few related genera of flowering plants. Some common hosts for specialist bees in Utah include squashes, sunflowers, globemallows and penstemons. Sweet honey does not result from the labors of solitary bees, but fruits and seeds do. The industry of Utah’s native bees merits our attention and admiration.

    This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


    Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

    Additional Reading:

    USDA-ARS Pollinating Insects – Biology, Management and Systematics Laboratory,

    Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, Robert L. Minckley, Bryan N. Danforth
    Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20160443; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0443. Published 22 June 2016

    Hager, Rachel, Bees, Bees And More Bees! Researchers Find Over 650 Bee Species In Grand Staircase-Escalante, UPR-Utah Public Radio, Nov 20, 2018,

    Bumblebee Watch,
    Bumble Bee Watch is a citizen science project through the partnership of The Xerces Society, the University of Ottawa, Wildlife Preservation Canada, BeeSpotter, The Natural History Museum, London, and the Montreal Insectarium.

    Pollinating Fruit Trees with Blue Orchard Bees

    Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

    Blue Orchard Bee
    Copyright Jim Cane

    Apricots, plums, apples, cherries, and pears all need bees to pollinate their flowers. Traditionally, we’ve used the European honey bee, but now we know how to pollinate our fruit trees using a steely blue native bee, the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria). These wild bees fly nationwide.

    In Utah, they live in foothill and lower montane habitats. Blue orchard bees are not social; every female is fertile and tends to her own tiny nest. Adults are the size of a chunky honeybee and are active for only 3-4 weeks in the spring. These bees naturally nest in the tunnels chewed by large wood-boring beetles in tree trunks. Each female partitions her tunnel into a series of tiny bee-sized rooms. Each room is stocked with a pea-sized provision of pollen moistened with nectar, followed by a single egg. Nest cells are partitioned, and ultimately capped, with mud, hence their other common name: “mason bees”.

    Blue Orchard Bee eggs
    on pollen provision mass
    in nest
    Copyright Jim Cane

    You can have your own backyard population of blue orchard bees. An easy way to begin uses a short fat log that is seasoned and dry. Take a 5/16 bit and drill 20 or more holes radially 5 to 6 inches deep. Stand the log on end, facing the holes towards the southeast.

    On cold mornings, nesting females bask in the sun before taking flight. If bees colonize your log, you will see the steely blue females busily coming and going all day long during fruit tree bloom. They tote their loads of dry yellow pollen in a brush of hair beneath the abdomen. Unloading that pollen at the nest requires some charming acrobatics that are well worth watching. While collecting pollen, female blue orchard bees pollinate your trees with hundreds of fruits resulting from each bee’s lifetime of work. Successive generations will nest for you every spring, but you’ll want to switch to replaceable nesting materials to prevent the accumulation of pathogens and parasites.

    Details and links can be found at our Wild About Utah website.

    This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

    Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society
    Additional Reading:

    Drill Log with 5/16 holes
    5 to 6 inches deep
    Copyright Jim Cane


    A Colonized log
    Copyright Jim Cane