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.

Credits:

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

USDA-ARS Pollinating Insects – Biology, Management and Systematics Laboratory, http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/site_main.htm?modecode=54-28-05-00

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 2016http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160443.abstract

Hager, Rachel, Bees, Bees And More Bees! Researchers Find Over 650 Bee Species In Grand Staircase-Escalante, UPR-Utah Public Radio, Nov 20, 2018, https://www.upr.org/post/bees-bees-and-more-bees-researchers-find-over-650-bee-species-grand-staircase-escalante

Bumblebee Watch, https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/
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.
Credits:

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

Resources:

http://www.sare.org/publications/bob.htm

http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=18333

http://www.pollinatorparadise.com/Binderboards/Hornfaced_Bees.htm

A Colonized log
Copyright Jim Cane

Utah’s wool-gathering bees

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Fluffy contents of the reed nest
of a carder bee
Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Do you grow the ornamental plants called “lamb’s ears” or rose campion in your flower gardens? These plants produce dense mats of buttery soft woolly leaves. That leaf fuzz is avidly sought by so-called “carder bees” of the genus Anthidium. In textiles, carding is the mechanical process of combing through the fibers of cotton or wool to align them before spinning. The female carder bee has multi-toothed mandibles that she uses to shave the leaf hairs, gathering the fluff into a ball to bring back to her nest.

Lamb’s ear leaf shaved of some of its hairs
Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Carder bees nest solitarily in aboveground cavities, typically an old beetle burrow in deadwood. Each female lines her tunnel with the carded plant hairs. Onto this fluffy pillow she assembles a provision of pollen mixed with nectar, which constitutes the food mass soon to be eaten by her progeny, one provision per larva.

Carder bees are stout, round, relatively hairless bees marked in black and yellow. We have several species, the largest being a European escapee that is associated with lamb’s ears. The female’s nesting biology is distinctive enough, but it is the male’s behavior that you will notice first.

Male carder bee at lavender flower
Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Male carder bees are aggressive, territorial suitors. They spend all day in flight, tirelessly patrolling lamb’s ears and garden flowers, particularly culinary sage and Russian sage. Males dart at all carder bees of either gender, as well as other like-sized bees. They pounce upon and wrestle these unsuspecting individuals to the ground. If it is a female of their species, they will endeavor to mate with her. Such is the brazen courtship of male carder bees. Look now for these wool gathering bees in your gardens before summer bids us farewell.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Anthidium_manicatum, BugGuide, BugGuide.net, http://bugguide.net/node/view/7744

Anthidium_manicatum, Discover Life, Polistes Foundation, http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?search=Anthidium+manicatum

Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum), Solitarybee.com, Paul Betts, (March 2018, website no longer functioning)

Gardening for Bees

Gardening for Bees: Click to view a larger picture; Bee Garden courtesy and copyright 2010 Linda Kervin
Bee Garden
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2010 Linda Kervin
Three years ago, the United States Senate unanimously designated National Pollinator Week. This year it falls from June 21 to 27. Pollination is vitally important for many domesticated and wild plants. By far the most important pollinators are bees and Utah is home to 900 species. Bees pollinate food crops such as apples, cherries, apricots, squashes, raspberries and cucumbers. Bees are also essential to pollinate most wildflowers in our native plant communities.

Happily, few of our native bees have much venom or any inclination to sting; in part because they are solitary nesters. In contrast, honeybees and bumblebees are social and in defense of home will deliver memorable stings.

All bees visit flowers to sup nectar for energy. Females also collect protein-rich pollen to feed their offspring. Grain and hay fields, pavement and buildings have all displaced native plant communities, but our flower gardens can become valuable cafeterias for local bee populations. Because bees find their favorite flowers by their color or scent, a bee garden can also appeal to people.

Anthidium Bee on Lavender
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2010 Jim Cane

Different bees prefer different kinds of flowers. Many bees are attracted to members of the pea family, such as vetches, clovers and locoweeds. Bees appreciate sunflowers and their kin as well as lavender and many other herbs. On the other hand, some plants have been so altered by plant breeders that they no longer feed bees. Examples include doubled flowers like marigolds, flowers with ruffles like petunias and some other common bedding plants.

Please consider our important pollinators when you are choosing what to plant in your garden. You will be rewarded by increased fruit and vegetable yields while surrounded by beautiful blooms.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright 2010 Jim Cane and Linda Kervin
Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

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

Additional Reading:

http://www.nbii.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=222&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true

http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/site_main.htm?modecode=54-28-05-00

http://extension.usu.edu/htm/publications/publication=10414

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 2016http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160443.abstract

Bumblebee Watch, https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/
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.