I visited the Living Desert Museum in Palm Desert the other day and came across an exhibit on bees that stated the following fact:
There are over 1600 species of bees in California.
Now I find that amazing – 1600 out of an estimated 4000 worldwide. It went on to say that 100 different species were living around the plants growing in the exhibit. I asked Dr. Robin Thorp, entomology professor of University of California-Davis some questions and he explained that bees are primarily creatures of warm dry areas so reach their greatest diversity in Mediterranean and desert areas, “although bumble bees and a few solitary bees do live in boreal/alpine habitat.” And that California species are so high because of the state’s rich diversity – both in ecology and in its geography. But in whatever area you live in – see resources below – you have bees that perform important pollination functions.
More info from Thorp and from the Living Desert Museum. I sure didn’t know most of this, so figured others didn’t either:
- Most are solitary: We all think of the social living of the imported honeybee – but most bees are solitary: 70% are ground nesters, while 30% live in existing cavities such as logs and walls.
- Close relationships with native plants: 5000 flowering plant species have evolved with bee species over millions of years – another reason to use native plants. Each has its unique story.
- Other common bees: While bumble bees and the non-native honey bee are among the most readily recognized by the public, smaller and less conspicuous bees such as many sweat bees are more common/abundant. There are also common bees mistaken for flies, such as the digger bees and mining bees.
- Bumble bees in peril: 26 species of bumble bees exist in California. Thorp’s monitoring studies show a severe decline in the Western Bumble Bee and Franklin’s Bumble Bee since 1998. Says Thorp: “Franklin’s Bumble Bee has not been seen in its limited range since 2006. We have very little information on the remaining species of bumble bees, because their populations are not being closely monitored.
- Vital Pollinators: Bees are the most abundant pollinators, with pollinators allowing nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants to reproduce (from Xerces.org website)
- Habitat loss, pesticides and pathogens: Thorp cites habitat loss and pesticide misuse among the contributing factors to losses of native bees as well as the problems faced by the honey bee industry. However, he hypothesizes that introduced pathogens are the primary cause of the declines of the two bumble bees he has been monitoring, saying “In part because they have declined at the same sites where other bumble bee species continue to exist and some seem to be increasing in abundance at these sites.”
For more info:
www.pollinator.org – The Pollinator Partnership (P2) is a nonprofit that works to protect the health of managed and native pollinating animals vital to our North American ecosystems and agriculture.
www.xerces.org - Another nonprofit (and 40 years old), The Xerces Society’s goal is to protect wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. They work with scientists and citizens to implement conservation programs.
Bees and Gardening:
www.helpabee.org - provides practical info to introduce bees into your garden
Logan Bee Lab handout “Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond