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Wild bees are the best pollinators

Pollen sacsAlthough Attracting Native Pollinators discusses many other types of pollinators, they recommend that you focus your efforts on making bees happy.  The Xerces Society argues that bees are the most important group of pollinators because:

  • Bees are hairy, which means pollen sticks to their bodies and is carried in large quantities from flower to flower.
  • Bees actively gather pollen.  Most other types of pollinators focus on nectar, which means they might never even come in contact with the flower's pollen.  For example, the long tongue of a butterfly allows the insect to feed without brushing up against the stamens of many flowers.  In contrast, since bees use pollen as a source of protein and other nutrients, the insects often end up coated in the grains.
  • Bees exhibit flower constancy.  Many bees fixate on a single species of flower at a time, visiting up to 100 individual flowers of the same type on a single trip.  In contrast, other pollinators usually hop around, starting on an aster, dropping by some goldenrod, and ending up on a dandelion.  This generalist strategy works well for the insects but means the flowers are wasting lots of pollen that will end up on another type of plant and won't do its job.

Parasitic insects like this Greater bee fly are actually a good sign because they require healthy bee populations.It's worth noting that when I say "bees" this week, I'm not really talking about honeybees.  Although large agricultural operations tend to put all their eggs in one basket and focus on the introduced honeybee, some farmers have found that providing habitat for native bees (more on that in later posts) results in better pollination efficiency than trucking in migratory honeybee hives.  In addition, scientists have discovered that adding honeybees to the mix actually decreases the populations of native pollinators, which results in problems down the line when the honeybee hives collapse or when picky plants have to do without the only pollinator species they're equiped to deal with. 

In general, our gardens and natural ecosystems fare much better when we attract as wide a variety of native pollinator species as possible.  The Xerces society posits that if we focus on helping native bees, we'll also protect the other pollinator groups --- wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles.  The result is not only pollinated plants but also control of pest insects and the production of nest sites for bees.  Stay tuned for more information on how to  make this diverse pollinator population a reality in your neck of the woods.

This post is part of our Attracting Native Pollinators lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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