Bee Week: The importance of Ontario’s native bees

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Did you know that Ontario is home to over 400 species of bees?  Usually, when we think of bees, we think of honeybees, hives, and swarms, but most of the bees that call our province home actually don’t produce honey at all and are solitary. Honeybees aren’t even a native species!

We all understand the important role that social bees, like honeybees, play in pollination. 

We need pollinators for ⅓ of the food we eat, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. However, over 90% of our bees are solitary, and they are particularly efficient pollinators. These bees do not possess pollen baskets on their legs, so instead of holding pollen, it falls off their legs. This means that they move more pollen between flowers than their honeybee cousins. Pollination is critical to the health of Oakville’s ecosystems and these bees are essential to sustaining biodiversity.

As if solitary bees didn’t already have enough going for them, they are also non-territorial, never swarm, and rarely sting. Solitary bees are quiet heroes!

 

Oakville is home to many species of solitary bee, some of which are:

 

Leafcutter bees

Leafcutter bees are small, gentle creatures that will almost never sting. They cover the outside of their nests in leaf cuttings, which is where they get their name.

 

Carpenter bees

Carpenter bees are a larger species that are actually able to chew through wood in order to make their nests. You may be able to recognise a carpenter bee tunnel because they leave a pile of sawdust outside of the entrance. They look quite similar to bumblebeesbut are all black. 

Miner bees

Miner bees “mine” tunnels into the ground in order to lay their eggs. The female bee creates chambers branching off the main tunnel for her eggs.



 

How do solitary bees reproduce?

Solitary bees don’t have a colony and a queen, so each individual female lays her eggs in her nest. Solitary bees have a wide range of nesting locations, including wood, plant stems, and even in snail shells. Female bees create their nests and then cover the entrances with leaves, mud, or hair. 

The female bees gather pollen and nectar throughout the spring and summer for a nest where they lay their eggs. Over the winter, the eggs hatch into larvae, feeding on the pollen and nectar deposited by their mother to sustain themselves. They hibernate in the cocoon for 11 months throughout the summer and winter. The next spring, the larvae pupate into baby bees and emerge from their nests, just as the first flowers begin to bloom. The lifespan of solitary bees is usually very short (4-6 weeks outside of the nest) so the mother will never see her offspring. 

These bees may not be buzzing around flowers for very long, but they are vital to the health of ecosystems in Oakville and around the world. 

 

How to protect bees:

We can all do our part to protect bees in our area! Below are a few options to help preserve bee populations:

  • Plant native Ontario wildflowers in your garden
  • Select plants that bloom at different times, from spring to fall, to provide a food source for bees throughout the season
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use on your property
  • Leave a mulch-free space in your garden for ground-nesting bees

Protecting our native bees is crucial in protecting our city’s biodiversity as a whole. Solitary bees pollinate crops, wildflowers, and backyard gardens. Positive change is possible and we can do so much to care for our native species. Healthy bees make a healthy ecosystem!

 

By Christine Macpherson