Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Native Bee Houses

Leaf cutter bee, Megachile lagopoda-Wikimedia
When we think of pollinators, beautiful butterflies and the honey bees, which were imported from Europe by our ancestors immediately come to mind.  Fortunately, pollination was going on thousands of years before the honey bee arrive.  As Dr. Chris Barnhart reminded us at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center last week, many flowers and trees are pollinated by humble species such as solitary bees, bumble bees and even flies and beetles.

Solitary bees make up over 90% of bee species.  Unlike their better known communal cousins, every female is fertile creates its own family.  They are commonly divided up into carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and mason bees.  There are also sweat bees, polyester bees, squash bees, dwarf carpenter bees, alkali bees and digger bees.  Way too much for my aged brain to encompass.  Suffice it to say that lots of the little bee like things, visiting your flowers and plants are far more complicated than we can take on in a single story.

The message here is that they are an important part of our natural community.  Many of these species depend upon holes in wood (think dead trees) for a nesting site.  Guess what?  In our world, most dead trees get cut down before woodpeckers, beetles and other natural recyclers create the holes they need for their families.  This is where gardeners and other naturalist-minded people come in.

A quick and dirty bee house - REK
Many of the species need preformed holes to lay their eggs and raise their families.  One answer is building bee condominiums.  With a set of 1/8th to 3/8th inch drills you can turn blocks of wood or even dead trees into nest sites like these for solitary bees.  Another quick and crude method. is using hollow grass stems cut to length as above.*  Be sure that one end is blocked off and the open ends are at a slightly lower level to prevent rain from entering.

* If you are in the Springfield Missouri area, I can provide you with stems from the Springfield Botanical Gardens.

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