Pollinator Partnership Blog

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These blog posts are opinions expressed by the author. If you have any comments, please direct them to info@pollinator.org.

The Buzz on Bees: True or False

By Pamela Ruch, Home Garden Seed Association

How much do you know about bees and other pollinators? Whether you’re a bee expert or just learning, this quiz is intended to stir your curiosity, challenge some common misconceptions, and foster your admiration for the amazing pollinators that we depend on for much of our food.

Learn more, and show your appreciation for bees and other pollinators by registering your garden through the Pollinator Partnership at millionpollinatorgardens.org. Bee Counted!


1. Honeybees fly at about 12 to 15 mph.

True. And they beat their wings more than 200 times per second!

2. All bees are social animals, living in hives together with hundreds to thousand of other bees, and sharing the work of foraging, building the nest, and caring for the young.

False. This is true of honeybees, but not all bees, by any means. In fact the vast majority of the native bee species in the U.S. are solitary nesting. They tend to create and provision a nest on their own, without cooperation with other bees.

3. There are thousands of native bee species in the United States.

True. There are about 4000 species of native bees, ranging in size from the tiny Perdita minima, a resident of the desert southwest that is just 2 mm long, to the 40 mm carpenter bee.

4. Some bees line their nests with leaves.

True. You may have seen nearly perfect circles clipped from the leaves of your roses or other plants. This is done by leafcutter bees, solitary bees that use the greens as housing material.

5. A “nectar corridor” is another name for a pollinator garden.

False. Actually, a nectar corridor is a much bigger concept than that. Migratory pollinators, such as bats, hummingbirds, and the monarch butterfly, must be able to access food throughout their migratory route. If nectar is unavailable anywhere along their migratory route at the time of migration, it could result in the death of part of the population.

6. The only way a bee can access nectar from a flower is by inserting its tongue into the flower’s throat.

False. Sometimes, when a flower has a long throat that places the nectar out of reach of its tongue, a bee will use her sharp mouthparts to cut a slit at the base of the flower where the nectar is stored, and drink the nectar directly from the corolla. Carpenter bees are notorious for this behavior.

7. Bees are generalist feeders, foraging on whatever food is available.

False. This is true for many of the more recognizable bees, such as honeybees and bumblebees. However, some bees are specialists. One example is the southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda laboriosa), which forages primarily on blueberries. In her few weeks as an adult, a single female bee visits about 50,000 blueberry flowers, resulting in over 6,000 marketable blueberries worth about $75.

8. Sonication is a kind of pollination.

True. Also known as Buzz Pollination, this is the process where a bee attaches itself to a flower and rapidly vibrates its flight muscles. This movement causes the entire flower to vibrate and loosens the pollen so as to flow out the openings in the anthers. Bumblebees use buzz pollination when pollinating tomato flowers, and the southeastern blueberry bee pollinates blueberry flowers in this way.

9. Only female bees can sting.

True. A stinger is a modified ovipositor. Male bees are not equipped with this anatomical part. At any rate, most bee species are docile, and only sting when provoked. Wasps, which include yellow jackets, are much more aggressive.

10. In a honeybee hive, a queen bee lives one year, and is then replaced by another queen.

False. A queen honeybee can live up to five years. When she dies or gets sick, the rest of the females choose a baby successor with traits of a queen and feed her a special concoction of pollen and natural secretion called “royal jelly.” The queen bee mates once and rules and expands her empire for the rest of her life.

11. Bees are descended from wasps.

True. Most wasps are carnivores. Some collect pollen but are not nearly as effective at pollinating plants as bees. Carnivorous wasps prey upon or parasitize other insects or spiders, and use this protein source to feed their young. About 125 million years ago, some wasps made a switch from hunting prey to gathering pollen. Pollen is rich in proteins and doesn’t fight back, so it is easy to imagine why the bees became vegetarians. Over time, they evolved to meet the requirements of collecting pollen, and became bees.

12. Bees enjoy a caffeine buzz in the morning, like we do.

True. Up to 55 percent of flowering plants are estimated to have caffeinated nectar, and bees tend to visit such flowers more frequently, says Margaret J. Couvillon of the University of Sussex. Not only do they prefer caffeinated nectar, but the bees that sipped it were more likely to dance than the ones who were drinking decaf. And they repeated their abdomen shaking routine more times!

13. Bees are separated into two groups based on the length of their tongues.

True. Essentially, this is true. There are long-tongued bees and short-tongued bees. To be more specific, the mouthpart segments within their tongues, called proboscides, are used to gather nectar.

14. If you see a bee resting motionless in a flower, it is generally a female.

False. In general, when not working, female bees rest inside their nests. Males, on the other hand, have nothing to do with nest building or provisioning, so they find other places to rest. You’ll often find male squash bees sleeping inside squash blossoms.

15. Squash bees nest underground, often beneath the very plants they will pollinate.

True. Keep this in mind if you pick your own pumpkin from a pumpkin farm. You may be walking over nests full of developing young squash bees!

16. All bees carry pollen in pollen baskets on their legs.

False. Honeybees and a few other species have pollen baskets. But others have alternate ways of collecting pollen. The female leafcutter bee carries it on the underside of her hairy abdomen, and then scrapes the pollen off within her nesting hole. Because the pollen is carried dry on her hair, it falls off easily as she moves among blossoms, resulting in more pollinated flowers than can be accomplished by the honey bee, who wets the pollen so it sticks to the legs during transport to the hive.



Published on 1/9/2019

How to Pass Weed Inspection

By Benjamin Vogt, Monarch Gardens

This spring a neighbor reported my home landscape to county weed control. As a garden designer I knew how to prepare for the meeting with the superintendent (it helps to know your Latin plant names), but I still learned a lot from the open and productive discussion we had on the future of sustainable gardens. Here are some tips to guide you in creating a habitat that works for both wildlife and people.

1) It can help to hire a professional to get you started. That can be a landscape plan, a consult, or a coach that keeps coming back to help you progress. You can install a design yourself or have the professional do it for you then modify on your own, but having good bones is critical -- especially in front yards (my backyard has a wood fence and faces acres of dense red cedars, but I still got in trouble).

2) Plant in masses and groups and tiers. These are traditional design strategies that we're all accustomed to, and so they help folks see that a landscape has intention. Grouping plants also serves as a larger beacon for pollinators flying overhead, so design with 3, 5, or 7 of a kind. Have tall plants in the back or middle with shorter plants toward the front. Don't just toss out a bag of seed or let the lawn go to see what comes up. Convert the space quickly or do it one piece at a time over years.

3)Always have something in bloom. People like flowers and flowers show intention -- plus bloom succession is critical for pollinators.

4) Have a mowed edge around beds that abut sidewalks, driveways, or property lines. In lieu or combination with that strategy is placing low plants along the edges. For example, I have nothing that gets taller than 2 feet within 4-6 feet of the sidewalk. Hey, people don't like to be touched by plants they don't know.

5) Have a sign that says what you are doing and why. The super mentioned signs significantly mitigate their workload. Something as simple as "This is a low-maintenance, native plant pollinator garden."

6) Show human use by including a sitting area, bench, or mowed pathway through the space. Using sculpture or fountains also helps create visual foils so it's easier to interpret the space and focus on what might at first seem chaotic wildness (even if plants are grouped and tiered -- anything that isn't lawn up to the foundation walls is suspect).

7) Native plant pollinator gardens don't have to look like meadows. They can be more simple and modern looking, or formal and angular. There is a middle way, too, a place where we can all meet in the landscape.

8) Talk to your neighbors. Tell them what you're doing. Invite them over for drinks. Knock on doors and calmly / warmly ask if they'd like to talk about it or see it. Don't accuse anyone of anything or act like you're better then them. Educate. Teach. Welcome. Even if you're a passionate activist who believes the sixth mass extinction is here and our over-manicured lawns are creating an ethical crisis that will consume us all (ahem), hold back and just listen. We can still have constructive and friendly conversations regardless of what is modeled for us online and in the news.

Published 12/7/2018

Farmers Can Bee Friends Too

By Tess Wynn, Pollinator Partnership

Bee Friendly Farming (BFF) is a program that provides guidelines for farmers and growers to promote pollinator health on their lands. Pollinator Partnership (P2) administers and coordinates BFF, which is an online, self-certification created by experts including Kathy Kellison, Sam Droege, Marla Spivak, and others. By providing guidelines on important concepts like planting pollinator food resources that last the entire foraging season, leaving areas of land untilled and “wild”, and incorporating an integrated pest management strategy, BFF helps ensure the future of bees and sustainable agriculture.

Photo by Gail Vandersteen

Bees and other pollinators may be small, but they are critically important to the sustainability of agriculture and ecosystems. In fact, they pollinate 2/3rd of all plants on earth, and without them many fruits, nuts, vegetables, and other foods would not exist. Many pollinator populations are in decline, but farmers can play a key role in their health and survival. Most agricultural landscapes do not provide sufficient or balanced habitat, because intensive cultivation has eliminated native plants that pollinators need. However, bee-friendly farming can help promote healthy populations of honey bees, native pollinators, and other beneficial insects.

In addition, BFF benefits farmers. Properly pollinated crops exhibit increased yields and improved produce quality, and purchases from a Bee Friendly Farmer directly support part of the solution to save our pollinators. Through BFF, farms that responsibly steward their environment using sustainable agricultural practices are recognized and given the tools to showcase their work, influencing others to follow by example. They are pinned on the BFF map upon registration, and given use of the BFF logo to indicate that the products or services it provides are produced on lands that help protect pollinators. The BFF program also offers signs, stickers, bookmarks, and more to help raise public awareness and promote bee-friendly efforts. Commercial beekeepers also benefit from bee-friendly plantings on fallow lands, which allow them to avoid trucking bees long distances in search of safe pasture.

BFF originated as a program of Partners For Sustainable Pollination (PFSP), an initiative out of Sonoma County, California. In the face of colony collapse disorder and the effects of pesticide use, PFSP acknowledged that simply planting more flowers was not enough to solve pollinator population decline. Pollinator Partnership entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with PFSP in April 2013 and acquired the BFF program. With P2’s North American scope, and its large network, BFF was re-launched and expanded throughout the continent and beyond. P2 maintained the 233 farmers already enrolled in BFF and circulated a new campaign to reinvigorate interest in the program. To date there are over 700 Bee Friendly Farmers registered in the program.

Photo by Antony John, Soiled Reputation

From the over 700 certified Bee Friendly Farmers, there are reports of increases in natural enemies of pests like ladybugs and praying mantises. Meadowview Farm & Natural Habitat Gardens in Crestwood, Kentucky has noticed a significant increase in predatory insects. Farmers also report that customers are drawn to their products because they are produced on a Bee Friendly Farm. Soiled Reputation (Ontario), a farm that provides produce to restaurants, says it is of great importance to its chef clients. The BFF label is valuable and respected by honey buying customers of Meadowsong Apiaries in Seven Valleys, PA.

To become a certified Bee Friendly Farmer, these criteria must be met:

  1. Offer forage providing good nutrition for bees on 3-6% of land.
  2. Plant continuous bloom of different flowering plants throughout the growing season, especially in early spring and late autumn in temperate regions.
  3. Offer clean water for bees.
  4. Provide a variety of habitat for nesting and mating, through features such as hedgerows, natural brush, or buffer strips.
  5. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM); reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals.
  6. Pay the annual $35 certification fee.

Check out www.pollinator.org/bff to view the current bee-friendly farms enrolled, to register your own operation, and to donate to the program today!

Published 11/30/2018

Where Do Pollinators Go in the Winter?

By Anthony Colangelo, Pollinator Partnership

As the summer season ends and the cooler weather approaches, once magnificent and colourful flowers begin to wither and wilt, while previously buzzing gardens become stems of silence. But where do the pollinators go? Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds all display a variety of amazing and unique strategies in order to survive the cold weather and overcome the harsh climate of the approaching winter.

Honey Bee, Anthony Colangelo

As the winter temperatures start to freeze the air, honey bees form special clusters inside their hives to keep warm. Worker honey bees huddle around their queen and vibrate their wings and bodies in a “shivering” behaviour in order to generate heat inside the hive. This behaviour is amazingly carried out all winter, and uses up a lot of the bees’ energy. In order to fuel this heated huddle, honey bees use their stored honey as a main source of food in order to stay energized and keep the queen and the hive at an optimal temperature throughout the winter!

Tricoloured Bumble Bee, Anthony Colangelo

Bumble bees take a different approach, and only new queens survive the winter, while the rest of the colony dies off. In the fall, male bumble bees mate with future queens from different colonies, and these future queens spend the entire winter underground or in holes in soft wood that are safe and dry. Queen bumble bees are impressively large in size, and must consume as much nectar and pollen as possible in order to build up crucial fat reserves before entering a dormant phase in overwintering sites. In the following spring, queens will emerge and find perfect nesting sites to start brand new colonies of their own!

Solitary Polyester Bee, Anthony Colangelo

For native solitary bees, it is common for females to lay eggs in underground nests (mining bees, sweat bees, polyester bees), or in sealed and insulated cavities aboveground (leafcutting bees, mason bees). These eggs then hatch and survive the winter as dormant adults waiting to emerge in the spring, or as developing pupae kept safe and warm inside nests. Once the weather is warm enough, emerged females will find their own independent nesting sites and lay the next generation of eggs!

Monarch Butterfly, Anthony Colangelo

Probably one of the most famous winter strategies is carried out by monarch butterflies. Monarchs migrate over 3000 miles and 5000 kilometres from Canada and the Northern United States all the way to the oyamel fir forests in Mexico. These forests provide monarchs with the perfect climate and environmental conditions while they wait for the northern winters to pass. For the butterfly species that do not migrate, strategies include surviving the winter in a dormant phase in cocoons, as caterpillars, and some can even survive as mature adults!

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Anthony Colangelo

Just like monarch butterflies, most hummingbirds in North America also migrate far distances in the winter, such as the rufous hummingbird which can migrate up to 4000 miles and over 6000 kilometres from Alaska all the way to Mexico. Most ruby-throated hummingbirds also migrate from central and eastern Canada and the United States to Mexico and Central America. During the harsh winters of Canada and the northern United States, the flowers and insects that hummingbirds rely on for food die off, therefore hummingbirds must travel south where the temperature is warm enough to support their need for an abundance of nectar and insects to fuel their extremely fast metabolism!

Whether it be migrating to warmer areas or staying dormant in a safe spot, bees, butterflies, and birds are all pollinators that have adapted incredible strategies to survive the harsh and cold temperatures of winter. These strategies also emphasize the need for more pollinator habitat and pollinator-friendly gardens, as having an abundance of accessible pollen and nectar sources, especially in the fall, is crucial for their survival over the winter season. To help pollinators in your area survive next winter, check out our ecoregional guides (http://pollinator.org/guides) for native flowers to plant in your area!

Published 10/25/2018

No Fear of Stings!

Andrena mining bee, Anthony Colangelo

By Anthony Colangelo, Pollinator Partnership

Bees are some of the coolest and most amazing little organisms in the insect world, playing a key role in maintaining the Earth’s biodiversity, and an important role in our entire human existence. Not only do they pollinate many types of plants that are essential for the environment and are a food source for many different insects, mammals, and birds, but they also pollinate many colourful fruit and vegetable crops that we depend on and enjoy eating.

Despite their vital role in the ecosystem and their pollination services for humans, many people fear bees, possibly because of past experiences with stings, or maybe even from false and sensationalized information about their aggressiveness. This information usually consists of bees being mistaken as their aggressive wasp cousins (which are also important pollinators too!).

Bombus bumble bee, Anthony Colangelo

Bees are actually very gentle creatures whose only desire is to fly from one flower to the next in search of pollen and nectar food for themselves and their developing larvae. In fact, less than half of the bees in the world are actually capable of stinging, and even the ones that do sting only use this defense mechanism as a last resort.

Megachile leafcutting bee, Anthony Colangelo

The bees that are capable of stinging are mostly the social species such as honey bees and bumble bees, who have stingers in order to protect their nests and keep their colony safe. Even in honey bees and bumble bees, only the females are able to sting, and to avoid being stung it is recommended to keep a distance of 10 to 20 feet away from honey bee or bumble bee nests. If you are not near a nest and are simply observing these bees on a patch of flowers, the chances of being stung are highly unlikely unless bees are physically handled and feel threatened, or accidentally get caught in clothing.

Our solitary native bees are even gentler in nature, as they do not have colonies to defend and do not react aggressively when nests are approached. Bees are often so distracted when visiting flowers and feeding on pollen and nectar that they can safely be approached, even within a few inches to be observed!

Osmia mason bee, Anthony Colangelo

To avoid stings, give social bees such as honey bees and bumble bees their space when near a colony, and avoid touching bees when observing them when they are visiting flowers. Also, make sure to watch where you are stepping when out in nature, as stepping on low-rise weeds with bees on them could result in getting stung.

Bees are some of the best visitors to have in local gardens and agricultural landscapes because of their incredible pollinating abilities. Next time you are in your garden or out for a hike, have no fear of stings and check out just how beautiful and diverse these little creatures are as they cover themselves in pollen and consume each flower’s sweet nectar!

Published 9/26/18

Making the Case for Pollinators & Pollinator Conservation on Southern Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands

Metallic green sweat bee, Anthony Colangelo

By Jennifer A. Lotz, Pollinator Partnership Canada

Our planet, our home is experiencing unprecedented, global change. Dates as to exactly when this change began are argued among anthropologists and earth scientists alike; however, what is coming to be a more commonly accepted fact unanimously amongst scientists is that human activities are directly affecting the functioning of ecosystems and challenging the preservation of global biodiversity. So why does all of this really matter, you may ask? Loss of ecosystem resilience, biodiversity loss, and climate change all pose risks to the provision of ecosystem services, which provide the basis for every human life on this planet.

Long-horned bee, Anthony Colangelo

Of one of these essential ecosystem services is pollination, and humans rely on the thousands of different species, mostly insects, to provide this service. All of the same threats that are affecting ecosystem resilience and biodiversity are having just as great of an impact on these small and important, but often overlooked creatures. So, why do pollinators deserve the limelight? About one third of the food that we eat every day is the direct result of pollination, and without pollinators our diets would lack exciting and essential foods such as fruits, vegetables, and even coffee and chocolate! In addition to the food we eat, pollinators also support healthy ecosystems that improve air quality, stabilize soils, and support all other wildlife. Pollinator declines can have large impacts given the critical roles that they play in ecosystem health. These small, but mighty organisms need our help to get populations thriving again! Pollinators are a diverse group of organisms that visit flowers to feed on pollen and nectar or to collect oils and resins. In the process pollinators transfer pollen grains and assist plants in reproduction, supporting productivity in natural and agricultural landscapes. Native bees and other pollinators play a key role in the functioning of our global and local economies through the pollination services they provide to the agriculture industry.

Pollen Pants bee, Anthony Colangelo

Bees are the main pollinators of many wild flowers and agricultural crops across Canada. Most of us are familiar with the colonies of honey bees that have been the workhorses of agricultural pollination for years in Canada. Honey bees are not native to North America, or a natural part of our ecosystems. They were imported from Europe almost 400 years ago and continue to be managed for honey production and crop pollination services. But, largely unheralded, there are over 20,000 species of native ground and twig nesting bees globally, 800 in Canada, and over 200 locally here on Southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands! These bees have evolved with the local flora, and most of these bee species live solitary lives; a minority are social and form colonies or nest in aggregations. Native bees come in a variety of body shapes, sizes, colours, and some even have tongues of different lengths. Most people don’t even recognize many of them as bees! Native bees visit the widest range of flowers and crops of any pollinator group, and in many cases they are better at transferring pollen than honey bees. Our native bees can be encouraged to do more to support agricultural production if their needs for nesting habitat are met and if suitable sources of nectar, pollen, and water are provided.

Red Admiral butterfly, Anthony Colangelo

Many pollinator populations and species are in decline likely due primarily to habitat loss, disease, climate change, competition with managed pollinators, and the use of pesticides. Although not present on Vancouver Island, Monarch butterflies can be found throughout other areas of BC and Canada, and have seen one of the most dramatic population declines with 90% losses and shrinking overwintering numbers. Without feeding and nesting habitats, native pollinators cannot function to support terrestrial ecosystem productivity. The decline of these pollinators is a serious problem that requires immediate, local action to ensure that Canada and Vancouver Island’s food system and natural environment are productive and resilient. Establishing goals to secure habitat for pollinators is an essential strategy that will take buy in, co-ordination, and commitment from a number of sectors including government, industry, and citizens. The habitat requirement of pollinators is quite simple: they need regular access to foraging areas – flowers that bloom throughout the season, low exposure to insecticides, and nesting areas such as accessible soils and woody vegetation. Whether you are a small-scale farmer, a public or private land manager, or a gardener with a small lot, you can increase the number of pollinators in your area by making conscious choices to include native plants that provide essential habitat for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds, and other important pollinators. As our Pollinator Partnership motto says, ‘Protect their lives; Preserve ours’. For more information on how you can become involved, please visit the Pollinator Partnership website at www.pollinatorpartnership.ca or our local Island Pollinator Initiative (IPI) website at http://islandpollinatorinitiative.ca/. The IPI is a coalition of local organizations that are dedicated to promoting the protection of native and managed pollinators on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands through collaboration, event and information sharing, outreach, and action.

Published 8/31/18

Pollinator Partnership Pollinator Steward Certification

By Lora Morandin, Pollinator Partnership

Introducing a new Pollinator Partnership Program: Become a Pollinator Partnership Certified Pollinator Steward!

A lot of people have heard that bees and other pollinators are in trouble, and they want to help. But starting can often be intimidating. Add to that, that there is a lot of misinformation on the issues and the best way to help bees. One group of land managers in Victoria, BC Canada now know how to help bees and other pollinators. And, they’ve made significant contributions to habitat creation and education after completing the first Pollinator Partnership Pollinator Steward Certification Workshop in the spring of 2018.

The workshop certification program is designed to teach land managers about native pollinators, with a focus on native bees: why they are important, the issues they face, and how they can make a significant impact on conservation. The workshop covers plant selection, restoration techniques, pollinator identification and monitoring, planning your project, budgeting, maintenance, outreach and education, building artificial nesting sites, and Indigenous history, land use, and stewardship. At the inaugural workshop in Victoria, BC, conducted in partnership with local groups Habitat Acquisition Trust and Saanich Native Plants, registrants included municipal parks supervisors, a BC Department of Transportation environmental roadside manager, a golf course manager, a W̱SÁNEĆ & SENĆOŦEN Language and Cultural Revitalist, a community garden manager, a golf course land manager, the Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for the world-famous Butchart Gardens, and a cemetery landscape manager to name a few. The workshop featured local restoration and pollinator experts, lively discussions on barriers to pollinator conservation and solutions, and a talk and site visit to a Parks Canada native plant meadow restoration.

Following the workshop, participants created native plant pollinator gardens and restoration areas, removed invasive plants, engaged with the public, lead student pollinator monitoring, and taught co-workers about the importance of native pollinators. After demonstration of both aspects, habitat creation and education, participants were awarded with the Pollinator Steward Certification Stamps. They are using these stamps to demonstrate that they have a science-based understanding of pollinators and the practical know-how to help them. Certification also shows that you have used your knowledge to create habitat and educate others.

Pollinator Partnership can provide a workshop for your group or in your region. The two-day workshop can be tailored for land managers, corporate groups, naturalist groups, or gardners. Stewardship courses and certification are unique to each location and focus on local native plant restoration strategies and local pollinator populations. Contact Pollinator Partnership for more information on hosting a Pollinator Steward Certification Workshop. Visit HERE for more information.

Published 7/30/18

​A Place to Call Home

Guest Blog by Paige Embry

For many people the word bee evokes an image of honey bees: a band of sisters living together in a hive, divvying up the chores while their mother, the queen, lays eggs. That’s not how most bees live.

The world has around 20,000 species of bees, the U.S. and Canada have around 4000 species of native bees, and these are astonishingly diverse. Nevertheless, they can be grouped together in a variety of ways, and one of those ways is by sociality. Honey bees inhabit one end of the social spectrum and the vast majority of bees lie at the other end; these are the solitary bees. Here’s how life works for a typical solitary bee. Males and females emerge from their winter sleep. They mate. The males soon die and the females find a hole that will make a good nest and spend the rest of their lives gathering pollen and nectar and laying eggs (with a bit of time devoted to eating and sleeping). They do all of this alone. Every single one of these solitary females needs her own place to lay her eggs and this leads to another way of grouping bees—by where they choose to nest—with the vast majority, around 70%, nesting underground.

Most ground-nesting bees dig their own hole, sometimes to several feet deep which seems like an astonishing feat given that most of these bees are half an inch or less in length. Quite a few bee species are willing to nest gregariously with many individual bees digging holes right next to each other, sometimes only inches apart. Occasionally, bees will share an entrance hole with each bee then digging off in their own direction once they are underground. Dry ground under hedges, scruffy lawn, hard-packed road edge, clay banks, loose and sandy soil—there are bees that choose to nest in all these areas.

Some bees in the genus Diadasia add impressive entrance halls to their underground domains—they look like chimneys or turrets. One of these bees is Diadasia afflicta. To make a chimney the bee first digs the underground portion of the nest, throwing bits of dirt out of the hole. Then she sculpts her chimney out of the dirt using a nectar/saliva mixture as cement. The chimney may continue to grow though. Researchers studying the bee found that bits of pollen embedded in bee poop would periodically be added to the top of the chimney in the night.

Since 70% of bees nest below ground, clearly the other 30% nest aboveground, many in pre-existing tubular holes like old beetle burrows or the center of pithy stems. Again, most of these bees are solitary so each has her own hole. A female gathers enough pollen and nectar for one babe, lays the egg and walls it all off, gradually filling up the tube. What she uses for wall material can be quite variable, as can some of the choices made for the pre-existing “holes.”

For example, bees in the genus Osmia have been found nesting in everything from beetle burrows and reeds to snail shells and old wasp nests. They mostly make the walls between nest cells out of chewed up bits of leaves, which may or may not have bits of sand or mud added, but some build walls of mud or even dung.

Ways to help bees often focus on providing plants with flowers that have lots of pollen and/or nectar. To help honey bees, this is likely enough (along with laying off pesticides) because many honey bees are managed and live in boxes we provide for them. Wild native bees also need those good floral resources, but they need appropriate nest spots too. Many bees don’t fly far from their nests, perhaps only several hundred feet for some, so providing scattered patches of undisturbed bare ground and potential aboveground nest holes—rotten logs, pithy stems, cut reeds, drilled wooden blocks—near desirable flowers will increase the chance of bees setting up home in an area. And once a bee species finds a good place to call home, their descendants may return to that nest area year after year.

Published 7/3/18

Caribbean Bee Rescue Campaign

By Tom Van Arsdall, Pollinator Partnership

Last fall, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck many islands in the Caribbean causing catastrophic damage and triggering a major humanitarian crisis. It crippled island infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, including access to electricity, water, and other basic necessities. Agriculture was decimated, too. Cropland, family farms, and food systems were largely destroyed, and nearly $780 million in crop losses have been recorded so far in Puerto Rico.

Today, beekeepers in Puerto Rico, along with the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, are slowly recovering. Beekeepers throughout the Caribbean are essential to local agriculture and provide important pollination services to specialty crop farmers and others. In addition, they contribute to the local economy through various value-added products ranging from various beeswax products to locally produced mead (honey wine). In Puerto Rico, fewer than 150 beekeepers provide 7% of the honey consumed on the island, and these men and women maintained several thousand hives. From pineapples to coffee to countless fruits and vegetables, honeybees and other pollinators will be key to the recovery of Puerto Rican and Caribbean agriculture.

Pollinator Partnership recent led a campaign made up of private citizens, beekeepers from throughout the United States, industry groups, companies, land-grant universities, and many others to provide emergency assistance to the beekeepers of the Caribbean. The first stage of this relief was to provide essential nutrition to bees in the form of pollen patties and powdered protein. In the continental U.S., beekeepers have access to commercially produced protein sources, but these sources are unavailable in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. With your help, thousands of pounds of emergency bee protein was provided to beekeepers, but the storms also destroyed many of the Langstroth wooden hives used by beekeepers to house their bees and bees that survived the destruction of their hives swarmed, taking up residence in people’s homes, schools, and other structures. The campaign has also provided new hives for many Caribbean beekeepers. To date, almost 1,000 new hives have been shipped to Puerto Rico and these critical supplies have reached beekeepers throughout the island!

Assistance from the Pollinator Partnership Caribbean Bee Rescue campaign will continue in 2018. In addition to providing these emergency materials, the next phases of the campaign will focus on the following:

  • We will continue to work with local beekeepers and teams from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) to help strengthen beekeeping and pollination services in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
  • We will continue to assess the hurricane’s impacts on other pollinating species in the Caribbean to determine how help can be provided.
  • Working with local beekeepers, UPR scientists, officials in Puerto Rico, and beekeepers from the US Virgin Islands, we will determine how additional help can be provided going forward.

When disaster struck the Caribbean’s beekeepers, you and the Pollinator Partnership answered the call. Your support of our efforts gave us the opportunity to offer a much needed boost to the pollinators of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands – and to our fellow Americans throughout the Caribbean. Thanks again for your generosity. Together, we’ll continue to assist the beekeepers of the Caribbean!

Published 5/25/18

2017 Mite-A-Thon Recap

By Isaac Lisle, Pollinator Partnership

The Varroa mite was introduced into North America 30 years ago from Asia, and is one of the leading stressors to the health of honey bees in North America. The presence of mites in hives is a leading indicator of the health of the hive and the percentage of bees with mites provides a way to measure the cumulative impact of other stressors such as pesticides, poor nutrition, and disease. There are significant data showing that low rates of Varroa mite infestation make overwintering success more probable.

Pollinator Partnership (P2) and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) organized the Mite-A-Thon, a citizen science initiative, to gather data on Varroa mite infestations. This initiative took place from September 9 to 16, 2017, testing honey bee hives for levels of Varroa mites all across North America just before overwintering began. Commercial, side-liner, and hobbyist beekeepers were all encouraged to participate in order to create a rich distribution of sampling sites in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Over 900 participants reported data from across the continent, meeting the high expectations set for the initial year of the campaign.

Participants tested the level of mites present in their hives using a standardized protocol utilizing two common methods of assessment (powdered sugar roll or alcohol wash) and then uploaded their data (at www.mitecheck.com), including location, total number of hives, number of hives tested, local habitat, and the number of Varroa mites counted from each hive.

The primary objectives for this annual project are 1) to raise awareness about honey bee colony Varroa infestations in North America through effective monitoring methods and 2) to make management strategies available for discussion within bee organizations utilizing Mite-A-Thon partner developed information and outreach materials. To these ends, a density map has been created that attempts to show Varroa mite distribution in the United States based off mean mite counts.

While this data is useful, it is clearly incomplete and potentially misleading. Large swathes of the country, particularly in the west, have no reported data, yielding potentially incorrect low mite levels. Additional sample size issues are present in this data, including the fact that the highest value represented in the map is 0.0115 mites per square mile. This is almost certainly a low number due to low reporting, especially in areas with high honey bee concentrations. If one beekeeper out of 20 in the vicinity participated and reported high mite counts, it is likely that the others also had similarly high counts that went unreported.

With a better idea of the gaps in currently available data, Pollinator Partnership is seeking to increase participation in Mite-A-Thon 2018 that will take place the week of September 8. This participation is especially needed in top honey producing states because participation from these was lacking in 2017 and almost nonexistent in the top 3 states.

Mark your calendars for the 2018 Mite-A-Thon: Saturday, September 8 – Saturday, September 15! Keep informed at http://www.pollinator.org/miteathon

Published 3/15/18

Monarchs: Where are they now?

By Kathleen Law, Pollinator Partnership (Canada)

If, in the warm months of 2017, you were anywhere along the Monarch butterfly’s eastern migratory route - which stretches north from Mexico all the way to Canada - you might have noticed an unusually high number of these colourful beauties. Here in downtown Toronto, Monarchs were a common and plentiful sight from July well into October, and I even spotted a few stragglers in early November. Does that mean their population, which has declined by about 90% in the last 25 years, has rebounded?

It’s too early to tell what the 2018 numbers are (those numbers should be available by late February to mid-March from WWF Mexico and Monarch Joint Venture), but we do know that this was an exceptional year not only for Monarchs but for many species of migratory butterflies. This includes the painted lady butterflies, which were so abundant that the US National Weather Service’s satellites picked up a 70-mile (110km) wide mass flying over Denver (or http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41528521). It’s the combination of good weather conditions during the overwintering months, a rainy spring that promoted flower blooms, and some winds from the south that pushed the butterflies north that contributed to these population bursts.

Weather conditions, from draughts to storms to El Nino, have big impacts on year-to-year variability in migratory butterfly populations. So though 2017 might have been a “bumper crop” year for monarchs, these numbers have to be contextualized with long-term trends. It will be a few years still before we can tell whether the decline in Monarchs has slowed, stopped or, hopefully, even reversed.

And while it was a real delight to see so many of them well into the fall, the unseasonal warm weather disrupted the environmental cues that tell Monarchs to begin their migration south to their overwintering grounds. That means many of those I saw in October will not have made it south through the cold snaps, heavy winds and the hurricanes that they will have met along the way. Along with habitat loss, climate change is also a big threat to monarchs.

Fortunately, citizens, community groups, businesses and governments across North America are working together to increase the odds for monarchs. Here at Pollinator Partnership, we are in the planning stages of creating forty (yes, 40!) new monarch habitat sites in Ontario between now and 2019 with help from a diverse group of partners.

And while we wait to find out what this year’s overwintering numbers are, you can have a listen to the sound of millions of Monarch’s wings flapping in the Cerro- Pelon area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. Have a listen to this live audio stream, courtesy of Dr. Jaramillo Lopez, of the Research Institute for Ecosystems and Sustainability at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and the Locus Sonus project. But hurry up! These monarchs will start heading north in just a few weeks.

Published 2/26/18

Land Trusts Can Help Protect Monarchs and Other Pollinators

By Val Dolcini, Pollinator Partnership

As many in the land stewardship and conservation movement are aware, the monarch butterfly and its spectacular 3,000-mile migration (from Mexico, throughout the American Midwest, to Canada) is in great jeopardy. This incredible migration was listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as an endangered phenomenon in 1983, and in 2010, the World Wildlife Fund included monarchs on its list of the “Top 10 to Watch", which includes species that are in need of close monitoring and protection. In 2014, the US Fish & Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and a listing decision is to be expected by the summer of 2019.

However, there is a real opportunity for land trusts and conservation advocates to help. Simply planting milkweed and other native nectar plants will fuel the monarch for its incredible journey. Restoring habitat on former industrial sites and making greater use of managed corridors like utility ‘rights-of-way’ are two ways to increase fuel stations for the pollinator. Restored and natural lands managed by the land trusts across the Midwest, as well as promoting habitat on working agriculture lands could also play a valuable role in monarch conservation. Supporting the fragile migration of this iconic species lies within our ability to create and maintain adequate habitat with nectar resources to fuel the journey and milkweed plants to house the eggs. Like other organizations focused on science-based outcomes and practical results, Pollinator Partnership (P2) is taking action by joining forces with a variety of non-governmental organizations, land grant universities, and state and federal agencies along the migration route who are determined to strengthen and support the extraordinary natural phenomenon for years to come.

In 2014, P2 formed Monarch Wings Across Ohio (MWAO) which has established 18 monarch research plots utilized by our scientists to determine which native nectar plants are the best fuel source for the monarch butterfly during its migration. This research will allow P2 to publish the first ever Ohio-specific monarch habitat development guide with science-based plant lists. Look for it in the early spring of 2018.

P2 has also partnered with others to form Monarch Wings Across the Eastern Broadleaf Forest (MWAEBF), a five state effort designed to secure long-term monarch habitat. The project goals are increase the amount of regionally appropriate native seed and provide technical training to landowners and managers throughout the project region (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Arkansas). P2 is working with landowners and land managers in these states to determine if they qualify for a free onsite habitat review by P2’s Monarch Habitat Coordinator who will provide suggestions and tips for monarch habitat enhancement – free of charge. The monarch habitat technical training courses will open in the spring. Visit http://pollinator.org/mwaebf for more information.

We can all do something to support the monarch butterfly and its migration from Mexico to Canada. All efforts, large or small, contribute to the success of this species. Planting a backyard garden, working to dedicate larger tracts of land to agricultural or conservation easements, or even planting a few short rooted milkweeds in a balcony flower pot are all great ways to support monarchs. Together, we can truly make a difference in the survival of the monarch. For more information about these programs, our native planting guides, P2’s work throughout North America and how you can help, please visit http://www.pollinator.org.

Published 1/31/18