All About Bees

To say that Paula is passionate about her subject would be to understate her enthusiasm. I believe every SDCI board member was ready to adopt a few hives by the time Paula’s Powerpoint presentation was finished, even our allergic member!

Some interesting bee facts we learned from Paula:

There are four thousand species of native bees in North America. Of those, 400 species are native to Maryland alone.

Contrary to popular thought, most bees are solitary and do not congregate in nests or hives with others of their species. Solitary bees each have their own nest, usually in a hole in the ground. Colonial bees work together in hives. Their bodies have evolved to include pollen “baskets”, called corbicula, as part of their anatomy, found usually on their thighs, in which they collect and carry pollen back to the hive. Most bees, whether solitary or colonial, have hairy bodies to further the collection of pollen.

Corbicula full of pollen look like orange saddlebags

There are 13 species of bumblebees in Maryland. Bumblebees are Maryland’s only “social” (colonized) native bee (honeybees are actually not native). Bumblebees retrieve pollen from flowers by engaging in sonication or “buzz pollination”. Instead of sucking or plucking pollen, bumblebees vibrate the stamen of each flower to loosen the pollen. Indeed, tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries and nightshade are just some of the plants which have evolved to require that they be vibrated in order to distribute their pollen. There are four rare species of bumblebees in the United States. One of those, the rusty-patched bumble bee, is a Maryland native. An organic chocolate company called Endangered Species Chocolate chooses various threatened species to highlight on their candy wrappers. Maryland’s rusty-patched bumble bee was distinguished on a wrapper for the blueberry-vanilla-crème edition of their 2014 chocolate bars. Yum!

Rusty-patched bumble bee is featured on the 2014 Endangered Species
candy bar wrapper

If you’ve ever seen a perfectly “drilled” hole in unpainted wood around your house or yard then you’ve seen the work of the carpenter bee. What you don’t see is that this Maryland native always drills against the grain and then makes a right turn within its tunnel to form a safe place to lay eggs and from which to defend the nest.

Mason bees lay their eggs in holes they find in logs and stumps. Interestingly, holes must be 5/16th of an inch deep in order for a mason bee to lay female eggs. In any hole more shallow than that a mason bee will only lay male eggs. For those who might like to install a mason bee house in order to encourage these prolific pollinators, such a house, characterized by its many holes, must be placed at least three feet off the ground.

Mason bee houses should be placed at least three feet off the ground

Honey bees are not native to Maryland or even North America. They are thought to have first been introduced to Virginia in 1622 by European colonists. Honey bees are colonial (no pun intended) and the queen enjoys a three to five year life span, unlike the queens of most species which typically live only one year.

The longtime nemesis of picnics and barbecues, yellow jackets are in the wasp family, Vespidae. Most of us know that the honey bee’s stinger is barbed, causing it to be torn from the bee and left behind when it pricks its victim. This means a bee can only sting once and must die in the process. Yellow jackets, however, can sting repeatedly without damage to their bodies. The protein in their venom is different from that of honey bees, so someone allergic to bee stings might not react to a yellow jacket sting, and visa versa. Also unlike honey bees, yellow jackets are aggressive defenders of their nests, usually in the ground, and will chase a perceived threat.

Mud dawbers steal larvae from other nests to bring into their own nests for their larvae to feed on.

Paula Becker, DNR biologist, gives a bee presentation to the SDCI board of directors
Paper wasps recognize human faces!

Hornets are predatory and aggressive. They are solitary creatures who live alone in ground nests. There are several hornets native to Maryland.

All species of Apidae, Vespidae, Bombidae, Osmidae and others are important pollinators whose life cycle is critical to human survival through the pollination of crops.

The SDCI board was delighted to learn so many bee facts from biologist Paula Becker of DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service. Thank you, Paula!

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