Bees are endangered. But when you think of a bee, what do you think of? Probably a honey bee or a bumblebee, right? To understand where the problem lies, we need to understand a little bit about bees first.
There are two types of bees:
Honey bees are kept by beekeepers, of which there are 8 species.
Wild bees, of which there are 20,000 species worldwide, and around 570 species live in Germany. The bumblebee is probably the most well known wild bee.
While honey bees are experiencing their own challenges with disease and pesticides, thanks to beekeeper's care, honey bee populations are not threatened currently by extinction.
Wild bees however are just that - wild! They are not taken care of, and are at the complete mercy of their environment. Indeed, most wild bee species live alone and not in a group. Unfortunately around 50% of wild bee species are currently under threat. Some wild bee species do make some honey, but it far less than what honey bees make, and not enough for humans to harvest.
So when we hear that bees are endangered, it may not necessarily be the bees that are actually endangered that directly come to mind!
Interestingly, many wild bees have evolved to fit specific flowers. They may have the specific body shape to fit inside the flower, or vibrate in the right way to release the most amount of pollen. In many cases, they can transfer 2 to 3 times more pollen per visit than a honey bee.
Some practices of bringing in honey bee hives from somewhere else to pollinate a crop or orchard can actually have a negative effect on the local wild bees. The honey bees could be taking away the food source for the wild bees, or at least adding to the competition for resources. Honey bees are also prone to pests and diseases, and can spread these to the wild bee population.
Other practices that harm wild bees are farming practices such as monoculture, where large areas of land only have one type of plant. If the plant is not a flowering plant, this further reduces the food source for wild bees. Many communities have started planting flower compensation areas near monoculture fields, to provide wild bees with some flowers and food.
What can we all do to help?
- Ensure wild bees have nesting sites.
Most wild bees build their hives underground, in holes made by larger animals. Some next above ground in rotten wood, hollow trees and plants, or even underneath rocks. In gardens, compost piles and empty birdhouses are also great for wild bees. Leave tree trunks to rot, or make your own bee hotel, with logs and hollow reeds.
- Plant flowers and trees.
Wild bees evolved to fit native flowers, so often planting exotic flowers may not necessarily help them - they might not be able to access the pollen. Bees also get thirsty on their hunt for pollen - why not create a bee bath - set out a bowl of water with some pebbles that break the surface of the water. This way the wild bees can land on the pebble and easily drink the water, before continuing their search for pollen.
- Protect hibernation habitat.
Many bees will overwinter in small holes in the ground. It is better to avoid raking or mowing your yard until around April or May. Fallen leaves even provide cover for hibernating bees, and will biodegrade and help your soil too!
- Go Chemical-Free.
Both insecticides and herbicides should be avoided. It is especially important to avoid systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids, which are absorbed by the vascular systems of plants. This means bees and other pollinators are exposed to the poison long after a product has been applied when they feed on the plants’ nectar and pollen. Do any necessary weeding by hand, or leave an area of your garden wild and allow native flowers to grow.