Did you Know ... The Buzz on Bees

Mon, 06/24/2013 - 2:46pm

Did you know that we are just coming to the end of the officially declared Pollinator Week in Rhode Island…and, the nation? It is true: both Gov. Chafee and the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the week of June 17 as Pollinator Week — a special time for recognizing the important role pollinators have in making sure that food resources and the nation’s vast natural ecosystems remain healthy and continue for generations.

Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, from bats to moths to birds to insects; for many, bees will instantly come to mind. But, alas, bee populations are dwindling and suffering serious reductions. Many are familiar with the often-cited Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) affecting honeybees. This is a situation where the bee colony appears to cease functioning over a short period of time for no discernible cause. Pesticides? Disease? Parasites? The reason — or reasons — is simply unclear. But this is a serious situation.

“Honeybees don’t just make honey; they pollinate more than 90 of the tastiest flowering crops we have. Among them: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. And lots of the really sweet and tart stuff too, including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.

“In fact, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” (From Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Regional Guide for Farmers, Land Managers, and Gardeners, distributed by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and Pollinator Partnership.)

Did you know that honeybees are not native to the United States? Honeybees as we know them today were introduced to North America by European colonists in the 1600s. And, did you know that it is, and will be, the native bees that may be the “saving grace” in dealing with the dilemma of CCD?

“Native bees are an unappreciated treasure, with 4,000 species from tiny Perdita to large carpenter bees; they can be found anywhere in North America where flowers bloom. Most people don’t realize that there were no honey bees in America until the white settlers brought hives from Europe. These resourceful insects promptly managed to escape domestication, forming swarms and setting up housekeeping in hollow trees, other cavities or even exposed to the elements just as they had been doing in their native lands. Native pollinators, in particular bees, had been doing all the pollination in this continent before the arrival of that import from the Old World. They continue to do a great deal of it, especially when it comes to native plants.

“The honey bee, remarkable as it is, doesn’t know how to pollinate a tomato or an eggplant flower, while some native bees are masters at this. The same thing happens with a number of native plants, such as pumpkins and watermelons, blueberries and cranberries, which are more efficiently pollinated by native bees than by honey bees. Let us take a closer look at this forgotten treasure of native bees.” (From Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Bees, by Beatriz Moisset, Ph.D. and Stephen Buchmann, Ph.D., distributed by the USDA Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership.)

Did you know that the carpenter bee is a beneficial native bee? Carpenter bees are pollinator generalists and are especially good in the garden and yard where they pollinate tomatoes, eggplant, and blackberries, to name a few.

Did you know that the Ocean View Foundation will be celebrating “Pollinator Week” all summer with the introduction of a new program — B.I. Bees & other pollinators? This new program will be offered on Monday mornings at 11 a.m. at the Ocean View Pavilion site. All are welcome to join OVF EcoWorker Samantha Alger as she leads a short walk and engages you in citizen science by collecting and observing and recording the presence of native bees on Block Island. In addition Samantha will make suggestions about how you can enhance your own back yard and garden by providing bee-friendly habitats and plants.

To learn more about native bees and the vital role of pollinators, check out the following sources:



Pollinator Partnership at http:// www.pollinator.org

For more opportunities to learn about bees, other pollinators and engage in citizen science join these Ocean View Foundation events and programs:

June 21: Summer Solstice

June 23 at 10 a.m.: Horsefoot Walk, (a hunt for mating horseshoe crabs) at Andy’s Way

June 24: OVF summer programs begin

June 26 at 9 p.m.: Night SkyViewing, at the Hodge Preserve, Corn Neck Road