|one of the first bees I've seen this season--several buzzing around peach blooms|
The breakfast cereal Cheerios recently highlighted the plight of bees, some species of which are disappearing from our landscapes in record numbers, in a campaign the company called #BringBacktheBees. Every package of Honey Nut Cheerios provided information that encouraged customers to go online to order free packages of wildflower seeds (over 1.5 billion seeds, according to the Cheerios website). In addition, General Mills left a blank space on its packaging where the cereal's mascot Buzz the Bee usually appeared. The ad certainly had an important message, but like a lot of advertising, it over-simplified the problems of reduced habitat and threatened and endangered species. Some of the flower seeds included in the packets are native to some areas in the United States, but not others. This might not be a problem, necessarily, but the flowers might not be ones that native bees of an area usually pollinate.
The other issue is that while honeybees have had some serious problems in hive die-off and those problems have transferred to feral populations of honeybees, it's the native bees that are most seriously endangered. Honeybees are exotic to this country, introduced from Europe by white settlers. Because honeybees are used commercially in agriculture, from those bees transferred from farm to farm to pollinate fruit trees to those bred for honey production, European honeybees will always have moneyed support to fund research when a serious issue arises. Native bees and other pollinators, however, are extremely important in pollinating native plants, and these pollinators are often overlooked in popular Save-the-Bees campaigns.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pollinators face threats from habitat loss and degradation as well as over-use of pesticides:
As native vegetation is replaced by roadways, manicured lawns, crops and non-native gardens, pollinators lose the food and nesting sites that are necessary for their survival. Migratory pollinators face special challenges. If the distance between the suitable habitat patches along their migration route is too great, smaller, weaker individuals may die during their journey.According to research, native bees do a tremendous amount of work pollinating fruit and vegetables, with honeybees supplementing that pollination. In the words of one researcher, "honeybees can't do it alone." Native bees are most efficient in pollinating watermelons, tomatoes, blueberries, and squash, among other fruits. I have witnessed squash bees pollinating our squash plants here in Arizona.
|bee in squash flower (I took this photo in our garden in 2016)|
|This was the best photo I could get of the first bumblebee I have seen this season.|
Here in Arizona, I am encouraging patches of native flowers as well as allowing dandelions to grow in the small grassy lawn that a previous owner planted in front of our house.
|dandelions in our lawn|
|bee landing on a dandelion in our front yard|
|bee landed and at work gathering pollen|
|deep in pollen|