June Meeting Recap – The Buzz on Native Bees

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Our native bees are in trouble. Habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, urbanization and the effects of climate change are just some of the factors contributing to our native bee population declines. Today one quarter of all bee species are in danger of disappearing. Without pollination, 2 of 3 agricultural crops worldwide will not produce food. That means 1 of every 3 bites on your plate will go missing. 

Our presenter for the evening  Jean Foley, bee enthusiast and horticulture student at the College of Lake County, began the program by sharing with us her experiences in the summer of 2015 when she helped research native bees in Somme Prairie Preserve, near Northbrook, Illinois. Somme Prairie is a high quality open grassland prairie community, having been actively restored since the 1970?s.



Somme Prairie Preserve

That summer from June 19 through Aug 16 Jean photographed and collected bees and the flowers they were pollinating. These were saved in vials of alcohol which were labeled with bee name/flower name (if known), date, and location and returned for scientific identification to Laura Rericha, a wildlife biologist at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Laura is the co-author of, Flora of the Chicago Region: A Floristic and Ecological Synthesis.


This research yielded specimens from 6 families of native bees  

Long-horned bee on Sawtooth Sunflower 
  •  Melittidae –  3 native species in our region. These are oil collecting bees. They do not collect nectar but prefer to feed plant oils mixed with pollen to their young.
  • Colletidae –  26 native species in our region. This family includes plasterer and yellow-faced bees. They smooth the walls of their nest cells with secretions which dry into a cellophane-like lining.
  • Megachilidae – 51 native species in our region. This family includes the Leafcutter, Mason, and Resin Bees. Known as the builder bees, they cut, collect and carry material back to make nests.
  • Halictidae – 98 native species in our region. These are known as Sweat Bees and Little Green Bees. Some species are  easily recognizable due to their beautiful, iridescent green or golden colors. Although they feed on pollen and nectar, many of these bee species are also attracted to the salt in human perspiration.
  • Andrenidae – 78 native species in our region. These are the mining bees. Many are specialists preferring only 1 plant species. One example is Andrene arigenea. This bee lives a short life above ground coordinated with the flowering of the Spring Beauty (Clayton virginica), then goes underground for its inactive life span.
  • Apidae – 80 native species in our region. This family includes the Carpenter, Digger, Squash, Cuckoo, and Bumble Bees (the non native honey bee is also in this family).


Bumble bee on New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

Since bumble bees are a favorite of Jean?s, she listed a number of ?Bombus? facts that may be new to you:

Bumble Bees (genus Bombus) live social lives for less than 1 year. Only one new queen overwinters.

?Social? may mean 2 insects or 100 in a bee colony.

Because of their large body size their season is quite long and they can fly in poor or adverse weather conditions.

They can detect nectar levels with their antennae without landing on a flower. This saves energy and time.

They “buzz pollinate? meaning they vibrate to make pollen fall on them.


It bears repeating that the numbers of these essential, amazing creatures are declining at an alarming rate. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is our most compelling example. Listed as ?rare? in 1997, its numbers are down 96% and its status was changed to ?endangered ?on March 21, 2017 by the US Fish & Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.  It is extirpated in many areas.

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affines) queen



Researchers are doing their part. We can help too!

  • Bees need healthy air and plants. Limit or eliminate pesticide use. Avoid neonicotinoids, a class of garden chemicals which are linked to pollinator decline. There are ideas for safer, less toxic alternatives. Read this fact sheet ManagingPestsWithoutNeonics
  • Bees need flowers for foraging. Beautify your yard with native plants for pollinators Native Plant list Pollinators . Did you know that bees prefer white, yellow, or blue flowers with large petals and a mild scent? Wild Bergamot, blazing star, Lead Plant, foxglove, spiderwort, and goldenrods are just a few examples of the”Bee Friendly” flowers that are blooming throughout the growing season. 
  • Bees need nests for spring broods and also nests for overwintering queens. Leave some dead wood and plant matter in your garden for them to use.


Learn more: Consult the list of books and websites provided here. Native Bee Resources

Do more: Become a citizen scientist. Report at BeeSpotter.org

 Say more: Talk to neighbors, friends, and children about all that bees do for us.

Fear less: Many of us are anxious about being stung but most bees are focused on their work. Don?t get in their way and don?t mess with their nests. Other insects, such as wasps, hornets and yellow jackets may be more likely to sting people. Learn how to identify and give them more space.

Thank you all for joining us for the latest “buzz” on bees.                                                     ~ Y.K.