A Good Year for Wild Bees

Bee June 2

This summer’s butterfly shortage is not reflected in the yard’s bee activity. Early in May carpenter bees began arriving, followed quickly by mixed swarms of bumble bees, mason bees, mining bees, and sweat bees.

Bee July 15

Bee July 15

At first I tried to identify the bees in my photos, but my limited taxonomy skills were no match for the maze of overlapping body sizes, varying wing-vein patterns, and individual nesting strategies. (This article from National Geographic discusses, in part, the difficulties of bee identification.) Now I’m content to file all of my bee photos in a single “bee” folder, organized by date.

Bee June 14

Bee June 14

Bee June 14

None of the yard’s bees seem to mind being photographed, even from very close range. I’ve spent hours, this summer, crawling through patches of clover and kneeling beside the flower beds.

Bee July 28

Bee Aug 12

In all those hours I haven’t seen a single honeybee, which isn’t too surprising given the current crisis of Colony Collapse Disorder. Beekeepers have experienced devastating losses as their hives fail, and the dwindling honeybee population is a potential disaster for parts of the agricultural industry. Pollination is a key step between flower and fruit, between planting and harvesting. For some of our favorite fruits and vegetables, an orchard or field with active bee pollination produces increased quality (and quantity) at harvest. Take away the bees and the harvest suffers.

Bee Aug 31

Bee May 19

Fortunately, research indicates that solitary bees and bumble bees are excellent pollinators, especially when they share territories. (This blog post at Charismatic Minifauna offers a summary of research findings in blueberry crops. And a few miles from the yard, researchers are following strawberry crops pollinated by mason bees.)

Bee July 25

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to add bee houses to the yard, fearing stings. This summer’s bee hours have quieted that fear, and I’m planning to add at least two bee houses over the winter. These will provide nesting spots for mason bees and leaf-cutter bees, either in pre-drilled blocks of wood or bundles of reeds. (Here’s an article with instructions for building bee houses: Native Bees, Solitary Bees, and Wild Bees: What are they? [PDF].)

Hopefully next summer I’ll spend even more hours crawling through the clover and kneeling beside the flower beds…

Bee July 15

Bee July 15


15 thoughts on “A Good Year for Wild Bees

  1. bardessdmdenton September 26, 2014 / 3:20 PM

    Beautiful photos and engaging reflection, as always, Rae. My apologies for my absence. I see you saw my latest post, so know I have slowed down with blogging. Glad to be visiting here again. Hope you and yours are very well.

    • bardessdmdenton September 26, 2014 / 3:21 PM

      Meant to say, that I was thinking about you this morning, and making a mental note to get over here. That was before you visited my site. Well, there are no coincidences. 🙂

    • Rae Spencer September 26, 2014 / 6:13 PM

      All is well here. 🙂

      I’m sorry you won’t be blogging as much, but I’m excited about the new book! Can’t wait to read it!

  2. Sandy September 4, 2014 / 10:52 AM

    Love your articles, your photos. What I see is how you are one with nature.

  3. janetkwest September 3, 2014 / 11:22 AM

    My parents have added various plants and bushes into their yard to encourage bees. They have different varieties of bees which enjoy the blossoms but never bother people.

    • Rae Spencer September 4, 2014 / 1:00 PM

      Your parents’ yard sounds wonderful! I’ve never planned the yard around bees, specifically, but the number of bees on a flower often influences my choices at garden stores. If the bees like it, I’ll usually buy it. Next summer, I hope to focus more consciously on making the yard bee-friendly.

  4. timelesslady September 3, 2014 / 8:03 AM

    I love photographs of bees. Yes…here in Southern NJ we are experiencing, or should I say have experienced a shortage of butterflies too. I’ve only seen cabbage butterflies in any quantity, and lately a few little flocks of skippers around my front garden. Only a stray swallowtail, both varieties, has been spotted in my yard. This past weekend we visited the Delaware Bay area…usually in September it is swarming with butterflies. Not this year… 😦

    • Rae Spencer September 4, 2014 / 1:06 PM

      Over the last week I’ve seen a definite increase in the number of butterflies passing overhead, including a few cabbage butterflies and a single monarch, but the numbers are still low compared to previous years. Hopefully next year will be better?

  5. jeanryan1 September 2, 2014 / 4:22 PM

    I am always working around bees, of all types, at the plant nursery. Only thing that ever stung me were yellow jackets when I was catering. They of course prefer beef to bee balm and will go after it savagely. Bees are no problem, and in my yard I plant all sorts of flowers they like, hoping to help them.

    • Rae Spencer September 4, 2014 / 2:15 PM

      Like you, most of my stings have come from wasps, though I admit to a few careless accidents where I stepped, barefoot, on other bees. (Once, when I was very young, I accidentally scooped a bumblebee into my sandal as I was running through the yard. I panicked, and the poor creature stung me several times before I was able to shake it free. Other than a mysterious pair of excruciating stings Mother attributed to a scorpion, even though I never saw the creature that I had sat on in the barn loft, the bumblebee-in-my-sandal incident stands out as my most painful memory of being stung.)

      My fear of stings in the yard is not so much for myself as it is for visitors and neighbors. I don’t know, yet, how best to reconcile my urge to make the yard bee-friendly and my stronger urge to act responsibly in a world where my actions inevitably affect others. A bit more research is needed before I decide how big my bee houses will be and where they will be placed. As with everything else, I’m working on it…

      • jeanryan1 September 4, 2014 / 7:45 PM

        I admire the care you take with this world and with your photography. Very nice.

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