How Insect Allies Add to Peace, Comfort, Wealth and Health
Pollination Week, June 20 - 26
This June take a moment to celebrate the work of a vast array of pollinators. Most of the species of flowering plants in the world rely on pollinators - insects (beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies and flies), birds (hummingbirds, swallows, doves), bats and other small mammals (primates, possums and rodents) and reptiles. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from a flower on the same or another plant of the same kind so that seeds will be produced. About eighty percent of all plant pollination is by animals. The remaining twenty percent of pollinated species rely on wind and, for aquatic plants, water.
Pollinators not only directly provide nuts, fruits and vegetables for us, they are also responsible for the hay, alfalfa and clover that feed the animals that give us meat and dairy. More than 150 food crops in the U.S. depend on pollinators. Without pollination our natural plant communities in the parks, open spaces and wild lands would also have no way to reproduce.
Plants have evolved many ways for attracting pollinators. These include color and shape, smell, and food (nectar and pollen). Some flowers produce both pollen and nectar as an attractant and reward to the pollinator for visiting them. Desert cactus like the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) rely on bats, birds and insects, they have many options. Some plants like the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) rely heavily on one animal, in this case midges, the only insect small enough to do the job.
Unfortunately many of the pollinators that plants depend on are in trouble. Wild bee species (largely bumble bees), butterflies, bat and hummingbirds are declining in population. There are many factors in play: habitat destruction, invading species, pesticide use, environmental changes, parasites, disease, and things we have not considered yet.
There are about 4,000 species of native bees in North America. California alone has about 1,600 native bee species. Native bees tend to have a specific relationships to plant types and groups; they come in an array of colors, sizes and shapes. They can be metallic green, blue, brown, black and gray. Apidae (bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, southeastern blueberry bees, and cuckoo bees), Halictidae (sweat bees), Andrenidae (miner bees), Megachilidae (mason bees and leaf-cutter bees) and Colletidae (plasterer bees or polyester bees) are the most common species.
You will probably more than once have seen her fluttering about the bushes, in a deserted corner of your garden, without realising that you were carelessly watching the venerable ancestor to whom we probably owe most of our flowers and fruits (for it is actually estimated that more than a hundred thousand varieties of plants would disappear if the bees did not visit them), and possibly even our civilisation, for in these mysteries all things intertwine.
Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee, 1901
The majority of bees are solitary, or only social on a very limited basis, so they have no need to produce stockpiles of honey. They all make nests, laying eggs and providing enough pollen and nectar for each larvae to grow into an adult. Some solitary bees nest in the ground, some use tunnels like hollow stems or burrows created by other insects, some can chew their own burrows into dead wood. Most female native bees are active as adults working on gathering nectar and pollen and building their nests. They can have a lifespan of about a year unlike a honeybee queen that can live for three or four years.
Native to Eurasia, the honey bee, Apis mellifera has become the primary pollinator for modern agriculture. Honeybees are responsible for the production of more than 100 commercially grown crops in North America. Managed colonies were transported around the world, first arriving in North America with European colonists in the 1620s.
The first honeybees to arrive on the west coast came by train, boat and pack mule. Twelve hives were purchased by Christopher A. Shelton in Aspinwall (now Colon), on his way across the isthmus of Panama. He was bringing nursery stock to start a new business between Santa Clara and San Jose. The bees, having been brought from New York originally, continued on a 3,500 mile steamer voyage from Panama City to San Francisco, then another steamboat ride from San Francisco to Alviso and finally on to San Jose in early March of 1853. Of the twelve original hives only enough to populate one hive survived.
You can visit the historical marker out at the San Jose International Airport, the location of Shelton's ranch, marking the import of honey bees to California.
HERE, ON THE 1,939 ACRE RANCHO POTRERO DE SANTA
CLARA, CHRISTOPHER A. SHELTON IN EARLY MARCH 1853 IN-
TRODUCED THE HONEYBEE TO CALIFORNIA. IN ASPENWALL,
PANAMA, SHELTON PURCHASED 12 BEEHIVES FROM A NEW
YORKER AND TRANSPORTED THEM BY RAIL, "BONGO,"
PACK MULE, AND STEAMSHIP TO SAN FRANCISCO. ONLY E-
NOUGH BEES SURVIVED TO FILL ONE HIVE, BUT THESE
QUICKLY PROPAGATED, LAYING THE FOUNDATION FOR
CALIFORNIA'S MODERN BEEKEEPING INDUSTRY.
CALIFORNIA REGISTERED HISTORICAL LANDMARK No. 945
Things to Do
Plant some flowers, UC Berkeley's Urban Bee Lab provides a how to guide for providing bee habitat all year long. Add some native wildflowers to your garden, they are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and provide a habitat for a variety of native pollinators. If you want to encourage visitors to stay build a house for native bees. Just by observing and taking a picture you can help track one of our most endangered pollinators through Bumble Bee Watch.
Follow these links to learn more about native pollinators:
Follow these links to learn more about native bees:
Follow these links to learn more about honeybees:
- Urban Beekeeping Laboratory
- Santa Clara County Beekeepers Guild
- The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Bee Informed Partnership
Read more about it at the Library:
- Wilson-Rich, Noah. 2014. The Bee: a Natural History
- Popper, Helen Ann. 2012. California Native Gardening: a Month-by-Month Guide
- The Xerces Society. 2011. Attracting Native Pollinators
- Lee-Mäder, Eric. 2014. Farming with Native Beneficial Insects
- The Xerces Society. 1998. Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden
- Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring
- Buchmann, Stephen L. 1996. The Forgotten Pollinators
Explore the California Room
Check out these items in the California Room:
- Argue, Charles L. 2012. The Pollination Biology of North American Orchids
- Hall, Frederic. 1871. History of San Jose and Surroundings - Ready Reference
- Clipping Files - San Jose - BEES
- Clipping Files - California - BEES
The San Francisco Sunday Call, June 19, 1910.Bugs that work and fight for men. Herein is shown how insect allies add to the peace, comfort, wealth and health of men. John L. Cowan