When most of us think about bees, honey bees come to mind, those hard-working social insects that pollinate our fruits and vegetables and produce the honey that sweetens our cup of tea. As it turns out, most of the bees in our world are solitary in nature and live right under our noses. They are equally valuable and they are all in trouble and in need of our help.
Over 4,000 species of native bees are recorded in North America with 300 plus in the southeast. Because they are solitary nesters they are harder to notice. Some nest in burrows in the ground or earthen banks, others in heavy clumps of grass, with many using the hollow stems of plants or old cavities left by other bees. Because we like to live in neat landscapes, many of these nesting sites are destroyed, leaving our garden crops with few pollinators.
Some of our common bees range in size and places where they nest. Large bees like Bumble Bees nest in clumps of grass; Carpenter Bees in holes that they bore in exposed wood or large dead branches. Medium-sized bees like the Southeaster Blueberry Bee are ground-nesters. Leafcutter Bees nest in rotten wood and other natural materials that are easy to hollow out. Orchard Bees are some of our smaller bees, nesting in hollow stems and cavities.
And those are just the bees! Solitary and social wasps are also great pollinators as are flies and of course moths and butterflies. You can help our bees in several ways. Start by minimizing the use of pesticides in your yard and garden. Leave a bit of natural landscape in the corners of your yard where grasses, bare ground and plants with hollow stems can thrive and provide natural nesting places.
You can also provide artificial nest structures made with bamboo or other small-diameter tubes or build a bee nest box with holes drilled in scrap pieces of wood. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a wealth of information about pollinators and conservation actions, including recommendations on hole sizes for your bee nest structures.
One more thing to look for as spring breaks out in our great outdoors!