Thursday, March 24, 2016

Colorado's Native Bees by Cindy Gibson

The hum of bees is the voice of the garden – Elizabeth Lawrence

Photo courtesy Donna Duffy
As the days become warmer and the first flowers of spring appear, look and listen for the gentle sound of bees in your garden. Many bees that call Colorado home will emerge from their underground nests, hollow stems, or holes in trees starting in March. The diversity of local habitats in Colorado helps to explain why there are over 900 reported native species!

Mason Bee (Osmia), photo courtesy

The mason bee (Osmia spp.) can be a perfect addition to your backyard garden as they don’t travel far from the nest. The female will lay eggs inside tunnels left by tree boring insects, or predrilled untreated wood planks. Since they don’t have a hive to protect, you rarely need to worry about being stung. They are prolific pollinators and will visit many types of blossoms, increasing yields of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Bumblebee (Bombus), photo courtesy Whitney Crenshaw, CSU Extension

The fuzzy bumblebee (Bombus spp.) with its black, yellow and sometimes orange markings, is quite recognizable. A fertilized queen will overwinter in the ground and establish her colony in the spring. Bumblebees will defend their colony if disturbed and are capable of stinging multiple times. Many native plants as well as greenhouse-grown tomatoes need buzz pollination, in which the bee produces strong vibrations to release pollen.

Digger Bee (Andrena), photo courtesy Mother Earth News

Digger bees (Andrena spp.) are solitary bees and live in soil tunnels. As the female digs in the soil to lay her eggs, she creates a mound that looks like a small ant nest. The eggs will develop into adult bees that emerge as a large group the next spring. Digger bees are important pollinators of native plants and spring crops. They are non-aggressive and rarely sting.

Native bees are two to three times better pollinators than their foreign cousin, the honeybee. They are better adapted to local conditions and they don’t require expensive housing. The diversity of native bees can help to ensure pollination even in poor weather conditions. Read more about native bees and take steps to encourage bee population growth and pollination.

For further reading, check out these publications: