There are several types of bees in North America: native bees, bumblebees and the imported European honeybees. Their importance to our food supply cannot be understated. Not only do we rely on bee to pollinate fruits and vegetables that we eat directly, they are also vital for the foraging crops that livestock consume.
Native bee species in North America number about 4,000. They range from the minute Perdita to the large carpenter bees. They are under-recognized for the work that they do, native bees can be found anywhere a flower grows and produces pollen. In general, native bees are solitary (they don't hive), docile and non-stinging. Here in the desert southwest they live in the soil or take advantage of holes in trees or even in old wood.
The exception to the social habits of native bees are the bumblebees. Bumblebees are social, they live in colonies, share work and have multiple generations during the spring, summer and autumn cycle. Once the summer is over, the only bumblebees that survive are the fertilized queens. The queens hibernate in winter and emerge in spring to find a new nesting cavity where they build a colony.
The European honeybees were imported to North America by early settlers who did not understand that there were native bees already here. Honeybees have a very strict social structure and every hive has 3 types of bees – the queen, workers and drones:
- Queens are the fertile females.
- Workers are infertile females that perform the labor in the colony.
- Drones are males that start out as unfertilized eggs. Their purpose is to mate with a virgin queen. Their odds of actually fulfilling their destiny are slim – only 1 in 1,000 actually get the opportunity to mate.
Sadly, all bee populations are declining and the causes are extremely complicated. Among the likely culprits are Wax Moths, Varroa Mites, Small Hive Beetle, loss of habitat, neonicotinoid insecticides, cultural issues related to beekeeping habits, malnutrition, and several more. Whatever the causes, cutting back or halting the use of insecticides is something we can all do to reduce the risk to bees.