[Article written by Catherine DiLosa] From afar the bees buzzing around our gardens might all look very similar, but there are actually over 400 species of bees found in Ontario. The stereotypical image many people have of bees is that of a social creature nesting in large hives and producing honey and wax. However, most native bee species nest on or under the ground, do not produce honey, and (aside from bumble bee species) are mostly solitary. Nevertheless, all bees are important to the health and diversity of ecosystems in Ontario and all over the world. Here are six common bee species, native and introduced, that you might find in your garden this spring and summer:
1. Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens)
These large, furry bees are native to Canada. They build their nests underground, and unlike many other native species, they are eusocial, forming colonies of 50 to 200 workers with a single queen. Bumble bee species as a whole are generalist pollinators, meaning they are able to pollinate many different kinds of plants. In contrast to the boldly striped European honey bee, the abdomen of the common eastern bumble bee is mostly black.
2. European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
These familiar bees are not native to Canada, but were introduced to help pollinate farmers’ crops and to provide honey and wax. This is the species of bee that beekeepers manage in hives, but there are colonies of escaped honey bees in the wild. The colonies of honey bees can number in the tens of thousands of individuals.
3. Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)
The large eastern carpenter bee can be between 2 cm to 2.5 cm long. It has a shiny black abdomen and is distinctly less fuzzy than bumble and honey bees. As the name suggests, carpenter bees nest in wood, carving tunnels up to 30 cm deep. Eastern carpenter bees do not have a queen and do not form colonies, but rather are solitary nesters.
4. Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata)
This is another species that is not native to Canada. Like the honey bee, the alfalfa leafcutter bee was introduced to help pollinate crops. Although this bee is the most effective pollinator of the alfalfa plant, it is a generalist, and is able to pollinate many other plant species. This bee gets its name from the semi-circular pieces it cuts out of leaves, which it uses to line the brood cells of its nests. Leafcutter bees of all kinds are solitary and nest in existing cavities in stems, walls, pipes, under rocks, in the ground, and elsewhere.
5. Bicolour Striped Sweat Bee (Agapostemon virscens)
This striking metallic green bee is Toronto’s official bee, though there are other sweat bee species in Ontario that closely resemble it. As the name suggests, these bees are attracted to perspiration and they will often land on exposed skin to consume sweat. They are, however, relatively docile. If you find a sweat bee has landed on you, it is best not to swat at it as that may provoke it into stinging.
6. Common Eastern Plasterer Bee (Colletes inaequalis)
This bee is one of the first to become active in the spring and goes by several names, including the cellophane bee and the polyester bee. The unique, plastic-like substance species in the Colletes genus produce is used by the females to line the brood cells in their nests. It is waterproof and biodegradable, and it is currently being studied as a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics.
Let us know if you spot any of these native bees this spring or summertime, be sure to tag us on social media @Pollinatorpathwaysproject if you want us to reshare it!
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