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# Native Bees

There are approximately 4,000 species of native bees in North America. These native bees have special habitat requirements: foraging habitat, nesting habitat, and overwintering habitat. These habitat needs can be met by the same high-quality habitat that benefits monarch butterflies and other wildlife species.

Native bees maintain 80% of our native plant species and improve yields of 75% of crops. They provide valuable ecosystem services and provide $14.4 billion worth of pollination annually in North America alone.

# Solitary Vs. Social Bees

Of the 4,000 species of native bees in North America, more than 90% of them are solitary. This means that each female constructs and provisions her own nest without help from other members of her species. Bumble bees are the best-known native social bees, though there are more than 200 species of sweat bees that sometimes nest socially.

Unlike honey bees and wasps, native solitary bees are docile and do not attempt to sting humans unless handled. This is because they do not have a nest to defend. Only female bees are capable of stinging, though they rarely do.

# Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are prolific pollinators. There are 47 Bombus species in North America. Unlike European honey bees, bumble bees have annual colonies. Only queen bumble bees overwinter. Bumblebees are cavity-nesters so suitable nest sites may include: tree cavities, under a tussock of grass, or an abandoned rodent nest.

Bumble bees are capable of sonication, or buzz-pollination. The bees are able to use flight muscles to vibrate at high frequencies to effectively release pollen from inside a flower’s anthers. Other native bees, like carpenter bees and sweat bees, are also able to use buzz pollination while foraging. European honey bees do not sonicate.

Native Bees 2

# Ground-Nesting Bees

Ground-nesting Bees

About 70% of North America’s native bees (approximately 2,800 species) are solitary ground-nesters. Depending on the species, the bees dig in bare, or sparsely-vegetated, soil to make their nests. Nest configurations range from a short, single tunnel, to complex, branching tunnel systems. It is important to minimize or avoid soil disturbance in pollinator habitat to prevent destroying existing nests or potential nesting sites.

# Wood- and Tunnel-Nesting Bees

Wood- and Tunnel-Nesting Bees

About 30% of North America’s native bees (approximately 1,200 species) are tunnel-nesters. Many tunnel-nesting species use abandoned beetle burrows in standing dead trees or limbs. Some chew out the pith of dead, dry stems and twigs from plants such as elderberry, blackberry, and sumac.

There are pre-fabricated “bee houses” available commercially. It’s important to use these synthetic house responsibly if you choose to use them in your pollinator habitat. There are resources online for building your own and cleaning recommendations. Because these are solitary bee species, these “bee blocks” can increase disease, fungus, and parasite transmission between individuals, especially if not properly maintained.

If you’re interesting in learning more about our native bees, we recommend beginning with:

  • Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies (A Xerces Society Guide; 2011)
  • The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril, 2015
  • Gallai, N., et al. (2009) Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics 68(3), 810-821.
  • Potts, S. G., et al. (2010) Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25(6), 345-353.

# Habitat Needs

Our native bees require: 1) foraging habitat, 2) nesting habitat, and 3) overwintering habitat.

It is important to understand the diversity of our native bee species. It is estimated that Arkansas likely has 400 - 650 species of native bees.

Native bee habitat needs

# Foraging Habitat

When planning pollinator habitat, a maximum diversity of Arkansas native plant species should be selected to benefit specialist and generalist pollinators. It is very important that early spring blooming and late fall blooming species are included in your garden or seed mix. Some of our native bees emerge early in the spring and these nectar and pollen resources are critical to their survival.

# Nesting Habitat

Different bee species require different materials or conditions for nesting. Since 70% of North America’s native bees (approximately 1,200 species) nest in the ground, it is important to minimize or eliminate soil disturbance in the habitat like discing.

Providing bare ground is important if you want to provide nesting sites for these bees. This can be accomplished by not laying down a weed barrier or mulch in a pollinator garden or managing larger acreages of pollinator habitat with prescribed fire in accordance to guidance from your local biologist.

# Overwintering Habitat

When managing pollinator habitat it is important not disturb more than ⅓ to ½ of the area at one time to provide refugia for pollinators. For overwintering habitat, it’s recommended that dead vegetation is left standing instead of being mowed or cut down. For larger acreages, consult with your local biologist for proper management.