"Native Bees - an introduction" was the first of a speaker series held at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. Anita Collins, a United States Department of Agriculture honeybee scientist and a member of the Nature Center board, was the speaker.
She heard that the U.S. Geologic Survey wanted someone to survey bees, which hadn't been done since 1900, and became involved. She had a Power Point presentation to illustrate her talk.
The honeybee is an invasive that came from Europe with the colonists. They are highly social with tens of thousands in a hive and are managed by people for pollination.
The bumblebee is the only native specie that is social and their colonies are small. They are used in greenhouses for pollination.
Sometimes it appears that a solitary (non-social) bee is socializing, but it is simply that the conditions are right and a group will aggregate, such as at a patch of sandy soil. Each nest will still be individual. Members of the solitary bee species have short lives.
Pennsylvania has 400 species of bees. In the entire world there are 20,000.
Collins said the things bees do that make them bees is to collect nectar and pollen, build nests and raise their young.
The honeybee does one-third of the pollination in the country and native bees do another one-third with the remainder coming from a variety of sources including the wind.
For some plants there is only one kind of bee that will do pollination forming a symbiotic relationship. The alfalfa leaf-cutting bees pollinate alfalfa. Honeybees are too big to do the job.
Blueberry bees are of special interest in Pennsylvania, said Collins. The flowers hang upside down and the bees vibrate them to get the pollen to fall.
Many of the bees are stingless but they do bite.
Collins compared wasps to bees and said the wasps are parasitic, They have tiny waists instead of the chunkier bodies of the bees.
Honeybees do progressive provisioning. They feed the young on royal jelly and then change to a mix of nectar and pollen.
Few bees live in the woods, but on the edge where there are flowers. They do not travel far.
Collins said there was a home in New Jersey where the carpenter bees destroyed a porch. They have moved into Pennsylvania but do not cause damage.
At one time there were only five people in the country capable of doing bee identification but now more are being trained for that job. IDing is done by such things as the number of segments on antenna and by hairs on the abdomen. However, DNA analysis is beginning to be used.
Bee homes may be purchased or made by clumping lengths of straws in a group. Either can be hung to attract them to an area that needs pollination.
Collins was asked about the African bees. She said they are defensive and instead of one sting a person may be stung 10 times. They are mainly in the Southwest and Florida. Because they mate with honeybees, best mating practices have been developed to prevent cross breeding. If someone buys a queen bee and it is especially nasty with the African characteristics, it can be returned and will be replaced.
Another question was how they get through the winter. Collins said winter shifts their biochemistry as do some larger animals.
She said 120 species have been found at the Nature Center. Trapping has been done near the Osprey House so Collins expects more will be found as the trappers spread farther afield.