COLORADO’S DIVERSE BEE POPULATION
Typically when someone says the word “bee”, our brains immediately conjure an image of the black and gold striped honey bees buzzing around the beehive. Or we think of the fuzzy and buzzy bumble bees that hover around us during the summer. But have you ever noticed that there are green bees? Or that there are bees with black and white stripes?
Turns out there are about 950 different species of native bee living in Colorado alone! Within these species, there are 66 different genera. Characteristics of these bees can range from big and hairy (bumblebees), to small and hairless (the wasp-like Hylaues and Nomada species). Colors can range from red, orange, yellow, green, blue, black, or brown. This diversity of bee population is considered to be high compared to other states due to Colorado’s range of ecosystem characteristics.
The vast majority of bee species are solitary, meaning they do not create colonies or have queens. Instead, the females and males interact mostly just for mating, and females make solitary nests to lay their eggs much like birds or reptiles.
Often these nests take the form of ground nests, by building burrows in the soil or taking advantage of existing tunnels and cracks in the soil surface. This is why it is important to leave some bare ground and fallen limbs in your yard to help support these precious pollinators!
The bumblebee (genus Bombus) is a social species of bee, meaning that they create colonies or hives with queens similar to honey bees.
There are 250 members of the Bombus species worldwide, with 46 species in North America, and 24 present in Colorado. These species vary in coloration patterns and behavior.
Bumblebees have longer tongues than other species of bee, allowing them to pollinate a wider range of flowers. Also due to their size and hair, they carry much more pollen from plant to plant than other bees, making them highly effective pollinators.
Contrary to popular belief, the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is not a native bee but was brought to America by European settlers in the late 1600s as a way to ensure their crops were being pollinated.
The honey bee continues to play a critical role in the pollination of our agricultural crops; however, due to its origin, is not considered a threatened species from an ecological perspective.
Our native pollinators play a much more important role in supporting the foundation of our Colorado ecosystem through their symbiotic relationship with our flora species.
- Colletes sp., ♀.
- Hylaeus (Hylaeus) leptocephalus (Morawitz), ♂.
- Andrena (Callandrena) helianthi Robertson, ♀.
- Halictus (Pachyceble) confusus arapahonum Cockerell, ♂.
- Agapostemon (Agapostemon) femoratus (Crawford) or A. (A.) obliquus (Provancher), ♀. 6. Stelis (Dolichostelis) rudbeckiarum Cockerell, ♀.
- Megachile (Xanthosarus) sp., ♂.
- Coelioxys (Boreocoelioxys) sp., ♂.
- Ceratina (Zadontomerus) sp., ♀.
- Nomada utahensis Moalif, ♀.
- Holcopasites calliopsidis Linsley, ♀.
- Bombus (Thoracobombus) fervidus (Fabricius), ♂
So what can we do to help protect our diverse native bee population?
- Fill you garden with more native flowering plants with diverse blooming times.
- Create a safe haven for bees in your yard by creating natural shelter, such as brush piles, logs and diverse layers of foliage.
- Reduce or eliminate your use of toxic chemical pesticides on your yard, and encourage your neighbors to do the same! The leading cause of bee population decline is due to the widespread use of pesticides.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTING OUR POLLINATORS
Our pollinator species have thrived on the native flowering plants of our region for thousands of years and depend on each other for survival. The symbiotic relationship of each pollinator to their host plants or flowering plants of choice is essential in maintaing the biodiversity of our ecosystem.
Pollinators are any species of insect or animal that spreads pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing the plant and sparking its reproductive process.
Most plants cannot self-pollinate, and are entirely dependent on the tireless work of pollinators in order to perpetuate themselves. The pollinators themselves depend on the nectar, pollen, or foliage for food, and those pollinators are in turn a food source for larger animals such as birds, mammals and reptiles.
This food web is interconnected and interdependent. Nearly 85% of flowering plants require pollination assistance by animals.
Native bees pollinate nearly 15% of the U.S. fruit, nut and vegetable crops. As you may know, honey bees are not native to the United States, and although they play an important role in pollinating agricultural crops, they are not essential to the native plants of our ecosystem. On the contrary, honey bees can sometimes out-compete the native bee population for nectar and pollen. It is important when we design our gardens and our landscapes that we plan for accommodating more than just the honey bee.
There are 3,500 different species of bees in America north of Mexico, with about 946 different species of bee extant in Colorado. Changes in native bee population due to pesticide use and urban sprawl can have drastic effects on the stability of our ecosystem.
- The Bees of Colorado, Museum of Natural History, https://www.colorado.edu/cumuseum/sites/default/files/attached-files/the_bees_of_colorado.pdf
- The Bumble Bees of Colorado: A Pictorial Identification and Information Guide, Abigail Wright et al.