Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Bee" aware!

Natural catastrophes make for wondrous P.R.  

If ever a family of insects needed a public relations coup, it is our humble native bees. Not until the imported European bees which do much of the heavy-lifting, pollination wise, were dying in a "colony collapse" did native bees come to our attention.

 Bumblebees are just one of our native American pollinators.
Suddenly, the agronomists and scientists looked around and realized we would be in deep doo-doo without our pollinators!  In fact, we might only be in grass-fed animal doo-doo, since most grasses are wind pollinated.  But forget about all those fruits, vegetables and nuts we so enjoy, if there were no bees.

With the fate of European honeybees on the line, suddenly our native bees were getting a lot more respect.  Some scientists even noted we have not cataloged all the species of native bees right here in the U.S.!  We have been taking their work for granted much too long.  In fact, we now know that native bees keep honey bees more productive (with competition) and are picking up some of the slack for those manicured, cultivated, pedigreed bees.

Specific native bees have cultivated relationships with certain spring ephemerals.
This year, while we admire the spring flora, let's pay particular attention to the native fauna which pollinates it.  In past years I have noted tiny, cold-weather bees in their extra-fuzzy jackets, working the Spring Beauties and Trout Lilies.

These one-week-wonders seem to disappear after the first flush of spring.  As I recently learned at the Ohio Natural History Conference, studies show they DO disappear after a few weeks of work!  These insects must have some fascinating life cycle which permits them to be sustained with only a short-cycle of nectar gathering.

Nature has wondrous ways, if only we choose to see.

Butterflies (like this Monarch) also provide pollination services. 
If we are to discover the mysteries of collapsing colonies of honey bees and the stunning decline of  the migrating populations of Monarchs, perhaps we need to look no further than ourselves.  As we continue to "weed-and-feed" our lawn, "powder" (sounds much nicer than "poison") our roses and "dust" our vegetables, should we really be surprised that we are killing the very insects that attend to our plants needs?

It may be the greatest of human arrogance to believe we can continue to poison the species around us, without impacting our own health.

Here is an interesting follow-up story on pesticides and fauna, if you are so inclined.

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