Have you ever wondered if we have native bees in Florida? We do, and a lot of them! We actually have hundreds of native bee species buzzing around and they are quite different from the non-native European honey bees we hear so much about.
Nation-wide there are over 4,000 species of native bees, and here in Florida there are over 300! Bees can be divided into two categories, honey bees and native bees. Honey bees were brought to the Americas by European settlers and thus are considered to be non-native species. These bees are eusocial meaning they work and live together for survival in a colony of thousands. Honey bees are very protective of their colony and will risk their lives to defend it, using their stingers to discourage intruders. Their colonies are built out of wax honeycomb which the bees construct and this is where our honey comes from. Honey bees are generalists, so they can feed on the nectar of a variety of flowering plants which is why you can find a lot of different types of honey in the market: orange blossom honey, wildflower honey, tupelo honey, saw palmetto honey, gallberry honey, and the list goes on. To produce honey from European honey bees, hobbyist and/or commercial producers need unique equipment, supplies, and gear to be successful. Native bees on the other hand are quite different.
Native bees are mostly solitary, living in a narrow nest either below ground or in wood cavities near the ground, and most of them don’t make any honey. They also differ from the honey bees in that native bees are often specific pollinators, attracted to particular plants which the bee needs for food and the plant needs for pollination. Although people are often fearful of the sting of bees, many of the native bees are often stingless or will only sting if annoyed or feel their lives are threatened. It is easy to create habitat to attract native bees and it requires little to no management once established if you wish to attract these native pollinators to your yard. Some common native bees you might see in your yard include: Bumble bees (Bombus spp.), Carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.), Metallic Sweat Bees (Halictidae spp.), Leafcutter Bees (Megachile spp.), Digger Bees (Andrena spp.), and many more.
You can encourage native bees to your yard by:
- Stopping use of insecticides
- Leaving bare soil in undisturbed areas so bees can dig their nests and tunnels
- Leaving some stumps and logs so the wood borers have a place to nest
- Plant native plants and nectar plants that bees love such as: saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), seagrape (Coccoloba uvifera), wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Walter’s Vibernum (Viburnum obovatum), Pennyroyal (Piloblephis rigida), Blazing Star (Liatris), Powderpuff (Mimosa strigillosa), Carolina wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis), tick-seed (Coreopsis spp.), and blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.).
- Building a bee house
- More research is underway to determine the best design and materials for native bee species in Florida.
Bees provide great benefits to us. Eighty percent of flowering plants around the world are pollinated by native bees, and one out of every four bites of food people take wouldn’t be possible without the help of bee pollination. So let’s do our part to help keep these very important pollinators around for generations to come!