World Bee Day

May 20, 2024
Photo courtesy of Bee City Canada

May 20th is World Bee Day and here in the Department of Biological Sciences we are once again marking the day by sharing photos of bees that members of our department have graciously shared with us. We hope that you will be inspired to take a closer look at the little creatures that visit flowers and notice the diversity that lives around us. 

Photo courtesy of Nesil Martens

Bumble bees are familiar to many of us with their fuzzy hair and large size. In this photo you can clearly see the large, dark yellow balls of pollen that this bumble bee has been collecting. The pollen is packed into structures located on the hind legs called corbicula. Pollen contains protein which is needed as food for their growing young. Pollen is also an important protein source for egg production in reproductive females. 

Photo courtesy of Emelia Kirkwood

We have 35 species of bumble bee in British Columbia and around five species that are very common just in the Metro Vancouver area. Different species can be distinguished by the different colour patterns of hair on their bodies. Beyond the standard black and yellow, other colours that can be found on various species are red, orange, and white. How many different colours have you seen on bumble bees? 

Video courtesy of Emelia Kirkwood

Besides pollen as food, bees also need nesting habitat. The nesting habits of bees is very diverse. Some are happy to build their nests in old bird houses, rodent burrows, or piles of yard waste. Some have specific plant material they will use to line the cavities where they lay their eggs. Others prefer to dig their own nest in loose, dry soil as can be seen in this video. Up to 70% of our native bees nest underground. Sometimes providing nesting habitat for wild bees is as simple as leaving a sunny patch of dirt undisturbed by gardening and landscaping. 

Click image to watch the video.

Photo courtesy of Tiia Haapalainen

We have over 500 species of wild bee in British Columbia. They have a lifestyle that can be thought of as existing on a spectrum from social to solitary with some falling somewhere in the middle. With purely social bees living in a communal nest with just one queen capable of producing eggs and the remaining bees living as workers who help maintain the nest and provide food and care for the developing young. On the other end of the spectrum, there are solitary bees where every female is capable of producing eggs. In this case, she will provide all the maternal care for her young. In all cases, it is the female bees that construct the nest and forage for food for their young. Male bees (like the sweat bee in this photo) lack pollen-collecting structures for this reason. 

Photo courtesy of Tiia Haapalainen

Bees come in a variety of sizes and some have long tongues and some have short tongues. Some are active from spring all the way into the fall while others may only be around for a few short weeks during the warmer months. This is why it is important to think about growing a variety of flowering plants that bees of various sizes can access and that will provide food throughout the season. Asters like the one in this photo being visited by a female long-horned bee, provide easy access and a flat landing platform for bees of all shapes and sizes.