More Buzz on Pollinators

Karen Adler's picture

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, we are following last week’s post with some great buzz on native bees, courtesy of our friends at The Xerces Society and the Wild Farm Alliance.

While we love European honey bees, and promote practices to ensure their survival and safety, they are, as the name says, not native to North America. Many crops are dependent on honey bees for pollination, but native bees are often better adapted to various climatic conditions than honey bees. Also, some native bees can be more efficient pollinators than honey bees for native American crops such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cranberries, and blueberries, as well as many old world orchard crops, such as apples and cherries.

Fast facts on native pollinators:

  • Native bees are more effective than honey bees at distributing pollen.
  • Native bees get to work earlier in the day and put in longer hours.
  • Many native bees are more active in colder and wetter weather: mason and bumble bees fly at lower temperatures than honey bees and work in the rain.
  • Bumble bees and other natives perform buzz pollination, grabbing onto a flower’s stamen, vibrating their flight muscles, and releasing pollen from deep pores in the anther. (Highly beneficial for cross-pollination of tomatoes, peppers, cranberries, blueberries, and many others)
  • Bumble bees are important pollinators of raspberry and other cane crops.
  • Natives can create a competitive situation that increases honey bee pollination. (For example, with sunflowers, direct interaction between honey bees and native bees causes the honey bees to move more often between rows, greatly increasing their cross-pollination ability)
  • Birds, bats and reptiles, as well as butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and other small invertebrate species are also important players in the pollinator workforce.
  • Native pollinators are free! There are no rental fees for wild bees, butterflies, flies, and birds.

Understanding and encouraging the diverse presence of native pollinators contributes greatly to pollination stability on the farm, ensuring that farmers are not solely dependent on honey bees. Organic farmers providing floral sources and nesting sites for native pollinators are building crucial biodiversity on their farms and fostering healthy ecosystems that increase habitat for native plants and animals, including the beneficial insects that help control farm pests.

This information was gathered from Organic Farming for Bees: Conservation of Native Crop Pollinators in Organic Farming Systems, a seminal resource from the Xerces Society, produced in part through OFRF funding, and Wild Pollinators: Agriculture’s Forgotten Partners, a briefing paper from the Wild Farm Alliance.

And if you missed this tip last week, visit Wings of Life, to view film clips and learn about this Disneynature film that brings to life the magical world of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats, and flowers.

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