When most of us think of bees, we think of the honey bee.
But interestingly, the honey bee is native to Europe and has been shipped all over the world for pollination and honey production.
It was brought to Canada’s west coast 160 years ago, but it’s just one of hundreds of species of bees in this province.
Claudia Copley is the Entomology Collections Manager and Researcher at the Royal B.C. Museum.
“A lot of people have heard that bees are declining, and that pollination is at risk, but most people only know about the honey bee,” says Copley.
“The honey bee gets a lot of credit for doing the work of pollination, but there are 459 other bees in British Columbia, and all the other bees still do pollinate, because they collect pollen for their larva.”
And that list keeps growing. British Columbia has more than half of all the bees in Canada, and 30 per cent of these can only be found in the south-central interior of this province.
“Seventy per cent of them nest in the ground, and then another 30 per cent use holes in trees that were the exit hole of a beetle” says Copley.
“The one that most people know is the mason bee, or the blue orchard bee. That’s familiar, and a lot of people are gardening with that now, and including it in their gardens.
“The 70 per cent that nest in the ground create a burrow and chambers off the sides, and they lay a single egg and provision it with pollen. So they’re solitary bees, and they need soil to burrow into,” explains Copley.
If you happen to discover a bumble bee nest in your home, Copley says you should consider yourself lucky.
“They usually nest in insulation in your attic, because they don’t bring in nesting material. They also use abandoned rodent burrows and bird nests in trees, so those are some of the places you might find a bumble bee nest.
“And they don’t defend their hive very vigourously, so they’re not a danger, like a wasp’s nest right near your door might be.”
Some bumblebees are declining in numbers. A local example is the western bumble bee. It was once among the most common species of bumblebee in this region but now has become very rare.
In fact, the western bumblebee is now considered threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act.
“It has a very white bum,” says Copley, “so when you see it, if you see it, if you’re lucky enough to see it, you might recognize it by its bright white bum.”
Copley hopes people will open their minds, and their gardens, to the diversity of bees in this province.
“There’s lots of ways you can encourage bees in your landscape.”
“You can use native plants, which they’re adapted to, and they’ll also go to your horticultural plants and your vegetable garden. People can avoid the use of pesticides, purchase organic foods.
“Ground nesting bees can be encouraged by leaving areas of exposed soil, and undisturbed. So don’t mulch everything, because then they can’t get access to soil.
“If you do all these things, you’ll end up with more pollinators in your own garden, and then you’ll have a lot more fruits and vegetables to harvest in the fall for yourself.”