Native Bees of British Columbia and Yukon

Note*
Before I start, please don't hesitate to send me your photos of insects that you would like identified. Location, habitat and any other associated information is usually required for me to try and identifiy it properly. Hopefully you'll have a few photos from different angles for me to get close. Send to odonatas@uvic.ca
 

100-million-year-old bee discovered in amber from Myanmar "Scientist finds 100-million-year-old bee"

CBC Saskatchewan interview from last year that captures things about neonicotinoid pesticides: Tuesday May 7, 2013 Should Canada ban pesticides harmful to bees?
"We spoke with a honeybee producer and a native bee biologist about the European Union banning neonicotinoid pesticides because of their effect on bees. We ask whether Canada should follow suit."
 
 
A large species of Megachile, or leaf-cutter bee.
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In agricultural applications whereby biotic agents of pollination are required, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are often the single bee of choice for this service. I advocate strongly that we consider utilising, if not at least complimenting this service agent, by encouraging native species of bees to not only assist in this pollination, which leads to seed set, but also, to help disperse honey bees further between flowers/plants of rows further apart, thus improving cross pollination and genetic variability. However, agriculturalists forget about provisioning for foraging and nesting habitat that many native bees require, to support these native bees to "stick around" the area. This can be done by leaving a good diversity of ground cover between the managed rows not only for nests for many ground-nesting bees, but also the flowers that get established in these micro habitats. Leave those native flowers and "weeds" around your crops/orchards as this will support and retain the native bees to hang out. The competition between these native bees and your honey bees, will keep them all flitting around that much more between flowers, improving flower visitation and essentially seed-set in both your intended crop as well as the associated plants in the same area. 
 
A profuse growth of diverse plants for both food and beauty supporting native bees and honey bees. The free-standing shelter houses many species of cavity-nesting bees, and just to the left out of frame are some apiaries of honey bees. This site at HCP also has a large community garden just out of view.
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Right outside my front door in a patch of the flowerbed, I have a nest of Agapostemon females. I counted at least three coming and going with full loads of bright yellow pollen. Here's one poking her head out.
It's a lousy photo but the best I could get in the few minutes I had to spare. One coming, and one going.
 

A feral colony of honey bees that have taken up residence in a concrete telephone pole in Victoria.
The day before (August 9, 2013), there was a large mass of bees pouring out at the exterior of the entrance but today they were mostly back inside. Gauging by the number of bees coming and going, this was a healthy population.

Bees are fascinating - an introduction by Gord Hutchings with help from Peter Jonker

    I shudder to speculate how many resources have been invested over thousands of years on one species of non-native bee to perform the pollination service we require for food production. Such heavy reliance on a single exotic species greatly risks a food-production crisis should this species suffer its sudden demise as a result of disease or some other calamity.

Fortunately, a solution exists: more reliance on our native bee species. Many of us are unaware that British Columbia and Yukon are home to more than 450 (~438) species of native bees—a significant share of the world’s total diversity which is estimated to be around 25,000 different species. Many people are also unaware that maintaining the high diversity of our native plant species—sentinels of a healthy ecosystem—requires maintaining a high diversity of our native pollinators.

You may find it surprising to know that most people, when they encounter one of our native bees, fail to recognize it as a bee at all. This is because the mistaken popular mental image of a bee looks for an insect having yellow and black stripes and that nests in a beehive “ruled” by a queen. The facts are very different: Not only do our native bee species show a vast diversity of colour schemes, but also of body-size, life-cycles, ecology, and behaviour.

Bee species and flowering-plant species have evolved co-dependently for millions of years. Because the diverse ecosystems of the BC-Yukon region are home to a vast array of plant species, they are home also to the many pollinator species co-dependent with them. The most important of these pollinators are native bees. When you begin to look closely at native bee species, you will be amazed to discover remarkable variations in their evolved anatomy—variations in tongue lengths, hairiness, jaw types, and much more. Like the bills of Darwin’s finches, these variations evolved to enable nectar and pollen harvesting from the specific flower-designs of native plant species. In its foraging, a native bee concentrates on those few specific flowers with which its species has co-evolved. It is in these flowers that, because of its particular adaptations, it can most easily harvest its food—food not only for itself but also for its offspring. In this manner, our native bees have been performing the ecological tasks of plant pollen exchange and fertilization for millions of years—long before the arrival of the European honey bee.

I invite you to join me in taking first a closer look at the diverse anatomy, nesting habitats and foraging methods of our native bees. Then, let's explore what we can do to foster the rightful respect they deserve as native agents of pollination and as essential food providers for the animal kingdom.

Diadasia australis on cactus flower in the Thompson-Nicola region of southern B.C.
 
What appears to be xeric and desolate, is infact dense with native bee diversity
 
 
About 70% of our native bees build their nests in the ground and about 90% are
solitary bees, living a life as individual providers for their offspring. Our native
bees can sting repeatedly should they ever come to a situation for defence, but this
does not exist for the most part towards humans, and besides, their venom is far
less potent than other venomous insects such as yellow jacket wasps and hornets.
Male bees can't sting at all and their existence is mainly for mating purposes only.
Some native bees are equipped with unique glands that can exude products that are
used as "glues" to line their nest to repel bacteria, fungae and plants underground,
whilst others exude wax to build their honey pots and brood cells.
A species of Hylaeus, which is a small black bee that doesn't look like a bee, in the family Colletidae.

Then there are the parasitic bees that lead the life of living off of their host's
bees, parasitizing another female bee's nest and laying their eggs inside so they
can steal the provided food source and develop within the rearing chambers.
A species of Sphecodes, a cleptoparasitic bee on other ground nesting bees

The main threat to our native bees is the loss of habitat, both foraging habitat as
well as suitable nesting habitat, be it specific ground that mining bees require, or
physical substrates such as rotting logs or standing trees. Use of pesticide and the
detriment it does to native bees appears to be fairly understood by most people now
but the providing of suitable expanses of crop edges, native meadows as well as
making bee boxes conducive for bee homes, are something we can all learn about to
benefit our native bees and put in to practice in both urban and rural areas where
growing food crops is concerned. 

Bee families in our region consist of the following families:
Andrenida
Apidae
Colletidae
Halictidae
Megachilidae
(Some consider Mellitidae as another family but I will go by Michener for taxonomic classification)   
These little bees which I haven't identified yet, most likely a species of Anthophora (my winter project to i.d. 8 shmitt boxes of bees), was digging a nest in this soil. 
 
 

So, Ryan and I decided to dig in a little to investigate. There were about 20 bees per square metre going into their own little holes. We just had to investigate. 

 
We found this developing pre-pupae of some genus of bee with the remains of the provided pollen mass still left over in the  brood chamber. Most likely a Colletes or Halictus bee. 
 

This was another bee that looked like it had developed to the adult stage but would've been in a state of diapause until next spring. Most likely an early Spring bee so I would guess Andrena.

 
 
 
 
I can't remember what type of non-native, garden variety of flower this was, but it had lots of male bumble bees visiting their fuschia coloured flowers. Maybe it was a hollyhock?
 
Many types of Asteracea like Senecca and Hieracium, are valuable foraging flowers for many native bees like this Megachile species. 

Lasioglossum males "lekking" and feeding on a head of Taraxacum officinale (dandelion). 
 

This looks suspiciously like a species of wasp but it was right in amongst the Lasioglossums at the Whitehorse community gardens. I collected it but as yet have not looked at it until I see this photo. hmmm...

 
A male decided to die on the flower. I think it's a species of Anthophora.
 
 
 
 
So, what kind of bee is this? If you said it's not a bee but a winged ant, you're correct. The ladybird beetle was just hunkered down on the sepals of this sunflower and just happened to be there for the photo.
 
 
 
 B. melanopygus
A species of Anthophora at forget-me-not garden flower. 
 

In the forested area along the Aishihik River Rd. in YT, this burned tree stump is pretty typical habitat for many types of hole nesting bees, especially the megachilids. They take up residence in excavated buprestid or cerambycid beetle exit holes.

Here's a species of Megachile in the old tree trunk. In the same trunk, I also found a bee that looked suspiciously like a Ceratina but I didn't know this species would occur so far north. I didn't collect it to verify unfortunately.
 
A recent fire at the north end of Hwy. 37 near the Yukon border but in B.C. This small patch of wild Asters had a pretty good diversity of bees such as Megachile, Osmia, Anthophora, and Hylaeus but what was missing, were all the bumble bees, a common bee outside of the immediate fire area. And why is that? Go to one of my talks and you'll learn about ground nesting bees and the differences in depth of their nests, ground duff layer, and the succession of a forest rebuilding after fire.
 
 
Along a stretch of the Takhini River in southern Yukon. This was on a horse ranch and had plenty of diversity of bees still. A beautiful spot.
 
Traps set out for bees, which consists of yellow and white bowls (all my blue bowls broke and I had no pink), with water and a drop of dish detergent to break the surface tension when the bees come to check out a big "flower".  This is along the Klondike Hwy, north of Whitehorse, YT.
 
 
Between Achilla, Solidago and Epilobium, I got lots of species of Lasioglossum, Bombus and Anthophora, both in my traps as well as actively net collecting. 
 
Collecting above the Alaska Hwy west of Teslin, YT.
 
 
Some of the highway ditches are smokin' hot for bee diversity which are often overlooked. The bored drivers sure do stare at the melittologist collecting and photographing bees however. This is also along the Alaska Hwy. in southern YT.
 
Well known for its butterfly diversity, the Fish Lake Rd. just outside of Whitehorse is pretty decent for bee diversity too. Even on a greyish day, the bumble bees were thick on the Hieracium, Taraxacum, Achilla, Solidago and Epilobium. Being a bit cool, the bumble bees still visit flowers but are definitely slower which is good for photography. At this particular time and place, it was active with several species of male Bombus
A typical amount of bumble bees at this spot on Fish Lake Rd.
 
Bombus lucorum on Taraxacum officinale (dandelion).
 
 

 

The community gardens in Whitehorse
 
It is reported that bee species are in flux due to some species increasing whilst others are decreasing due to human-altered environments.
 
Dease Lake has their community gardens on either side of Hwy. 37. These people had to deal with nosie bears and snoozing moose in their patch, hence the wire. All the nearby wild flowers have ample native bees that might want to stray in to their crop when it's in bloom.
 

Meanwhile back in Victoria, my condos were filling up. This particular tray of 7mm channels had three different species - 2 Osmia and 1 Anthidium which makes its nest from hairs extracted from leaves of lamb's quarters.

 
Here's the close-up of the smaller species of Osmia (probably O. texana) that started first at the back of the channel. Note the orientation of some of the cocoons and the leaf mulch used for cell divsion. The fuzzy white ones are Anthidium cocoons.
 
Inside the "wool" of Anthidium, this is what the cocoon looks like. Interesting how clean from bee larva excrement it was as they incorporate this into their cocoon packaging!
 
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This recent post on one of my entomology discussion groups had this. Thought it appropriate as it's pretty much what I've been saying at my talks too.

Name witheld but he's a retired honey bee keeper.

"In the past few years Colony Collapse Disorder has been frequently in the news. While it's nice that bees are getting attention, exaggeration and "Chicken Little" hype are not beneficial.

Generally the theme is that honeybees are going AWOL and that our food supply is threatened. I have been trying to counter this threat, noting that while there are problems such as CCD, the beekeeping industry is responding quite well to the threat. I've also pointed out the inaccuracy (probably serious underestimate) of the official numbers of colonies in the US.

Now it's nice to get confirmation of what I've been saying:
http://economics.clemson.edu/files/ccd-paper-full-package-apr14-2011.pdf

The next thing I've been pointing out is that wild bees are much more difficult to replace than honey bees. I am hoping to see more confirmation of this in the future.

Honey bees and wild bees each have a role to play in our food supply - and in the total balance of ecology. Sometimes they overlap; many times they don't.

I am pleased to be a part of a group that is doing serious study of the wild bees and their role.

I am not pleased when I see separation, competition, and antagonism between advocates of wild bees and advocates of honey bees. Both groups should be natural allies; the problems that confront each group of bees are significantly similar.

One of the most serious problems that face ALL bees is the one mentioned here:
http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20110930/NEWS01/309300018/Mysterious-south-Brevard-bee-kill-confounds-costs-keepers?fb_ref=artsharetop&fb_source=profile_multiline

I have seen more of these pesticide kills than I can count. And consider - if (replaceable) honey bees are so seriously affected - how much more the wild bees are affected! We all need to get more involved in preventing such disastrous losses of both groups of pollinators."
 
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And, here's another one from the Apoidea bee-listserve
This is by Peter Bernhardt, author of "The Rose's Kiss", "An Orchid Paradise" and "Gods and Goddesses in the Garden" http://www.slu.edu/x17535.xml
 
No one is trying to demonize anyone.  Obviously, protection of pollinator and pollinator-services works only if beekeepers, scientists, local naturalists (who are often amateur beekeepers) and federal/state employees work together.  The fact remains, though, that some beekeepers are living in la-la land based on recent, shared communications.  Here are the facts.

1) Honeybees are not native to the flora of the western hemisphere.
2) Nectar and pollen is a limited resource consumed both by honeybees and native animals with anthophilous foraging habits.
3) Commercial bee keepers introduce hives by the hundreds into agricultural areas (fine with me) but that doesn't mean that honeybees always prefer the nectar and pollen they obtain from domesticated crops when they have the choice of flowering plants found in natural areas adjacent to cultivated fields.
4)  Some beekeepers find this final point the hardest point to understand.  The presence of any animal on a flower doesn't mean that flower has a true pollinator.  Animal-mediated cross-pollination is a "balanced act."  Honeybees DON'T pollinate every native flower they visit even though they may exit the flower with nectar and pollen from that flower.  I have nearly 30 years of publications on who does and who doesn't pollinate based on fieldwork in North America, Australia, New Caledonia and Israel.  Sometimes the honeybee is a dependable pollinator and sometimes it ain't but it is almost always a dependable remover of nectar and pollen.  That's o.k. with me.  My darling, Xylocopa  (males and females) are good, native, North American citizens and they certainly don't pollinate everything they visit either but they are virtually the ONLY pollinators of one of the native milkweeds I've studied the last two years.  The fact remains that you won't see hundreds of thousands of Xylocopas in a conservation area punching holes in the flowers but you can certainly see hundreds and thousands of honeybees in the same site if commercial apiarists are permitted to bring in their hives within a certain radius.   

I love honey, beeswax candles and consume enhtusiastically every fruit and vegetable pollinated by honeybees (especially those yummy Californian almonds).  However, I also love to eat pork sausage, beefsteaks, fired chicken and roast duck (Chinese way is best) in the clear knowledge that these animals were not permitted to forage in reserved, conservation areas during their life times. If dear little Miss Apis and her many sisters are permitted to do what is sweet and natural in a conservation area doesn't that mean that Bossie the cow, Donald duck and the three little pigs must be allowed the same access?
 
Peter