Monday, January 12, 2015

December 2014 Meeting Re-cap: Ian Lane

At our last meeting 12/15/14, we were fortunate to have University of Minnesota Dept. of Entomology Bee Lab graduate student Ian Lane expand on what we know about friends of Apis mellifera in his presentation “Wild Bees: Their Life, Troubles, and Relationships.” 
Long ago, bees were hunters (sound familiar?), with protein the core of their diet. With the evolution of flowers, bees became gatherers of pollen and nectar, which is why the diversification of flowers is so important. 
Worldwide there are twenty thousand species of bees, represented by 9 families – 6 of which are found in Minnesota. Within these 6 families are at least 320 different species!  And 98-99% of them are solitary bees. meaning they do not live in social congregations like honey bees do. 30% of them are tunnel nesting bees (Mason, leaf cutter, yellow faced, carpenter East Coast bees, and others). The other 70% of solitary bees are ground nesting bees (sweat bees, miner bees, plaster bees, digger bees, etc,). The remaining 1-2% live in social communities as social cavity nesters (honey bee democracies).  Mind boggling? 

Animal transportation is the dominant form of pollen movement (as compared to wind, and other mechanisms), and accounts for 78% of it in temperate climates, and 94% of pollen movement in tropical climes. When we remember that 35% of the global food supply relies on pollination, this critical mode of transport is underscored.  Enter wild bees: their densely haired bodies are designed for this task. Their branched hairs increase surface area and are statically charged to attract oppositely charged pollen, which sticks to the hairs and is carried off by nature’s gatherer.
Bees get their nutrition from nectar and pollen and have distinguishing palates – all nectar and pollen is not created equally from a bee’s perspective. Bee diversity helps fill many niches across the spectrum of pollination, as different bees are adapted to harvesting from different sized and configured plants given different tongue lengths, or by preferring differing times of the season or day, flying under different  weather conditions, etc. Alfalfa is suited to leaf cutters and sweat bees, with honey bees needing to chew into the flower from the sides so as to avoid getting drops of nectar on their heads; bumble bees can unhinge their flight mechanism and vibrate sounding the note “C” when working tomatoes and blueberries, etc). Potential crop yields of almonds and sunflowers demonstrate that species will change their behaviors around each other; studies of strawberry and blueberry pollination reveal altered foraging strategies that change with the weather. The bottom line: synergistic activity to maximize pollination.
Rusty Patch Bumblebee
Photo courtesy of Sarina Jepsen
 The Xerces Society

And now “The Troubles.” A recent Illinois study has shown >50% decline in wild bee populations compared to 1916, with only 54 of 109 species being re-discovered.  Joel Gardner, one of Ian’s colleagues in the Dept. of Entomology, has demonstrated 3 new species, but 11 species NOT re-discovered since 1937 in his recent research at Lake Itasca in MN. A glaring example is the 87% decline in Bombus affinis, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. 

Here's a great fact sheet on Bumble bees

Here's Joel Gardner's Wild Bee Summary

What are the causes of these declines? Mainly urbanization and agricultural practices. There is strong evidence that natural habitats support greater diversity (kind and quality of plants) and abundance (more food for bees).As noted previously, bees prefer different pollens as well as different nectars. Some bees are generalists (polylectic); some requiring specific types (oligolectic); and some that can utilize only one type (monolectic – like oil bees [Macropis steironematis], who specialize on fringed loosestrife of the primrose family). There are 53 species of olig- and monolectic specialist bees – so the importance of diversity is critical to them!

Nectar is also quite different, and not all bees can drink of the same cup due to anatomic variations such as tongue length: bumble bees have all lengths of tongues, digger bees have the longest, honey bees are mid-range at 6mm. Due to differences in corolla length on flowers, and the viscosity of the nectar, bees are limited as to which nectar they can harvest.  Honey bees search for water, but many wild bees do not – which is why viscosity matters - again, reinforcing the need for diversity and variety of plants.

That being said, the duration of the phenological season is key – the shorter the season, the more poorly bees will fare.  Our main goal should be to avoid “phenological gap” by providing season-long blooms. This helpful chart comes courtesy of Dan Palmer.

Flowering Season

                               Week:  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4
Silver Maple X  X  X  

Aspen     X  X 

Forsythia         X X 

Pussy Willow         X

Apricot            X

Boxelder            X    X

Elm            X     X X

Pear            X

Crab Apple
 X X


Nanking Cherry

Wild Plum

    X  X

Black Willow


    X  X


Prickly Ash

Sugar Maple
    X  X


Weeping Willow

Ginnala Maple

Red-Osier Dogwood


Honey Locust



    X  X

White Dutch Clover


Yellow Sweetclover

    X  X  X



Alsike Clover


Black Locust





            X  X 

Birdsfoot Trefoil

            X  X  X   X  X
Red Clover


White Sweetclover

            X  X  X  X  X  X



     X  X


         X  X  X


Spotted Knapweed

             X  X  X

 X  X
Purple Loosestrife

 X  X
Beggars Ticks/Stick tights

     X    X      X

 X  X

          X  X

Data courtesy Dan Palmer

Bees also demonstrate “floral constancy,” where, in the case of a highly abundant and nutritious plant, they will intensely focus on it to conserve on foraging time. This may indicate that monoculture “patches” can also be good for some generalists (polylectics). Ian’s own research on clover in Minneapolis has shown that both honey bees and bumble bee visitation responses top out at about 70 flowering heads per 50 square meters. Other excellent plants are hyssop (abundant nectar production, 44% sugar) and monarda (40% sugar in nectar, great for bumble bees secondary to the long corolla but not so much for honey bees – resulting in decreases competition, which cuts energy costs to make each visit).

Nesting sites are also linked to diversity.  These include requirements for mud, leaf pulp, gravel, plant resin, and other building materials. Solitary bees and bumble bees need their nests to be close to flowers, in a range from 1/5  to 1/2 mile. We can help by providing nesting resources like sand, not over-mulching, and reconsidering our “American lawns” with an eye to Dutch white clover, dandelions, wild thyme, and to our seeding practices.

Pesticides, diseases, climate change (affecting the timing of flowering) – all of these also impact our wild bee populations. We can be mindful of species relationships, floral niches, improved nutrition, and use dense plantings to do our parts in helping our wild winged ones live long and prosper.
Bee on borage photo courtesy of Marcie Forsberg

The University of Minnesota Bee Lab has a pollinator outreach garden. A list of plants in the garden comes from the Eloise Butler Garden ( ). See also Eric Mader’s “Conserving Pollinators: A Primer for Gardeners” at Elaine Evans, Ian Burns, and Marla Spivak have a publication “Befriending Bumble Bees” which is a wonderful resource
Thanks, Ian, for a provocative, informative discussion!

bg with production assistance from elw :-)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rally at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture 12-16-2014

Assistant Commissioner Matthew Wohlman, MDA's neonic point person who greeted us outside the MDA building today, said that he would be happy to receive scientific studies addressing the dangers of neonicotinoids to pollinators as part of his review. He might also be interested in studies addressing dangers to the environment (birds, aquatic invertebrates, fish etc) and human health as well. Send studies/comments to Matthew at 625 Robert St N, St. Paul, MN 55155 or  .

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mason Bee Mania

A self-professed "Bee Nerd", Lori Bergmark enlightened us on Mason Bees.  Lori lives in an area where they do not allow honeybees (silliness!), but she has managed Mason Bees on her property, and no one is the wiser.  Except us.  Lori gave us a glimpse into the life of the Mason Bee.

Mason bees are in the genus Osmia.  Species include the native Osmia lignaria, (Orchard Mason bee), O. atrinventris, (Blueberry bee, and the Japan native O. cornifrons (Hornfaced bee). In 2014, Lori worked with the Blue Orchard and Hornfaced bees.

Aptly named, their nests are mud compartments in hollow stems, reeds, or existing holes left by wood boring insects, or in snail shells.  They are not destructive. For their nests, they collect materials such as mud, leaf pulp and gravel.
No Monarchy
Solitary and queen-less, Mason bees do not make honey, but like many other bees, make a pollen ball, and lay an egg on top of the pollen.

Each Kid Has Their Own Room
The female Mason bee creates a mud partition for each egg and pollen ball.  This is done in an orderly fashion with the girls in the back and the boys in the front.  Once they are all snug in their rooms, she plugs the entrance.  After a month-long larval stage, they spin a cocoon.
Mason bee cocoon
The new bee emerges in about March, and just hang until the weather warms.  The males emerge first and go get some food, then the females come out.  Mating occurs and the males die in spring.  Then the females collect pollen and the process starts again.

Mason Bee Behavior
Mason bees are not aggressive, and forage within 300 feet of their nest.  So, if you see mason bees in your yard, you can be sure they are nesting pretty close by.  They need a source of mud to build their nests, and better if it contains more clay than sand.

Power Packed Pollinators
Mason bees are amazingly efficient pollinators.  They can pollinate fruit trees 3 times better than Honey bees.  Unlike Honey bees, Mason bees will fly during cool, cloudy weather, however, they fly more randomly among the trees.  Honey bees are more systematic pollinators, so the combination of Mason and Honey bees in an orchard seems to be the best pollinator combo!
set up for Mason bee pollination in Ukraine
Managing Mason Bees
A newish concept in the United States, the Hornfaced Mason bee has been managed in Japan since the 1940's.  80% of apples in Japan are pollinated by the Hornfaced bee.

If you want to try to manage Mason bees, you will need a nesting area.  For this, you can make it yourself or purchase one.

Here is a link to the U of MN Bee Lab with instructions on how to make super simple native bee houses:

In the fall, although not strictly necessary, Lori brings her cocoons in and keeps them in her fridge until they break dormancy (one spring it was early and Mason bees were flying around the refrigerator). Bringing in the cocoons allows you to clean out the nests and minimize the incidence of disease.  You also need a supply of mud, lots of nearby pollen plants, and a fresh water supply.

Not Managing Mason Bees
Of course, you can just attract Mason bees to live in your yard naturally.  You need some undisturbed areas, smallish brush piles, dead wood and fibrous materials. Provide diverse pollen plants nearby, areas of exposed soil and mud for nest building, no pesticides, and you're set to attract some native bees!  Create a "not so tidy" garden!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bee A Pollinator Hero!

On December 16th, tell the Minnesota Department of Agriculture:
Be a #MNpollinatorhero!

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has shown its interest in pollinator health by launching a review of neonicotinoids and calling on every Minnesotan to be a #MNpollinatorhero. On December 16th, join us in calling on MDA to become a true #MNpollinatorhero by restricting or suspending neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a driving cause of pollinator losses.

When: Tuesday, December 16th, 11am
Where: Minnesota Department of Agriculture
  Meet at East Columbus Ave & Central Park Ave E, St Paul, MN
  **parking and transit directions are below**

What: We'll gather outside MDA for a few brief speakers & colorful performances (please come bundled and ready for about 20 minutes outside!). Then, we'll march together into the MDA building to deliver a basket of pollinator-dependent foods that grow here in Minnesota. This basket represents our gratitude for the work that MDA has done so far, and our hopes that the Agency will suspend neonics in its current review.
*Please wear yellow, orange, and black if you can; bee and butterfly costumes and bee suits are encouraged!*

Why: Pollinators are in trouble. In recent years, Minnesota beekeepers have lost upwards of 50% of their honey bee colonies annually. Native bees and butterflies are also facing dangerous decline. These losses threaten Minnesota's agricultural economy, including many delicious Minnesota-grown food that rely on pollinators, like apples, melons, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, apricots, berries--and of course, honey!

According to independent scientists, systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids are a driving factor in declining bee populations. And neonicotinoids aren't just harming insect pollinators: birds, fish, and plants that are important for Minnesota hunting, fishing, and outdoor communities are also at risk, because neonics impact entire ecosytems.

Right now, decision-makers at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are reviewing neonicotinoids and considering whether to restrict or suspend these pesticides. Beekeepers, gardeners, farmers, and many others who love Minnesota-grown food are delivering a message to MDA: be a #MNpollinatorhero and suspend neonicotinoids!

Can't be in St. Paul on December 16th? Join our efforts by posting on Facebook or Twitter using the #MNpollinatorhero hashtag.
    .@MNAgriculture thank you for reviewing neonics! Please be a #MNPollinatorHero & suspend bee-harming pesticides! #saveourbees
    Data from 800+ ind. studies finds "neonics pose serious risk of harm to honeybees, pollinators" #MNPollinatorHero
    Neonic pesticides harm pollinators w/o increasing yield. Time for action, @MNAgriculture! #MNPollinatorHero
Sponsored by Pesticide Action Network; Healthy Bees Healthy Lives; Organic Consumers Association;; Honey Bee Club of Stillwater

Parking & transit information:
Park and Ride: Free parking is available at Uni-Dale Mall at the Dale and University Green Line stop. Take the train two stops East to Robert Street and the MDA.  2.5 hour ticket for $1.75.  For train schedule visit
Parking at MDA: Metered parking is available at Centennial Parking Ramp at Columbus and Central, and 14th Street Ramp, Lot U and Lot W, all on 14th Street between Robert and Jackson, with rates of 1.25/hr.