Most native bees in Texas are solitary with individual females who establish and provision nest sites usually laying between 1 and 20 eggs. Their metamorphosis cycle completes the following year. Solitary bees do not make honey their so primary function is to collect pollen to feed their offspring. By comparison, the non-native European honeybees and bumblebees are social bees that live in colonies comprising a queen and workers that will protect the nest site. Bumblebee colonies contain 100 to 200 workers and honeybee colonies contain 15,000 workers.
Some differences between native and imported bees
There are many other comparisons between solitary and social bees that are noteworthy. Denton County Master Gardener Association’s manager of the Native Bee Project explains the biggest misconception about bees is that all bees are aggressive. Because solitary bees do not have a store of honey to protect, they are non-aggressive, meaning they are safe around pets and children. Solitary bees can sting when they feel threatened but most will fly off elsewhere. The best way to avoid being stung by any bee is to stay calm, stay still or move away slowly. Do not scream, run or swat at the bee.
Lastly, solitary bees are 100 times better at pollinating than honeybees because they carry pollen all over their bodies, while honeybees have only small pockets on their back legs to carry the pollen. Solitary bees wander from flower to flower resulting in the transfer of more pollen. Solitary bees begin pollinating early in the season and tend to work longer into the late afternoon and evening than honeybees. Solitary bees only travel about 300 feet from their nest while honeybees can travel up to 5 miles.
You can help Texas native bees
“Texas has hundreds of species of native bees, many of which never have been scientifically studied. Like their domesticated cousins, they have been hit hard in recent years. Urban sprawl has chewed up their habitat, and the increasing use of pesticides has reduced their numbers. Although few statistics are available, native bee populations seem to be declining like those of honeybees.” (The Trouble with Bees by Robert Bryce, Texas Master Gardener Association)
Native solitary bees pollinate so close to their nest that you can have personal pollinators in your garden. Installing a bee habitat in your own garden could be as simple as planting native shrubs, trees, and other ornamentals and allowing dormant plants and fallen leaves to remain untouched through fall and winter.
About 70% of native bees are ground nesters and 30% live in cavities such as logs, plant stems and bee hotels (available at garden stores) that mimic natural cavities. Many ground nesters prefer secluded bare ground that is somewhat hidden. By not clearing your yard in the fall and winter, you provide a habitat for bees and other beneficial insects. Bee hotels will provide nesting habitat for mason bees and leafcutter bees. The bee hotels should be set out in early spring and mounted at least 3 feet above the ground on a building, fence or post. The face of the nest should be oriented to the southeast to catch the morning sun. Bee hotels can be left in place throughout the winter or brought into an unheated garage to protect the cocoons from potential predators. Be sure to return the bee hotels outdoors in late winter or very early spring to allow the bees to exit their chambers.
For additional information on Texas’ native bees visit “Native bees in Texas” provided by the Texas Native Plant Society and “Bee Identification” from Texas Apiary Inspection Service (AgriLife).