Every hour, we lose three species

Winged celebrates the honeybee in an effort to protect this creature from disappearing. We also want to honor native bees by sharing the top three needs of native pollinators, according to Xerces:

1) A variety of plant life with overlapping bloom times. Find out which plants your local native bees enjoy, and plant them.

2) Places to nest. Unlike the social, hive-dwelling honeybee, most native bees are solitary and nest in the ground. Learn how to provide a nest.

3) Protection from pesticides. Please. Check your garage shelf. Do you use any of these? Stop. Then check out Melissa Bees’ post on how to talk to your neighbor about pesticides.

Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.
Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.

We’ve chosen to focus on honeybees in this anthology for a number of reasons. Because the honeybee has so captivated the human imagination. Because the honeybee is unique among pollinators in its relationship with humans, developed over thousands of years of honey harvesting and beekeeping. Because we rely so heavily on the hard work of apis mellifera, the European honeybee, an important insect pollinator of the crops making up the majority of our diet. Because the honeybee is in trouble.

Anthophora tricolor. Sam Droege.
Anthophora tricolor. Sam Droege.

But the fact is, native bees are equally fascinating, equally important to our food system, equally threatened. Xerces estimates that over 100 crop species in North America require pollination by an insect pollinator. And research shows that native bees are as effective as honeybees in agricultural pollination if provided with habitat. Xerces points out that given the fragility of the honeybee, it’s important to strengthen the populations of a diverse range of native bees– many of which can pollinate plants in a number of different ways.

Mellisodes dentiventris. Photo Sam Droege.

These photographs, taken by Sam Droeges, appear in the photostream for the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab. They were featured on NPR this week, and I’m in awe of the variety of colors, shapes, and features among the many species pictured.

Xylocopa mordax. Photo Sam Droege.
Xylocopa mordax. Photo Sam Droege.

Some bees specialize in different plants. Mellisodes dentiventris, for example, pollinate composites like goldenaster. Others are generalists, like the carpenter bee (above) . The carpenter bee gets its name from its habit of tunneling into wood to build its nest. Here is another “anti-specialist,” the sweat bee, a member of the largest genera of bees in the world.

Lasioglossum quebecense. Photo Sam Droege.

These photographs are so beautiful, they make me cry. How incredibly complex our world is. How shameful to turn our backs as thousands of species disappear every day. In 2007, the U.N. reported that we lose three species every hour.  That number may well be higher today, in 2013. How many species of bee must we lose before we change our ways?


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