Native Bees and Other Pollinating Insects

Wednesday April 13, 2016
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Native Bees, Honeybees, and Mimics

by Donna M. Walker

“Auntie, auntie, the biting flies are chasing me! You know – the ones with the little yellow shorts!” exclaimed Calvatina’s niece as she ran inside the house. …

Springtime Pollinators

It’s spring and all that buzzing you hear isn’t just coming from honeybees! . . .

The Honeybee arrived in North America during the 17th century via European settlers but did you know that we already had an abundance of native bees? – 4,000 different species, to be precise.

These resourceful native insects, unlike honeybees, have managed to escape domestication.

Native bees, including bumblebees and mimics, have been pollinating the continent’s flowers for eons.

The wind was blowing the petals of this poppy making it difficult for a honey bee to gather her pollen. Beeing the bee-lover that I am, I held the petals firm so she could keep pollinating the poppy. I think I saw her wave an antennae in thanks. …

Honeybee on red poppy.

Most people don’t realize that native bees are still around and play an important role in pollination. It’s not all about the honeybee; we need to protect our native bees as well.

For instance, the European honeybee doesn’t know how to pollinate tomatoes or eggplants (What would salad be without tomatoes, or Eggplant Parmesan without the eggplant?).

Native Bee (Osmia distincta)

Blue Native Bee (Osmia distincta)

Native Bees

Our native pumpkins, cherries, blueberries, and cranberry plants receive much better pollination by native bees. If it wasn’t for insects, our food supply would be nil.

By transferring pollen from one plant to another, native bees, honeybees, and other pollinating insects ensure our vegetables, fruits, and nuts continue to grow.

You can thank these tiny creatures for the food you eat and the beautiful wildflowers we enjoy each spring!

Honeybees are very docile when they collect pollen; It’s the bees guarding a nearby hive that can be aggressive.

Honeybees are very docile when they collect pollen; it’s the bees guarding a nearby hive that can be aggressive.

Western yellow-faced bumblebee and a mimic bumblebee robber fly.

Western yellow-faced bumblebee and a mimic bumblebee robber fly.

Don’t Worry – Bee Happy!

There are several types of native bees that are active during springtime.

All of them are very busy pollinating the newly flowered native plants as well as our own landscaped trees and shrubs.

If you see a lot of bee activity in the ground during early spring, it’s the native bees and bumblebees creating their ground nests.

There’s nothing to worry about — these bees are sometimes mistaken for yellowjackets, which also nest in the ground, but one way you can tell is by the time of year; yellowjackets build their nests during the fall not in spring like native and solitary bees do.

Native Green Sweat Bee (Augochloropsis metallica)

Native Green Sweat Bee (Augochloropsis metallica)

Native bees are very gentle, their main concern is gathering pollen rather than stinging an unsuspecting passerby. …

Big Bees

Southern California’s Carpenter Bee is the largest bee in the state. This big bee is considered a beneficial pollinator of our chaparral community.

The carpenter bee can also be seen in residential areas where there’s plenty of wood to nest in – redwood fences, patios, eucalyptus trees, yucca stalks, etc.

Southern California Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa californica)

Southern California Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa californica)

Carpenter Bees

The female bee makes a perfect hole in the wood to lay her eggs. California carpenter bee males are aggressive in defending their territories but all they can do is buzz a lot; they can’t sting which renders them harmless to humans.

Drawing of California carpenter bees flying to their nest by naturalist and Hearts’ employee Donna Walker.

Drawing of a California Carpenter Bee’s Nest

Bee or Fly?

What just buzzed by, a bee or fly? Looks like a drone bee with its big eyes but on closer inspection, the antennae are very short which is characteristic of a fly; bee’s antennae are much longer.

Some of the flies are called “bee mimics” because they really do resemble bees but they are actually Syrphid flies that feed on nectar and pollen. Did I mention they’re stingless?

A Syrphid Fly

A Syrphid Fly – Looks like a drone honeybee.

What strange bee is this? Nope, check out the tiny antennae; this is another fly – a bee mimic called a “Hover Fly.” This one is a Band-eyed drone (Eristalinus taeniops).

What strange bee is this? Nope, check out the tiny antennae; this is another fly – a bee mimic called a “Hover Fly.” This one is a Band-Eyed Drone (Eristalinus taeniops).

Bee Mimics

The Band-Eyed Drone is a non-native hover fly and bee mimic from the Mediterranean and from Spain. Preferring warmer climates, the Band-eyed drone has made his home here in California and in Florida. I found this one resting for a brief moment before he zoomed off again.

Tiny Hover Fly (Paragus haemorrhous) on Native San Diego Sunflower

Tiny Hover Fly (Paragus haemorrhous) on Native San Diego Sunflower

Little Pollinating Flies

Colorful little flies can be seen hovering over flowers, thus their name “Hover Fly” or also commonly known as “Flower Fly.” These Syrphid flies look like tiny bees or yellowjackets, depending on the species but are harmless to humans.

Larvae of Syrphid flies are predators (adults just hover and feed on nectar) and are very beneficial to gardens. Hover fly larvae are especially important in controlling infestations of aphids.

The tapered maggots crawl over leaves, feeding daily upon dozens of aphids. Once they become adults, they help out in pollinating our food supply. You don’t want to swat these flies! They’re the good guy-flies!

Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) Artwork by Donna M. Walker – Hearts Pest Management

The Art of Pollination

Pollinating plants is a complicated process but basically, plants rely on the wind or insects to transfer pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female parts via the stigma.

Hopefully, fertilization takes place (this is the complicated part) to bear fruit and create new seeds – viz: more plants.

Since one can never entirely rely on the wind; overtime plants have developed ways of attracting pollinating insects to create better odds at becoming fertilized.

As a result, both flying pollinators and humans benefit; we get to enjoy beautiful flowers and odoriferous fragrances to use for our perfumes, and the insects get to feed on the sweet nectar.

Sticky Monkeyflower AKA Bush Monkey Flower

Monkeyflower Parts

Monkeyflower Parts

It’s difficult to tell which flowers have been pollinated on most plants but not with our Native Sticky Monkeyflower or also known as the “Bush Monkey Flower” (supposedly the flower looks like a smiling monkey face).

The monkeyflower’s stigma stays open for flying pollinators to drop a bit of pollen in while gathering nectar, then it quickly closes.

If you “trick” the flower by lightly touching the stigma, it will close but then it will open back up when it senses there is no pollen after all! Because it is hard to know when a flower has been pollinated, watching the two, what I call “petals,” rapidly close when touched is a rare site for human eyes.

Try it when you’re out hiking in our chaparral communities. It may confuse the plant for a minute but the stigma “petals” will open back up.

Just look at that face! Isn’t it beeautiful?

Just look at that face! Isn’t it beeautiful?

Honey Bee

Did you know that honeybees have little baskets to carry pollen back to their hive? The yellow ball on this honeybee’s leg is her “basket.”

Bees, mimics flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds are not the only pollinators; there are bats (you can thank them for pollinating agave plants, otherwise there’d be no tequila!), even some beetles help pollinate.

Without these hard-workers, we would miss many of our fruits, nuts, vegetables, and chocolate (yes, chocolate) but most important of all – coffee!

Think about that the next time you pull into a Starbucks – and if you hear some buzzing from the flowerbed, say a little “thank you” to our pollinators. …

Note from the Author: Our new office staff person, Calvatina (Cal for short), told us a story about her niece running from the “biting flies,” the ones with the little yellow shorts; so I decided to use her line… who would think of such a thing but a child? As a writer, you just can’t make that stuff up!

Hearts Pest Management takes an active approach in keeping pest control to a minimum by targeting specific pests such as ants and spiders. We utilize both organic and IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods for maintaining a pest-free environment in your home or business. Some of our Greenthumb customers have butterfly farms, fruit trees, cats and dogs, KOI fish, and/or horses and chickens but they are able to utilize our organic services. …

Online References Bee Basics – An Introduction to Our Native Bees. Retrieved from: National Geographic. (2015). 9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home. Retrieved from:


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