Solitary wild bees are native bees that do not live communally in hives, but rather make individual nests in a subterranean tunnel, a plant stem, or in the crevices of walls and rocks. They play an important role in the ecosystem: As pollinators, they transfer pollen from plant to plant, providing for the plant's method of reproduction. Their presence, along with other insect pollinators such as flies and beetles, is a sign of a healthy, sustainable habitat garden.
Why are solitary bees important to birds and the environment?
Solitary and other wild bees are important pollinators of natural habitats and are also responsible for pollinating more than 70 percent of agricultural crops. Without the existence of native bees, entire ecosystems would be at risk, reducing the resources for birds and other wildlife. Bees also serve as a food source for many bird species, such as tanagers, phoebes, and other flycatchers.
European honeybees, the common hive-dwelling bees whose fascinating lives are studied in every classroom in America, are susceptible to disease and mites that cause periods of large-scale diebacks. Native solitary bees can avoid such diebacks, because they do not nest in communal hives. Instead, many species dig burrows in the ground or nest within the soft pithy enclosure of a stem, where they create a series of chambers for individual eggs.
But native bee populations are faced with threats nonetheless. Pesticides can end up on pollen, in nectar, or absorbed through the exoskeleton or mouthparts of wild bees and other pollinators, instantly killing them or affecting their function or ability to reproduce. Habitat destruction also is a continual and substantial threat to bees and all native wildlife.
Changes in individual backyard practices, such as the adoption of the Audubon At Home healthy yard principles and the support of land preservation, can help offset the threats to bee populations.
Getting Started: What You Can Do
- Hang a bee nest box, making it easier for the bees to find suitable nesting sites and thus aiding in their reproductive success.
- Plant native wildflowers in the landscape, especially composite flowers such as asters that have multiple flowers within a single flower head (or disk).
- Eliminate pesticide use.
- Create land management plans on large-acreage parcels such as country homes and ranchettes that address the impacts of grazing, invasive plants, crop tilling, and fire.