Starting in 2017, the Matt Holder Environmental Research Fund, will expand our pollinator program to include a population study of the bees that visit Thickson’s Woods Nature Reserve.
During our Moth study we often find many bees, but we have not focussed on their specific identification. It is a natural progression of our overall biodiversity study to now include bees.
After discussion with Wildlife Preservation Canada, we are going to participate in their Provincial Bumble Bee program, by using Bumble Bee boxes to encourage and provide habitat for our important pollinators. We will be placing boxes in various parts of the Reserve and monitoring them using Wildlife Preservation Canada protocols, for activity and to identify the species that use them, to give us a better understanding and awareness of the species we have.
We will also be placing Solitary Bee logs around the reserve and monitoring them for species and usage. We hope that we will get a better understanding of bees in general, and methods we can use to help protect these insects under threat.
Solitary bees make individual nest cells for their larvae. Most species nest in small tunnels or holes. They are harmless to us, but are predators of small insects.
Many solitary bees are very small and you may not even realise they are bees. All collect nectar and pollen from flowers and although they are known as solitary bees, some species will group their nest cells together.
Solitary bees are not aggressive. They rarely if ever sting unless trodden on. Even if they do sting, it is not a painful sting like honeybees and most of the time you will not even feel it. They do not make honey, build honeycombs, or swarm.
They are essential to us as pollinators, and we are hoping to encourage these bees by proving artificial nest sites, by drilling various sized holes in logs. These are often called “bee hotels”, but this is misleading, as they are the bee’s permanent home, for most of its short life as it develops from an egg through a larval stage, then as a pupa, and finally emerges as an adult.
As with other pollinators Bumble Bees are extremely important to our biodiversity and under extreme threat. The Rusty-patched Bumble Bee is endangered and the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee is of special concern in Ontario.
Bumble Bee colonies are much smaller than those of honey bees and do not produce significant quantities of honey. Nectar is only stored temporarily, because only mated queens overwinter. The mated queen emerges in the spring, finds a suitable nesting site, and raises the first brood of workers by itself. The queen then remains in the nest and focuses on egg-laying. Workers take over foraging, cell-building, and tending to the young. When the colony reaches sufficient size, the next generation of reproductive queens and males are produced and mating occurs. The mated queens disperse and the social structure of the original colony begins to break down.
The founding queen dies in the fall, and only the young, newly mated queens hibernate over the winter. In the spring, queens search for nest sites and the process begins again.