Pollinator Power

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

"Without bees, no trees-and none of these," the old forester said. With a flourish, he directed our eyes to a sunlit patch of blooming trout lilies where a black and yellow bumblebee scrambled from flower to flower, buzzing threateningly. I backed up a step. I was nine years old and liked the forester's rhyme, but wasn't quite convinced of the connection.

I've since come around.

Missouri's native bees are an abundant and diverse group of insects that live in virtually every kind of terrestrial habitat in the state, including prairies, forests, wetlands, backyards and hedgerows. At least 450 species in six families live here. Many are small and easily overlooked. Others, like bumblebees, are universally recognized. Most species of native bees do not have a common name, although groups of species do. The name "leafcutter" bee, for example, applies to a number of similar species, all of which use cut leaves to build nests.

Bees are important pollinators of native plants. Without native bees, many native plants could not reproduce effectively.

The honeybee (our state insect) is an Old World species that was brought to North America by European settlers long ago. It has been living wild in Missouri for at least 200 years. There are no honeybees native to Missouri or anywhere else in the New World. The strain of honeybee known as the "Africanized" or "killer" bee, is not established in Missouri.

Honeybees are extremely important pollinators in managed agricultural systems such as orchards. Much of the world's agricultural production and economy depends on this little creature. Its value in North American natural communities, however, is debatable. Like many exotic species, honeybees may have a negative impact on native species that have similar ecological roles.

Like butterflies, moths, beetles and flies, bees go through egg, larval, and pupal stages before becoming adults. Larval bees in the nest are entirely helpless and cannot obtain their own food, so the adult female provides it for them. Female bees collect pollen, nectar and, sometimes, oils from flowers, transport the pollen to the nest and place the pollen load into a cell. It may take several to many trips to provide enough pollen to provision a cell. Some species add glandular secretions to the pollen mass. A female usually lays a single egg on the pollen mass.

Larval bees feed and grow quickly, consuming the pollen, or most of it, in about a week. After feeding, most Missouri bees stay

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