Their sight and sound might bring panic at a picnic but our need for bees is crucial. Bees make up a powerful force of pollinators that are responsible for 75% of food production worldwide and help with habitats that many animals rely on for food and shelter. One-third of our calories come from bees and 70-80% of our nutrients like vitamins and minerals come from bee pollinated produce.
Missouri has more than 450 different species of bees including many types of bumblebees. Honeybees are not native but important to global agriculture and economies. Our native bees are thought to be the most proficient pollinators. A single blueberry bee can visit 50,000 flowers in its short lifetime resulting in 6,000 blueberries. If you have a garden, you will need bumblebees to pollinate tomatoes and peppers. If you grow squash you will need a squash bee.
Many of our native bees have evolved to service specific plants. Bees have a mutual relationship with plants and are known as intentional pollinators. Unlike birds, bats, butterflies, and others that accidentally pollinate as they feed on nectar, bees specifically collect pollen. Without native bees many of our plants could not reproduce effectively and there would be fewer seeds and fruits. Many species of wildlife rely on pollinated plants for food as well.
Because they are small, bees can be invisible to people who miss the larger connection of their importance to food production. Without them our produce aisles would be bare. With less of them, our harvests will be smaller and prices will rise. Bees and other pollinators are declining. Anyone with an apartment balcony, backyard, or a farm can help by planting native plants that support native pollinators and other simple practices.
Bees are surprisingly more diverse in cities than rural areas or suburbs. St. Louis has one of the most diverse bee populations in the midwest. And Calvary Cemetery on the north side has the most diverse population on its prairie remnant, land that has never seen a plow. All seven species of bumblebees found in Missouri are here. In partnership with St. Louis University, researchers are studying this area and have found new species. Hear more about their work and native bees in the video below.