Members of the Arlington Regional Master Naturalist (ARMN) chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program:
provide, promote, and facilitate volunteer service to sustain natural areas in our communities using sound natural resource management and conservation practices,
offer and support environmental education and outreach to encourage understanding and respect for our natural environment, and
engage in a wide range of citizen science activities that contribute to greater knowledge of local streams, plants, animals, and local habitat.
The application period for the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists’
Spring 2019 Volunteer Training is now Closed. To learn more about the training and when to sign up, clickHERE. And stay up-to date on what we do with the ARMN Blog. Sign up to receive it now!
Text and photos by Gigi Charters,
unless otherwise noted
Last month, I had the opportunity to listen to USGS Wildlife
Researcher, Sam Droege, and Arlington County Parks and Recreation Natural
Resource Manager, Alonso Abugattas, in the exciting event, “Morph Your Yard
into a Bee Grocery Store—Not a Bee Fast Food Joint! Building Homes and Habitat
for Native Bees and Pollinators,” sponsored by ARMN and the Master Gardeners of
Sam and Alonso discussed the significance of wild bee
populations and two important ways that we can help our local bees thrive:
provide pollen sources and nesting structures.
To begin, Sam briefed the audience about the apparent
over-reliance on honey bee populations, and how we may be driving out another
critical lifeline in the event of ecosystem collapse––the overlooked, super
pollinating, native bees.
“Wild bees are not like honey bees,” Sam emphasized. In
fact, I learned that there are around 4,000 species of native bees in North
America alone, and they have been playing a critical role in sustaining
ecosystems and natural resources for millions of years. The majority are
solitary, can be as small as a grain of rice, and do not sting people (stingers
cannot break through our skin).
Moreover, unlike the honey bee, which was actually imported
by colonists, native bees provide us with the essential pollinating services we
need for native plants, in addition to commercial crops. Sam explained that the
big issue is that land-use changes and habitat loss are diminishing wild plant
populations, which conversely diminish wild bee populations, which means: no
bees, no plants, no species who depend on those plants, and eventually,
So how can we fix this?
Step 1: Provide pollen
by planting a garden of native wildflowers!
Sam says “re-wild” your land by moving away from
lawn/corporate kinds of landscapes and start bringing back naturalized types of
landscapes. The big picture is about saving plant and bee diversity, so it’s
important to plant a variety of native species. This is especially important
since some native bees are specialists, meaning they are dependent on one—and
only one—type of flower. Some bees can only reproduce if they have specific
pollen from the native plants they evolved with.
Step 2: Provide Nesting Structures!
Alonso continued the discussion by stressing the importance of another crucial native bee resource in need of recovery––bee nesting structures.
About 70% of all bee species live in burrows in the ground,
so it’s important to create ideal ground space, such as loose soils that are
free of vegetation and exposed to the sun.
The remaining bee species live above ground, in pre-existing
cavities like old beetle holes, or hollow empty stems of reeds or grasses.
Alonso added that “this is one more reason to leave garden plants standing
through the winter, as many are housing insects in various parts of their life
cycle, including pupating or adult overwintering bees.”
He noted that in addition to buying select bee houses, people
can also make their own structures at home. While many species will make use of
them, Mason bees (Osmia sp. peaceful,
dark, solitary bees) in particular, are likely their most common tenants, and
“luckily what usually works for them, generally works for other species,” said
He gave the example: “One simple way is to cut some bamboo,
Phragmites (a good use for both these invasives), elderberry, and/or sumac at
their nodes, hollow them out all the way to the node so one side is still
sealed, and bundle them together (with the open ends facing one direction) for
the bees to discover. Place them where they will get some sun in the morning
and some shelter from the rain.”
To learn more about native bees, how to create your garden
of bee-friendly plants, and how to build your bee homes, check out Alonso’s blog
piece, which includes information about nesting structures, best ways to
encourage and protect bees, and a list of the best plants for specialist bees. Following
these guides will help restore local biodiversity!
Also, to see more
incredible photos of these bees, visit Sam’s webpage with photos from the USGS Bee Inventory and
Monitoring Lab, and follow the
Instagram/Tumblr accounts @USGBIML.
So, let’s kick off spring with an abundance of native
flowers and bee homes! Remember, every resource area, whether it’s a patch in
the ground, or an epic garden, can have huge impacts on sustaining bee
populations during these urgent times. We just need your help to provide them
with the assets to make that comeback!