Help the bees

bumble bee on a purple flower

The rusty-patched bumble bee was once common but is now an endangered species in Canada. Photo by Christy Stewart.

To help the bees, find their homes

For bees to thrive, they need food, a summer home, and a place to winter. The flowers we plant are fantastic food sources, but what about their homes? Researchers at York University are asking for help to figure out what we can do to create and protect summer and winter bee havens.

While most people think of bees only in terms of honey, there are actually hundreds of species of native bees in Ontario. Honeybees are, in fact, an imported and domesticated animal – they’re important and worthy of protection, but saving bees by protecting honeybees is a bit like saving moose and deer by protecting dairy cows.

Many of our native bee species are in steep decline, and some are on the edge of extinction. The beautiful blooms we encourage all season long are a fantastic food source – for bees, butterflies and more. The fact that we at Water’s Edge never use pesticides is important.

But where do the bees go in winter, and where do they live in summer? Oddly enough, for many bee species nobody really knows for sure.

A research project at York University is aiming to change that. #QuestForBeeNests is asking people to photograph and video any bee nests they see and share information about the site. Is it in full sun or partial shade? Clay or sand or mud or gravel? On flat ground or a slope?

With the video and photo, the researchers can identify the bee species; the information about the nest will help them determine what kind of territory this particular bee needs in order to thrive.

Another project, Bumblebee Watch, is looking for information on sightings as well as nesting areas. It’s not set up to receive video, but it too would like as much information as possible in order to build a database of bees and better understand which bees are thriving and which are not.

Researchers are even using dogs to help find bees. This summer, they are training dogs to identify bumblebee nests, with plans to scour some conservation areas and find where the bees spend their summers.

To find a bee nest, you simply need to keep an eye out for bees on the move. Once they leave the flower bed, where do they go? Follow them, and you’ll find their nest. There’s even an old term for this: beelining. The phrase “make a beeline for it” stems from the ancient European practice of following honeybees in order to find their hives, the only way to get honey before people figured out how to domesticate bees.

To submit your sightings or to find our more, just follow this link.

Posted in In the Garden.