The Birds and the Bees

We’ve had a wonderful series of “Birds of the Week”,  however, as September is “Bee Aware Month”, Cushla has shifted focus to that incredibly important insect.

About the Bees

By Cushla McGaughey

The hoverfly

The mini helicopter suspended over a flower suddenly zips sideways. It looks like a bee and even does some pollinating, but has no sting. It’s actually a native hoverfly.

An added bonus for the gardener, though, is that hoverfly larvae feed on aphids.

Our native bees lead a short, solitary life, with habitat loss another threat.

The female lines a small chamber at the end of an underground tunnel. She stocks it with a small lump of pollen and nectar, carried in little by little.

There she lays a single egg, then seals the chamber and departs. Over six weeks she builds up to 20 such nests before she dies, leaving her offspring to feed on the pollen/nectar mix and develop on their own.

Honey bees under pressure

The honey bee

The honey bee also is much beset. Not only a bio security lapse that allowed entry to varroa mites, but there are threats as well from toxic insecticides and wholesale theft of hives.

Honey bees need large quantities of nectar and pollen to rear their young. They concentrate on one species of plant at a time, making them good pollinators.

Cross-pollination – where pollen is transferred between different plants of the same species – results in a much better fruit crop. But in adverse weather, honey bees remain in or close to the hive.

The humble bumblebee

The native bee

Unlike honey bees and native bees, the lovable bumblebee has a long tongue and so was introduced in 1885 to pollinate clover crops. Seed otherwise could not be set.

Now she also blesses our gardens with her presence. Wind, rain or shine, she does the work of 50 honey bees and seldom uses her sting.

Bumblebees have another nifty skill. If a flower does not release enough pollen, bumblebees shake the pollen loose, using their flight muscles with an audible buzzing sound to vibrate the body of the flower.

The tomatoes and peppers we enjoy so much depend on this buzz-pollination in order to produce fruit.