What's the "Buzz" with Bumblebees?
And other PA native bees

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about “saving the bees,” but a lot of people still don’t understand the importance of a diverse native pollinator population.

Learning about insects that comprise the blanket term “bee” can help you better advocate for their protection.

Pennsylvania Native Bees and the European Honeybee
Pennsylvania hosts over 300 species of native bees, but the European Honeybee is not one of them. However, this honeybee has found a way to coexist with native bee populations since its introduction in 1622. It is considered non-aggressive when compared to some of the invasive species that inhabit Pennsylvania today. These bees have been a vital tool for the food crop industry across the United States due to their ability to inhabit artificial, portable hives. This allows for the bees to be transported from field to field in order to pollinate certain crops as needed.

Honeybee populations, like other native bee populations, are declining in the United States and across the globe. They are considered the most important pollinator within the United States.


Some Important Pennsylvania Native Bees
While Pennsylvania is home to many types of bees, there are a few that have unique benefits to their environment.

Bumble Bees | These large, fuzzy bees are unique in the way that they pollinate the plants they visit. Unlike other types of bees, bumble bees utilize “buzz pollination” (also known as sonication.) Rapidly flexing the muscles that they use to fly allows these bees to vibrate the pollen-bearing anthers of plants, dislodging firmly attached pollen. Bumble bees can pollinate normally like other bees too, but some plants can only be pollinated by means of the “buzz” technique, making bumble bees a vital pollinator of multiple food crops and native species.


Squash Bees | Another important pollinator is the squash bee. While there are many types of squash bees native to the United states and Mexico, this group of bees offers a unique pollinator advantage. Squash bees are active right at sunrise, before many other types of pollinators. Furthermore, they specialize in pollinating various squash-type plants. (Squash is one of the “Three Sisters” along with corn and beans. All three of these crops originate in the Americas.) If you grow squash in your garden, check the flowers for these specialized workers!

This type of bee is solitary and will construct an underground tunnel to host themselves and their offspring.


Sweat Bees | Sweat bees vary in appearance but are generally much smaller than other bees. Their nesting habits also vary, with most of them being solitary ground nesters. Named after their affinity for the salt found in human sweat, this type of bee is an important pollinator of native flowering plants. While most sweat bees become active during the evening and dusk (vespertine,) some sweat bees are active at night and considered fully nocturnal.


Ways you can Support your local Bee Population
  • Consider gardening with native flowering plants, Bee Balm and Purple Coneflower are some great options (pictured below)
  • Provide a source of clean, fresh water (birdbaths work great!)
  • Don’t disturb hives and nesting locations
  • Don’t use pesticides on your property or anywhere if possible, widespread pesticide use is thought to be the main reason for the decline of global bee populations
  • Provide nesting locations, there are many simple designs for “bee boxes” on the internet