Native Pollinators

Image of honey bee on a dandelion

Honey Bee on a Dandelion

Pollination is the process of moving pollen from the tip of the male parts of a flower (anther) to the tip of the female parts of a flower (stigma) of the same species. For pollination to occur in most flowering plants, the anther must release the pollen and make it available, the stigma must be receptive, and there must be an agent to move the pollen. In Ontario most pollination of wild plants is done by wind (grasses, conifers, deciduous trees) or by insects (most other flowering plants). Much of the food that humans, birds, and small mammals eat depends upon plants that are insect pollinated.

In Ontario, native pollinators comprise about 400 species of bees, various families of flies, moths, and in special circumstances beetles and ants. However the heavy lifting in the realm of pollination is done by bees because they have branched hairs covering their bodies that trap pollen and because they depend upon nectar and pollen for their own food and so are regular flower visitors. Native bees do not swarm, rarely sting, make no honey or beeswax (except for bumble bees which make tiny amounts of a watery honey). Their value is in the pollination services they provide.

Native pollinators can be roughly divided into two groups: Those that are social and live in colonies and those that are solitary. Bumble bees are social, as are some other smaller bees, but most of Ontario’s native bees are solitary. Bumble bees live in abandoned rodent’s nests or at the base of clumping grasses. Solitary bees most often nest in the ground in tunnels which the females hollow out. Their nest entrances are holes about the diameter of a pencil. They build side chambers to those tunnels and provision each chamber with enough pollen and nectar to support a single offspring. Other solitary bees use hollow stems or other small cavities in which to build their nests. Often these stem-nesting bees use plant materials, mud, or their own secretions to line their nests and divide them up into chambers for individual offspring. A single female creates a nest and provisions it by herself and does not share it with other females or males.

Native bees gather and eat nectar and pollen from flowers, though there are native bees that gather other plant substances too. Nectar is used as an energy source for both the adult and larval bees and pollen is used as a protein source.

In Wilderness Park as you visit the pollinator gardens you may see big fuzzy bees like the Common Eastern Bumble Bee, the Tri-coloured Bumble Bee, or the Brown Belted Bumble Bee. Other bees that you notice may be much smaller, less hairy bees like Miner bees, Halictid bees, Leafcutter bees, and Ceratina bees. All of them are important and need to be treated with respect. Although most native bees will not sting, bumble bees can and will sting if you go close to their nest. You can observe bees foraging on flowers from several feet away without fear of stinging but do not try to handle them. If you see a bee digging in the earth, do not disturb it, it is likely building a nest or hunting for its nest entrance.