Bees are, arguably, the most important group of insects for pollination of flowers, trees and food crops.
Whilst you probably have heard a lot, in newspapers and online, about pollination by honey bees they are in fact just one of many species of bee found in the Channel Islands. In total, 149 species of native wild bees have been recorded in Jersey, while 117 species have been recorded in Guernsey. Each and every one is a very important pollinator.
All these native wild bees have evolved naturally together with their favoured food plants over millions of years so their presence in the environment is absolutely vital to maintain.
Solitary bees are so-called because each female bee digs her own nest, usually in the ground, for her young which is unlike honeybees and bumblebees that both nest in colonies and are known as social bees.
In total, 137 species of solitary bee have been recorded in Jersey, while Guernsey has records for 105 species.
Each female solitary bee collects pollen and nectar from her favourite flowers and trees some of which she then leaves in the nest as food for her young for when they hatch. And in doing this work they help pollinate all those plants that they have fed upon. This enables more plants to grow and therefore provides both food for other species and their future generations and of course it provides oxygen for us all to breathe.
The various solitary species nest in a wide variety of habitats and most often they dig nest holes in the ground in which they lay their eggs. Some may prefer woodland, gardens, heathland or even sand dunes. Their nest holes can be one or two foot deep often with separate chambers for each egg. Many females are very picky indeed about where they dig their nest with the type and hardness of the ground, the microclimate and the amount of exposure to sunlight being important in their decision.
If you come across a nesting area of solitary bees, whether it is in your garden or out in the countryside, please do not disturb or destroy them. While there may be lots of them in one area they often have relatively short lives so will not be around for long, they are not aggressive and so very rarely would ever sting and, most importantly, they are vital pollinators that are in serious decline and so we really do need to help protect them all as much as we can and remember that you will receive free pollination of all your flowers by them while they are there!
More content about Solitary Bees:
Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes – Species spotlight
Nomad bees Nomada spp. – Species spotlight
Ivy Bee Colletes hederae – Species spotlight
Bumblebees are easy to spot with their large size and hairy bodies. They are social insects and nest together in a communal nest with one queen, who lays all the eggs for the colony, and many worker bees that look after the young and protect the nest.
Jersey and Guernsey both have records for 11 bumblebee species.
The nest is often underground, sometimes in unused mouse or rabbit holes, or under sheds or even in roofs of houses.
They are not aggressive and will only sting when they feel threatened so if you have a nest in your garden, or even in your roof, there is nothing to worry about.
At the end of the year in the autumn the worker bees die and only the queen hibernates through the winter somewhere away from where the nest was so all bumblebee nests will come to a natural end anyway once the summer is over.
Like solitary bees they are declining due a variety of reasons and they really need our help as they are very important pollinators.
Bumblebees have longer tongues than most other bees and so are able to pollinate those flowers that others cannot reach!
More content about Bumblebees:
Cuckoo Bumblebee or True (social) Bumblebee?
Bombus terrestris – Species spotlight
Honey bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) are a domesticated bee species originally from Asia which are widely kept mainly for the honey that they produce.
They are a social species that nest together usually in man-made bee hives, though occasionally they can be found nesting away from these especially in roof spaces, chimneys or at the base of old trees.
As a domesticated species, that are looked after all year by humans, this does give them a distinct advantage over native bee species and they can therefore often out-compete native bees for access to flowers.
Though while honey bees now have their place in our environment, care must also be taken to ensure that their presence does not contribute to the decline of native species by having too many honey bee colonies close to where native bees are nesting and feeding as that would put added pressure through competition or passing on diseases on native bees, as has unfortunately already happened in other places.
Honey bees are under threat, like other bees, but for a few different reasons. They are susceptible to various diseases and parasites and these can cause major losses of bees and on top of that now they also have to deal with the presence in Jersey of the Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax).
This non-native invasive hornet, which originates from Asia, likes to attack honey bees as food for their young and a single nest can take many of them each day.
Honey bees can be useful as a pollinator for crops but, as stated, we should be very careful where, and how many, we introduce into the countryside so that they do not negatively impact on native bees. When this is done with care and consideration then they hopefully can all live in harmony with each other and the overall benefits to pollination, the environment and to us can be maximised.
More content about Honey Bees:
Honeybees Should be Thought of as ‘Livestock’, Not Wildlife
Click the links below to learn more about the other main groups of insect pollinators: