Wild and Native Bees

The honey bee is an amazing creature and a wonder to behold.  In addition to the cherished honey, wax, and other products honey bees produce, they are recognized as our prime crop pollinators.  And no other bee does on-demand pollination like the honey bee.

But the honey bee is not alone and is actually just one in over 20,000 described bee species in the world, over 4,000 in North America, and over 500 in Oregon.  The honey bee is a non-native that first came to the Americas in the early 1600’s.  And while the honey bee is a pollinator of many crops, there are numerous examples of native and wild bees doing major crop pollination work as well.  With an ever-increasing number of maladies and hardships facing honey bees, it seems wise to seek a better understanding of our native and wild bees and the role they play in various ecosystems.

The Alkali bee and a leafcutter bee are primary pollinators of alfalfa seed in the Pacific Northwest, bumble bees play a significant role in blueberry and cranberry pollination, and numerous native bees (including masons) are important supplementary pollinators of fruit and seed vegetable crops.  Of course, of our native flora has relied on indigenous bees for millions of years.

There is growing interest to better appreciate our “forgotten pollinators”, to recognize their importance in the natural world, to comprehend their contributions, and do more to safeguard their future.  Honey bees are an established aspect of managed landscapes, but there are some areas where perhaps they don't belong, such as natural and wild areas where they can create pressure on natives for floral resources.

The vast majority of bees in the world live solitary lives and make no honey (~77%).  Others (~10%) are social or cooperative and may create small seasonal stores of nectar and pollen, but do not horde large food stores like honey bees.  Interestingly, the remaining (~13%) bee species are so-called cuckoo bees as they make their living by raising their offspring in the nests of other bees.

The study of bees is both fascinating and complex. Listed below are people and organizations making a difference in our understanding of these fascination creatures.

MG 6/2020

The Quest To Find Every Kind Of Bee In Oregon

Oregon is home to a dazzling array of native bees. But no one knows just how many species live here, or if their numbers are declining or holding steady. People behind the ‘Bee Atlas’ project want to find out.


Native bee discoveries in Taos New Mexico

Resources & Links


Numerous interesting posts about wild and native bees by Rusty Burlew

Here's a sample

The bees in your backyard YouTube Channel

Book recommendations

  • The Bees in Your Backyard by Joseph S. Wilson, Olivia J. Messinger Carril (In TVBA library).  A highly informative book with exceptional photos,  excellent print quality,  fun writing style., and practical information.  Good for both beginners and experienced bee enthusiasts.
  • Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson.  A fun and interesting collection of bee stories, encounters with people who study and work with them, accounts of different types of bees, the role and plight of the honey bee, and concerns about the future.
  • The Solitary Bees by Bryan N. Danforth, Robert L. Minckley, John L. Neff, Frances Fawcet.  A deep dive into the biology and natural histories of solitary bees.  This could be (and probably is) a college text book.  An excellent book  that puts it all together, including evolutionary aspects.
  • 100 Plants to Feed the Bees by Eric Lee- M├Ąder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood (Xerces Society ) (In TVBA library)
  • Native Bees: Bees indigenous to a geographic area.
  • Wild Bees: Comprised of native bees but may also include non-natives that have naturalized to a geographic area.
  • Some "wild bees" populations are supplemented by human management such as the mason bees, leafcutter bees, and Alkali bees.
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