Three Native Florida Bees
We all know that bees play an important role in landscape ecology, but have you ever taken the time to note the different types of bees that visit your yard? Florida is home to many native bees, but the three most common are the southeastern blueberry bee, sweat bee, and American bumblebee. They each have unique behaviors and flower preferences, and there are actions homeowners can take to support them.
The southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda labriosa) is smaller than a bumblebee; the males are distinguished by the yellow patches on their heads. These solitary bees emerge as adults from their underground nest and visit flowers for only a few weeks in late winter and early spring when their favorite food source is in bloom — the blueberry plant. Crawling into a blueberry flower, these bees vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen on to themselves. This is called "sonicating" or "buzz pollinating." They'll leave some in the next flower they visit, successfully pollinating the blueberry crop. True specialists, blueberry bees only produce one generation of adults each year.
Sweat bees are part of one of the largest genera of bees worldwide, Halictidae, with 44 sweat bee species in Florida alone. Typically more slender than other types of bees, most sweat bees have a dull to metallic black sheen, though some are brilliant green or blue. These bees got their common name from their attraction to perspiration for its moisture and salt. Sweat bees are abundant on farms and gardens, and visit a wide range of plants, making them important pollinators for many wildflowers and crops, including stone and pome fruits like peaches and apples.
Planting wildflowers can encourage sweat bees to visit your yard. For some sweat bees, environmental conditions can determine whether they exhibit solitary or social behaviors. Their nests are typically in bare soil located in a sunny location.You'll have to keep an eye out for the nest as it looks just like two small holes in the ground.
The American bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus) is also common in Florida. Mated queens spend the winter in the soil and emerge in the spring to find suitable space to begin their underground colonies. Bumble bees are hearty generalists, attracted to a variety of plants and able to withstand a wider range of conditions than non-native honey bees. In fact, bumble bees are so effective at pollinating that they're raised commercially and sold to greenhouses to pollinate crops like tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries.
Attracting Native Bees
You can help increase the abundance and health of wild bees and other native pollinators by planting wildflowers and native flowering shrubs and trees. The ideal bee garden would have flowers that are blooming as continuously as possible throughout the year. In turn, attracting bees to your yard will increase the number of native plants.
Researchers have found that bees thrive best in open sunny areas that are as large as possible, with a diversity of plant types. Avoid plants that bloom at the same time as important crops (either in your garden or nearby) so your flowers aren't luring bees away from pollinating those crops.
For more information on the perfect plants for pollinators in your landscape, contact your county Extension office.