One third of human food depends directly on the pollination activity of bees. Honey bees alone cannot provide this service. What many people do not know: In addition to honey bees, there are numerous species of wild bees. There are around 30,000 different species in total, and about 580 species of them live in Europe alone.
Why are wild bees so important?
Wild bees are very important as flower pollinators, as they head for other flowers that are less easy for honey bees to reach. Thus, wild bees also fly to flowers that lie in the shade inside the tree, which honey bees tend not to do. Moreover, they usually limit themselves to the plants in the vicinity of their hive if the supply there is sufficient. Some plants, such as tomatoes, are not on the honey bee’s menu and need other pollinators. For other plants, the anatomy of honeybees prevents them from reaching pollen and nectar. For some, their proboscis is too short, they are too heavy or too big.
The various wild bees with their specialisations are therefore indispensable for the pollination of the plant world. Nevertheless, according to BUND, more than half of Europe’s wild bees are on the Red List. One of the reasons for this is that some wild bees depend on the occurrence of very specific flowering plants. Unfortunately, these are often plants that are labelled “weeds”. This is another reason why it is very important to protect natural areas and the plant diversity they contain.
Differences between wild bees and honey bees
Wild bees are often not recognised as bees because of their appearance and size. They differ in shape, colour and size: the smallest wild bee (sand steppe bee) measures only 4 mm, the largest – the blue-black wood bee – can grow up to 25 mm. Depending on the species, the bees have many or no hairs, are more heavily striped or not at all. Blood bees, for example, have reddish bodies and do not resemble the image of Maya the Bee at all.
With the exception of bumblebees, which are also wild bees, they do not form colonies as honeybees do. In most species, a mother bee alone builds a nest for her offspring and builds up a food supply of pollen and flower nectar. The nests are often found in the ground, in loess walls, dry plant stems, dead wood or even in snail shells. These give an entire species its name: The snail shell mason bee (Osmia bicolor). It seals its eggs and stores in the shell and turns it upside down so that no rainwater can get in. A real specialist, in other words.
Wild bees: Peaceful and useful flower lovers
Since wild bees, unlike honey bees and wasps, have no state and no honey to defend, they are extremely peaceful and gentle insects. They only sting when they are really in acute distress, i.e. when they are squeezed or get caught between skin and clothing.
Depending on the species of wild bee, the life cycle is different
In our latitudes, the first wild bees hatch as early as the end of February. Others do not appear until September or October. The reason for this is that many wild bee species depend on the presence of very specific flowering plants, such as mallow, bluebells, rape, daisies, camomile, yarrow or clover. The flowering time of the food plant must coincide with the bee’s life and flight time. If the meadows are mown too early in the year, this can be fatal for correspondingly specialised wild bee species. This is another reason why wild bees are highly endangered and protected.
Of course, there are also “generalists” among wild bees that are not bound to specific food plants. However, they are just as dependent on a wide variety of plants in their flight territory and during their short lifetime.
Help trouser bees, furrow bees, bumblebees and co.
Wild bees are not only industrious pollinators and thus valuable workers in agriculture. The peaceful insects are among the exciting species on our doorstep that we can get to know with a little patience. If you would like to do something good for the native trouser bees, woolly bees, long-horned bees, wasp bees, blue-black wood bees, furry bees, leafcutter bees, their many relatives and thus the biodiversity of our nature, we will give you a few tips. Do you have any other helpful wild bee tips? We welcome your additions below in the comments.
How to help wild bees
Plant bee food: Ensure a wide variety of plants and flowers in your garden or meadow to provide food for wild bees. Most bee-friendly plants are true sun worshippers. In the shade garden, the little buzzers are happy about cranesbill and larkspur, for example. Do not buy pollen- and nectar-free plants: When buying plants, make sure that their flowers can also be pollinated and offer nectar. There are now cultivars that lack these elementary characteristics. Mow less and later: Do not mow wildflowers regularly and let them stand a little longer. Prefer unfilled flowers: Do not only plant plants with so-called "filled" flowers in your garden, as is the case with dahlias and roses. The many petals prevent bees from getting at the pollen. Plant herbs: The blossoms of garden herbs are also a welcome source of food - yet another reason to plant a small herb garden or herb spiral. Provide nesting opportunities: Provide nesting sites with insect hotels, for example, or leave part of your garden untended. Perfect nesting sites for wild bees are holes drilled in loess walls and logs or reed stalks and bamboo tubes. Buy consciously: Support organic farmers and small businesses with your purchases. They ensure greater diversity, for example, by cultivating old - not industrially highly bred - species and do not resort to a chemical all-out attack on insects. Live and let live: Wild bees are often confused with wasps, flying ants or other insects. So if you see an unknown flying guest in your garden, feasting on the blossoms of your marigolds or mallows, don't feel threatened, but be happy about the friendly visitor!