After leaving the 5th Annual Teachers Night held at the US Botanical Gardens on Thursday, I was pleased to receive a poster that celebrated bees! Well, native bees.

Too bad the honey bee wasn’t listed, as it isn’t actually native to the US.

The common honey bee, Apis mellifera, has roots in Africa. About two million years ago, a branch of honey bees moved their hives indoors to the Winnie the Pooh-style, hole-in-the-tree type of  shelter.These bees slowly made their way up to Europe and further evolved to adapt to winter.

With the introduction of beekeeping, honey bees were transported around the globe — especially after the Langstroth hive was invented in 1851. Now, because our beloved honey bee is technically an exotic species, one could argue their existence is not that vital to local pollination.

However, it seems the honey bees and its like-minded cousins have developed something of a symbiotic relationship. In Fruitless Fall, author Rowan Jacobson explains this dynamic.

“Not only are [native bees] directly pollinating tomatoes, squash, blueberries…but they also make honey bees better pollinators. When native bees and honey bees meet, the natives chase the honey bees, which hightail it to more welcoming rows, increasing the amount of outcrossing, which is essential to crops such as almonds, apples and sunflowers. In this way, a few wild bees, acting like sheep dogs, can make honey bees up to five times more efficient at pollinating.”

So, the next time you’re at a hive praising honey bees, be sure to give the native bees a little credit too.

September 25, 2011