Other Pollinators



Copyright 1997, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Janice D. Green

Photos copyright 2003, 2004 by David L. Green


There are many different kinds of bees that help to pollinate our crops. Honeybees are often preferred as pollinators because we can gather and enjoy eating their honey.

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Honeybees live in colonies and can be purchased and kept on your land in a specially designed beehive that looks like a box.<> Honeybees can be moved from farm to farm quite easily in modern hives. Years ago our grandparents and great-grandparents kept bee gums at the edges of their fields. These were hollowed out logs that the bees lived inside.


Another pollinator is the bumblebee. Bumblebees, like honeybees, nest in colonies. They often nest under the ground or in cracks between boards. This writer once had a colony of bumblebees to move into a birdhouse that was made from a small hollowed out log. There are a few beekeepers who work with bumblebees for crop pollination. Bumblebees are useful pollinators inside greenhouses. They are very expensive to buy.

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Solitary Bees

Some kinds of bees are solitary bees. These bees that live alone rather than in colonies as do honeybees and bumblebees. One such bee is the carpenter bee. This bee looks like a very large bumble bee and many people are easily frightened by them. They think that because the bee keeps flying towards them that it wants to sting, but these bees are just very curious and "friendly". These bees, as with most bees, will sting only if you frighten them by swatting at them or moving fast.

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The female carpenter bee nests in the early spring by drilling a small hole into wood and laying eggs along with honey and pollen in the hole. She then seals the hole and dies. The eggs won't hatch until early the next spring. Carpenter bees are valuable for catching the earliest blooms in our gardens, but they aren't around all summer to continue the task of pollinating.

Many solitary bees make their nests in the ground, or in hollow reeds.  There are a great many kinds of solitary bees.

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The Melissodes bee on the left is gathering pollen on a sunflower. 

The bee on the right is a pictureof a halictid bee gathering pollen from a vitex flower. 

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Not All Pollinators Are Bees


There are other insects that pollinate our crops in addition to bees. One such pollinator is the butterfly. Butterflies don't do as good a job, however, since its proboscis (tongue) is long and slender like a needle and it's body doesn't brush up against the pollen as much.

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There are several kinds of flies that imitate bees in their appearance but are not bees. The fly on the left is a syrphid fly.   On the left is a bombyliid fly.

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Wasps, Yellowjackets, and Hornets

There are other insects which are mistakenly called bees that are not bees at all.  The one most often mistaken for a bee is the yellow jacket.  The yellow jacket is really a wasp.  It can have a very nasty disposition if you come too close to its underground nest.  Its body is slender and slick and has yellow and black stripes around it.  A honeybee, in comparison, is fatter with a fuzzy body.  The honeybees stripes are more orange and brown in color.  The yellowjacket is not very effective as a pollinator and seldom visits flowers except in the late fall. 

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Few wasps are efficient as pollinators.   Wasps are useful, however, for pest control as they capture caterpillars and spiders for feed for their larvae. 

polistes wasp 5036.jpg (23407 bytes) This polistes wasp (left) is looking for caterpillars.  The wasp on the right is a potter wasp.

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The wasp on the left is a scoliid wasp.   Its young feed on Japanese beetle larvae.  The adult scoliid wasp may be the best pollinator among wasps.  The wasp on the right is a tiipid wasp.

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Hornets, like wasps, are useful more for pest control than for pollination.  They do serve a very useful purpose; however, and we need to learn to coexist with them and respect their space.

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Honeybee biology

Bugwatch Educational page about bees as insects.