The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees
Did you know that more than 4000 species of bees live in the United States and Canada? To put that in perspective,
there are 4 times more species of bees in these two countries than all the bird species north of Mexico, 6 times more kinds of bees than butterflies, and about 10 times as many bee species as mammal species. Despite their diversity, few people know anything about bees, even the ones in their own backyards. For example, everyone knows that robins nest in trees, that bears hibernate, and that butterflies start out as caterpillars, but most people don’t know where bees live, how they spend the winter, or what they eat. This book is designed to introduce you to the bees of the United States and Canada, including their lifestyles and habitat preferences, and what you can do to attract them to your neighborhood. Understanding bees is beneficial not only to the bees, but also to your gardens.
Over 20,000 species of bees have been identified around the world. New species are being found every year,
even in places like New York City. Because new species are continually discovered, scientists estimate that up to 30,000 species might exist worldwide. Bees can be found on every continent (except Antarctica), on small islands, on treeless mountaintops, in jungles and deserts, and on top of high-rises in Chicago. They are most abundant in dry and hot environments, like Mediterranean Europe, and the southwestern United States.
Though the drab reddish-brown honey bee is the default image conjured by most when they hear the word “bee,” these creatures are in fact diverse and stunning beauties, and the menagerie includes blue and green jewels like Osmia and Agapostemon, fire-engine red Nomada, jet-black fuzz-balls like Anthophora, and zebra-striped Anthidium. Some of the smallest bees in the world are found in North America. Perdita, found in the southwest United States, measure only 0.1 inch, smaller than George Washington’s nose on a quarter. At the other extreme, North America is home to giant bumbling carpenter bees (Xylocopa). At more than an inch long, they sound like miniature helicopters as they hover near flowers. Bees are thought to increase seed set in 70% of all flowering plants, including many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy. The special relationship that exists between bees and the flowers they visit is not only economically (and gastronomically) important; it is also unique from a biological perspective. Although there are other organisms that are capable of pollination (and are, in fact, good at it), bees are the only ones to actively gather pollen from the flowers they visit, creating an evolutionary dynamic seen nowhere else in the animal kingdom. Despite the particular talents and unquestionable importance of bees, scientists have reason to believe that some bee species may be experiencing widespread population declines. While the specifics are still being assessed, some things are certain: bees are all around us, they enhance the quality of our lives, and they benefit from our improved understanding of them and their needs.
Our hope is that this book will turn amateur naturalists, gardeners, entomologists, and curious souls on to the amazing lives of the bees that not only reside in untamed wild areas, but also flourish in our very neighborhoods. With understanding comes appreciation; in addition to describing the life stories associated with the many bee species of the United States and Canada, we provide examples of ways to encourage these wonderful pollinators on your own plot of land.
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