Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bees

...from Bee Expert Tim Stanley

When residents of New York’s Hudson Valley want to know something about bees, Tim Stanley is their go-to guy. He’s a beekeeper, and a veritable expert on the region’s wild bees (which, as you’ll learn, differ substantially from the bees we raise for honey). We recently interviewed him in an attempt to find out everything we ever wanted to know about bees. Check it out!

LEAD PHOTO: Green sweat bee by Tim Stanley/Native Beeology

What are a couple of little known facts about bees that you wish more people were aware of?

There are nearly 4,000 wild native bee species that live in North America and they evolved alongside native flowers.  These bees have the know-how to pollinate more efficiently than non-native bees such as the honey bee. Native bees are better pollinators; 250 blue orchard bees are able to pollinate an acre of apple trees as effectively as 40,000 honey bees.  The squash bee emergence coincides with the blossoming of the squash flower.  Though other bees are drawn to the surplus reservoirs of nectar, the squash bee alone ensures successful pollination for a bountiful harvest of pumpkins.

How do the bees that we typically raise for honey differ from the bees native to your region of New York?

Honey bees were introduced to the Americas and have perennial hives in which the colony survives the winter by eating honey.  Most of our native bees survive the winter as pupae in cocoons or, in the case of bumble bee queens, hibernate over winter to emerge in the early spring.  In all cases, none of our wild native bees produce honey in the excess quantities of the honey bee.

An orchard bee.An orchard bee. Photo by Tim Stanley/Native Beeology

Why are bees so important to the health of agriculture and the environment?

Native wild pollinators, such as bumble bees and the blue orchard bees, also contribute substantially to the domestic economy. According to the USDA, the economic value of the pollination service provided by native insects is estimated at $3 billion a year. Many native bees are able to buzz pollinate, a process where they vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out of the flower.  The tomato and the blueberry, both native to the Americas, require buzz pollination, a skill mastered by bumble bees and other native species.


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What are some of the top threats that bees are facing?

On top of the list are Neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that is absorbed by a plant and remains active throughout the plant’s lifecycle.  The side effect to bees and other pollinators is a neurological disorder that causes them to become disoriented and confused.  This insecticide is collected in the pollen, an important source of protein needed by bees to raise their young.  Climate change, habitat fragmentation and other factors are also contributing factors to bee declines.

What are some things that the average citizen can do to help keep America’s bee population(s) in good shape?

Many of the smallest bees have a short flight radius (about a quarter mile) and a single backyard could be their entire world. Therefore, it is important to avoid using herbicides and insecticides on your lawn and gardens.  Buy plants and seeds that are neonicotinoid free.  Encourage bees and other pollinators by planting a variety of flowering plants with different bloom times from early spring to fall.  Consider native plants and perennials that will provide consistency as they grow back from year to year.  Simply allowing the edges of your yard to remain wild is another way to provide habitat for nesting bees and other wildlife.

What’s your favorite species of bee and what about it makes it your favorite?

My favorite bee species is the green sweat bee. This bright metallic green bee with a striped black and white abdomen is a jewel among bees.  It is a fast flying bee and can often be tricky to spot but well worth the effort.

A tri-colored bumble bee.A tri-colored bumble bee. Photo by Tim Stanley/Native Beeology

You’ve been known to host SCA interns at the site you direct, Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation. Why do you keep hosting? What value do SCA interns bring to Sharpe?

SCA interns have had a lasting and positive impact on our education programs at Sharpe Reservation.  They bring new ideas and renewed enthusiasm that is contagious to our other educators.

What do you hope an SCA intern will take away from his or her experience at Sharpe?

It has been very rewarding to see SCA members transform through their experience as they broaden their horizons and develop greater clarity as to where their journey will lead.  I know firsthand that this experience helped many of our members build a solid foundation and strong environmental ethic that they have carried into meaningful and fulfilling careers.

In all your years working with bees, what’s the most amazing bee-related thing you’ve experienced?

I can think of a few, but twice I have come across aggregations of ground nesting solitary bees.  Imagine sitting among hundreds of bees digging out their earthen tunnels in preparation of laying eggs for the next generation of bees. The first thought is that they would attack and sting!  But quite the contrary, social bees that have one queen and one hive with hundreds or even thousands of bees have an invested interest to protect the hive. Solitary female bees like the ones I encountered, though nesting in a group, are each working independently. Each female lays only a few eggs and has less reason to protect their brood.   These bees are too busy at work to be bothered by a single curious human.


Hudson Valley bee expert Tim Stanley.NOTE: When Tim’s not busy keeping bees and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of all things Anthophila (Apoidea) on his website, www.nativebeeology.com, he serves as Pres. of the NY State Outdoor Education Association and Dir. of Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Environmental Center, a beautiful protected area in Hudson Valley that’s been known to host SCA interns from time to time.


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