About Native Bees in the Sonoran Desert – Stings and Nests

Most of the news goes to the Honey Bee, a non-native European import, but there are about 1,000 species of native bees in the Sonoran Desert bioregion. And unlike the general bee stereotype, most native bees are solitary and don’t produce honey.

Whereas honey bees build honeycomb hives and live in large colonies, native bees, with the exception of bumble bees, are solitary and nest in the ground or in cavities like abandoned beetle holes in stems or twigs.

Because most native bees are solitary, it’s up to the female bee to build and provision the nest, and if the female dies, that generation is lost. As a result, native bees do not have the luxury of putting themselves at risk, and don’t sting unless absolutely necessary.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common of the 7-12 species of honey bee worldwide. It was one of the first domesticated insects.

About Stings

Male bees don’t sting. Surprised? I was!

Stingers are actually modified ovipositors, which, once upon a time, were used by female bees to lay eggs, so only female bees can sting. (Male bees also don’t collect pollen, and this is one means of differentiating a male vs a female observation.)

Honey bees (female) are the only bees that die after stinging. Native female bees don’t leave their stinger behind, so they’re free to defend themselves multiple times if required.

Nesting Habits and Lending a Helping Hand in Your Garden

A bee nest contains anywhere from one to several dozen nest cells.

For bees that nest in the ground, a female bee digs the hole, typically in a sunny south or east patch of exposed earth. Providing patches in your garden that are away from traffic areas can provide nesting opportunities.

Native bees that don’t nest in the ground take advantage of pre-existing nest cavities, including hollowed out twigs, abandoned beetle burrows, tiny holes in bricks and even abandoned snail shells. There are many ways you can help make your garden a home, for example, by leaving snags (dead trees), not removing leaf litter until late spring, or providing nest cavities made of dead wood, dead stems or brush piles.

If you’re creating or modifying a pollinator garden in the low desert areas of Maricopa County and adjacent areas and want to help support native bees, a great set of guidelines and resources are provided by the Maricopa Pollinator Pathway project. Consider joining the project by adding your garden, it’s free! The Maricopa Pollinator Pathway Comprehensive Habitat FAQ is a great way to learn more about what makes a great pollinator habitat.

The Xerces Society also has great information about how to support ground nesting bees, cavity nesting bees and bumble bees.

Another great resource is The Bees in Your Backyard, by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril.

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