When we think of bees, the image of a furry yellow buzzing bug comes to mind. We also associate them with hives and living with a colony of bees. But did you know that there are bees that do not live within a colony?
Solitary bees are bees that don’t need a hive to survive. They are considered “super pollinators” because they do not have pollen baskets. Hence they drop pollen as they fly from one flower to the other.
Out of more than two hundred species of bees, ninety percent of them are solitary bees. Contrary to common belief, most bees do not live in colonies nor produce honey or wax. Most bees do not serve a queen. These bees build individual nests and work alone.
Solitary bees are not aggressive or territorial. While females can sting, most do not engage since they are relatively calm in nature. Their stings are usually painless to humans and animals. Most solitary bees are generally smaller than their famous cousin, the furry bumblebee, and are often mistaken for a different insect other than a bee.
As mentioned, these types of bees work alone in creating nests for their offspring. Most nests are typically built in tubular holes or hollow stalks of soil, sand, clay, mortar, or wood. The female bee collects materials and food for its larvae. She would lay each of her twenty to thirty eggs in separate compartments, on top of a pollen ball stuck together with nectar.
The female bee would then compartmentalize each egg, building partition walls. Once she has completed building walls for each egg, she closes it with mud, leaves, or fine hairs. The pollen stuck with nectar serves as the larvaes’ food once their eggs hatch. Upon consuming the food, the larvae hibernate for around eleven months. After winter, these bees have fully developed and emerged from their nest. They usually live for only four to six weeks.
In contrast, a solitary male bee has only one task once they mature. Their only mission is to mate with solitary female bees, once the deed is done, they die. (Source: Wildcare)
Solitary bees drink nectar directly from flowers and spend most of their time collecting pollen which will soon be mixed with nectar to feed their offspring. And since these types of bees do not have pollen baskets to carry pollen, they drop far more pollen than honey bees once they fly off to the next flower.
Solitary bees are essential in pollinating crops which leads to healthy and productive plant communities. This, in turn, leads to creating an excellent food source for other animals and birds. (Source: Grow Wild UK)
Common Solitary Bee Species
Bees can be distinguished against flies in terms of the number of wings they have. Bees have four while flies have two. And to further verify what kind of bee you are looking at, you only have to look at what materials they used to close their nests.
- Leafcutter Bees – as the name suggests, can cut leaves and use them to build their nests
- Mason Bees – are the most successful pollinators and use mud for their nests
- Wool Carder Bees – collect hairs from plants and use it to cover their nests
- Carpenter Bees – use rotten and unpainted wood and can often be mistaken for bumblebees
(Source: Grow Wild UK)