Save all the bees and wasps, not just the ones that we can use for honey!
Most people enjoy a nice teaspoon of honey with their tea or on their breakfast cereal, but not many people think about how a bee produces that honey. There are at least seven different species of honeybee that are part of an order of insects called Hymenoptera. Hymenoptera have antennae and three segmented bodies and include wasps, bees, and ants. Recently, entomologists are starting to think that the most populous order on the planet is not actually beetles as once thought but is possibly the order of bees and wasps.
There are actually so many different kinds of Hymenoptera that a lot of insects you see in the wild that you would think are gnats or flies are in fact part of this order! There are leaf-cutter bees, solitary bees, burrowing bees… so many more types than the western honey bee that we use for honey.
The European honey bee, however, produces the largest amount of excess honey and therefore the highest profits. It was one of the first insects ever cultivated by humans and because of us it has moved from its native habitat in Europe to every continent on the globe (except Antarctica). Another advantage to cultivating this kind of bee is that they are not picky about the kind of nectar they consume. Being generalists, honeybees will consume just about every kind of nectar available.
While we enjoy the honey they produce and the pollination they provide, many other Hymenoptera provide pollination of more plants than the honeybee itself. In fact honey bees, being a non-native species may out compete their native counterparts and consume the nectar that would be used for dozens of native bee and wasp species.
These native species have often evolved to be specialists and only have the physical capabilities to consume nectar from very specific flower types. Honey bees, being generalists, will consume all nectar, not allowing the native species of bees to eat enough to survive. Despite consuming nectar from many different plants, they often do not have the appropriate proboscis (bee tongue) to help pollinate the plant.
Because the honeybee is a cute, charismatic insect it has attracted a lot of attention worldwide. Unfortunately, there are many different species that are dying out and only the cute and popular species are the ones that are getting public attention.
If you are concerned with preserving pollinators and bees in general, then the proper course of action is not to cultivate yet another monoculture by raising honeybees. The best thing you can do to support different species of pollinators is to plant lots of local flowers in your yard. Despite having been introduced into North America as a food crop, dandelions are an important source of food for many pollinators. By leaving dandelions growing on your lawn you can do your part to preserve species diversity and the health of pollinators as a whole. To help other species of solitary bees you can leave a pile of leaves in the corner of your yard or let the grass and weeds grow on another part of your yard. Hymenoptera that survive without hives need places to rest and feed, and they can use these areas to hide from predators.
What else can we do to help support species diversity among insects?
Also, check out the story that another author has written about a creative solution to an invasive species!