To help native bees thrive we must conserve their nesting habitat as well as food sources. Native bees live in open prairies and mixed woodlands. Each ecosystem has it’s particular constellation of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen for bees as well as nesting sites and material. Natural habitat should include diverse native wildflowers throughout foraging season (Spring-Fall) and undisturbed bare soil and cavities for bee nesting sites.
A mixture of woodland and prairies found within the 80-acre Brackenridge Field Lab of the University of Texas, along the shores of Lady Bird Lake in Austin, can sustain more than 200 native pollinator species!
Bees travel well beyond their nesting habitat to forage for food. Their flight range depends to some extent on their body size which in turn depends on the bee species. But small bees can fly long distances for their food!
Female bees tend to their broods by bringing pollen back to their nests, packing it into balls or ‘bee bread’ and laying an egg on the food source for the developing eggs and larvae. Native bees prefer native flower pollen that they can digest. Native bees thrive in native plant gardens. For information on native plants visit:
Native bees can be ground nesters (70%) or cavity nesters (30%). Some females dig underground nests with their front legs while others use their mouths to drill holes in soft wood or plant stems. Some use rock crevices or even lay their eggs in empty snail shells! They use material like cut leaves and petals or mud plaster to line and seal their nests.
Bumble bees, digger bees and sweat bees dig underground nests. Sunflower bees build chimneys. Ground nesters need bare soil, which you can provide in your garden, orchard or farm.
Cavity nesters drill in soft wood or plant pith like carpenter bees, use existing cavities like mason and leaf-cutters, or use snail shells!
Conserving native bees requires protecting natural nesting sites and material. Protect soil from disturbance and erosion. Leave bare soil and muddy areas for ground-nesters; and downed wood, thatch and vegetation for cavity nesters.
Most bees aren’t social like honey bees. Around 90% of native bees are solitary. That is, a single female makes a nest to lay her eggs and tend to them. Some bee species aggregate nests in small areas or some females share a communal nest opening, but each one provides for her own larvae in their own cells. In semi-social bees, like bumble bees, individuals of the same age (cohort) divide the labor, foraging and caring for young sisters. Honeybees form permanent colonies where one female builds a nest and provisions her young and most of the queen’s daughters are workers that forage for food while she lays eggs and stays in the nest. Native bee populations depend not only on food resources and nest sites but on the viability of each egg they lay in nests that shift from season to season.
Page authors: Laurel Treviño and Margarita López Uribe
Thank the following organizations for supporting the development of Outreach Materials:
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department through the Horned Lizard License Plate Grant
The National Science Foundation
The US Army
(CC) Creative Commons – Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike:
(CC) Lawrence Gilbert, meadow & woodland at Brackenridge Field Laboratory
(CC) Brackenridge Field Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin
(CC) www.discoverlife.org Agapostemon
(CC) Alain C. www.flickr.com, Small carpenter bee (Ceratina sp.) drills hole in plant stem
(CC) Bob Peterson, Large carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica)
(CC) Charles Schurch Lewallen, 1998 http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu, Bombus griseocollis
(CC) http://standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/ Agapostemon green sweat bee peeking
(CC) *BJO http://www.flickr.com/photos/32551349@N03/8140583553 Bumble bee exits nest
(CC) T. Murray, digger bee
(CC) T’ai H. Roulston, 2014, www.virginia.edu/blandy/blandy_web/biota/bees Peponapis pruinosa
(CC) Melipona quadrifasciata (social bees) image provided by Margarita Lopez Uribe
(CC) Scott Famous, DoD, www.bugwood.org, Blue orchard Osmia lignaria; www.aragriculture.org, Mason bees
© Copyright protected – use permitted for educational purposes:
© Bruce Lund 2012, www.bugguide.net, digger (chimney) bee Diadasia enavata, (Andrenidae)
© Kathy Keatley Garvey, 2014, Regents of the University of California, Diadasia, leaf-cutters
© www.discoverlife.org, Agapostemon angelicus male
Images used for educational purposes, all copyrights apply