More Bees, Please: A Bee Sanctuary in the Heart of Urban L.A.

May 31, 2016

Metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) (Left) and Mason bee (Osmia sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey Backyards are not what they used to be. As an urban biologist who has spent countless hours exploring yards in L.A., I have seen lawns and rose gardens replaced by succulents and sages, bug zappers exchanged for hummingbird feeders, and swing sets coupled with bee hotels. More and more Angelenos are seeing their personal green space as not just a place to rest and play, but as integral habitat to share with local wildlife. Our Museum’s Nature Gardens are living proof that even in the core of the city, planting with purpose can have a profound beneficial effect. The area that was predominantly a concrete parking lot less than ten years ago is now home to 10 mammal species, 168 bird species, and heaps of insect species that we are continually discovering.

Sample of insects collected in mid-May of 2010 during the construction of the Gardens, next to sample collected in mid-May of this year. What a huge difference! Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey One group we are diligently observing are the bees. Los Angeles boasts over 500 (yes, FIVE HUNDRED) species of bees. The European honey bee gets most of the media exposure, but other bees are in need of our attention as well. Having created a pollinator-friendly Nature Garden through the careful selection of host plants and the provision of proper nesting areas, we can now document 15 species of bees that make the garden their home! The majority of these bees nest underground, so patches of bare dry soil are crucial for their survival. Others are cavity nesters, meaning they will use hollowed-out twigs or make use of holes drilled into wood, also known as bee hotels. Buckwheat, poppies, mallows and sunflowers are but a few of the flowers that we provide as essential food for these beautiful pollinators. 

Leafcutter bees (Megachile sp.) in a bee hotel (Left) and Sunflower bee (Diadasia sp.) collecting pollen on mallow (Right). Photo credit: Brian Brown Many of our garden’s bees fly under the visual radar of the casual observer due to their small size. Small carpenter bees, mining bees and sweat bees are only a few millimeters, but they are just as important for pollinating flowers as their larger counterparts. 

Mining bee (Perdita sp.) (left) and Small carpenter bee (Ceratina sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey Our most commonly collected and observed bees in the Nature Gardens are European honey bees and sweat bees in the Subgenus Dialictus. Many people are aware of the issues facing populations of honey bees that are raised and kept in captivity, but do not realize that feral (the bees that have escaped from captivity) honey bee numbers are quite high, often greatly outnumbering all other species of bees in our L.A. area insect surveys.

European honey bee (Apis mellifera) (Left) and Sweat bee (Dialictus sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey Expanding your sense of what bees do and how they appear (going “beyond the honey bee”), will open your eyes to a whole hidden world of beauty. Some bees glisten like shiny blue and green jewels, while others are completely fuzzy, adorable teddy bears with wings. Now that spring has arrived, we will be peeking inside flowers, checking our bee hotel and looking through our insect trap to see if we can add to our impressive list of bee species that call the Nature Gardens their home.

Mining Bee (Anthophora sp.) (Left) and Bumble bee (Bombus sp.) (Right). Resources Nests for Native Bees  Pollinator-Friendly Plant List for California  

(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)

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