Bees come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colours. They also vary in their lifestyle, the flowers they visit, the nests they build and the season they are active.
Our native bees have evolved with our diverse landscapes - from prairies and meadows to high alpine mountain environments and the tundra of the north. Canada's 725 species of bees live very differently, with approximately 90% of bees living in solitary environments and the remainder living socially or communal.
Solitary bees are those that construct their own nest to rear their offspring. A single female bee is responsible for completing all the tasks that many bees carry out in social nests. She constructs the nest, forages for food, lays the eggs and defends the nest all in the 4 - 6 weeks that she is alive as an adult.
Social bees form small colonies, and have multiple overlapping generations of queen bees and her offspring at one time. Labor of nest construction, food foraging, and rearing offspring is cooperative within the bee colony.
Ontario bee species are group into five families
Nesting sites vary among the different species of bees, with 70% constructing their nest below ground and the other 30% of bees construct their nest above ground.
Female ground nesting bees excavate shallow or intricate burrows in sandy soils and dense loam or silt-loam soil. Since soil becomes saturated with water, bees line the nest cells with waterproofing material to protect the brood cells.
Above ground nesting bees construct their nests in preexisting cavities in dead trees, logs on the ground or in the holes of flower stalks and soft woody branches. Some cavity nesting bees will excavate their own cavity in wood, flower stalks or soft woody branches such as elderberry or sumac. Dry, hollow or pithy perennial flower stalks from the previous growing season provide excellent nesting opportunities.
Most bees are generalists, meaning they will forage for pollen and nectar on a variety of plant species. However, certain native bees will only forage for pollen on specific species of plants. These are known as specialist bees because they depend on a few families of flowering plants for their survival. One example is the sweat bee (Lasioglossum oenotherae) - pictured left, who collects only evening primrose pollen. This is why planting and protecting native plants is so important! We need certain species of plants to provide food and shelter for our native specialist bees.