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Bee of the Week

In South Africa, there are about 22 000 plant species and only 1 300 bee species, so they have a lot of work to do. That is a tongue-in-cheek comment because flies, beetles and birds among many other different animals pollinate, but bees are the most important pollinators.

There is only one species of honeybee in South Africa, almost all the others are solitary bees. We need all our bee species because cross-pollination is needed for evolutionary change to cope with climate change, maintaining all terrestrial biodiversity and diversity enables ecosystem resilience, and crop pollination to maximise food production and quality on arable land. Different bees are needed for different flower types.

Bees are beautiful insects when you take a closer look and get to know the species. Only the honeybee is aggressive. Others only sting when handled. You can “bee watch” in your garden, when walking down the road – almost anywhere. You can have a bee-friendly garden, which makes gardening more interesting, and get to know which bees pollinate your veggies and fruit – better pollination equals bigger and better tasting fruit.

Honey bee macro, isolated on black background.

Honeybees feed their larvae as they grow, which is called progressive feeding. Most other bees collect pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrates) mix them into a ball and lay their egg on that. This is called mass provisioning. A few are cuckoo bees and they lay their eggs in other bees’ nests.

There are reports from around the world that bees are diminishing in abundance and diversity. But we do not have a clue about the conservation status of our bees. The naming and classification (taxonomy) of our bees have been studied for about 100 years, so we can identify most of them. However, we do not have the professional capacity to monitor them and determine their conservation status. But we do have a lot of very competent citizens who can embrace bee-watching as citizen scientists towards this end.

Honey bee macro, isolated on black background.

All you have to do is take pictures of bees, preferably from as many angles as possible, and post them onto iNaturalist. Better still! You can learn to identify bees and apart from your own bees help identify those in other’s pictures on iNaturalist. Further, we do not know the host plants and have never seen the nests of most bees. Therefore, we need you to collect biological data as well. Join the Bees’ WhatsApp to be part of the group, learn when guides are published and the dates of bee courses. Mostly the bee of the week will be in one of the guides, yet to be published. In the guides, you can see the week’s bee in context with its close relatives and learn to identify them.

Honey bee macro, isolated on black background.