5 Things I’ve Learned about Wild Bees

Like many people, I had a general understanding of the role of bees as pollinators and threats they are facing today. However, Dr. Sheila Colla’s Let It Bee presentation deepened my understanding of wild (native) bees versus honey bees which are cultivated and have been imported from Europe. I walked away learning concrete steps I can take to support native bees in my community!


The Let It Bee event was a great success!


Here’s a recap of five most important things I learned:

1. There are 350 species of wild (native) bees present in the Great Toronto Area!

Wild bees have many different shapes, colors and sizes, contrary to popular beliefs, majority of  wild bees are solitary (unsocial, live on their own and cannot sting!) Many native bees also live in the ground. They nest in places such as vegetation, old rodent burrows, long grass, mulch and piles of rock or logs.

2. Bees play a crucial role in local and global plant and animal biodiversity and food security.

Bees provide intrinsic values to our local ecosystems by pollinating native plants. Moreover, wild bees serve as insurance for pollination for our crops as honey bee populations are facing huge loses. (Side note: What’s that buzzing sound you hear? Many bees remove pollen by producing strong vibrations which cause pollen to fall off the anthers of flowers!)


western bumblebee - the occidentalis


3. Pathogens from green houses, urban bee keeping and managed bee populations are a major contributor to decline of wild bee populations.

North American wild bee species are facing a 30 to 90 % decline. Pathogen spillover from managed honey bees has been linked to increase in diseases among native bee populations such as Bumble Bees.  Dr. Colla warns that bee keeping should be performed by trained professionals. Honey bees are aggressive competitors, have large hives and resources. Studies show honey bees can reduce forage activity of wild bees and disrupt native plant and bee relationships.

4. Wild bees are not adapting fast enough to temperature changes and are essentially ‘being squished in the middle’ of climate zones.

Wild bees live in narrow climate niches. This means that the impacts of climate change such as spring storms and late blooming of spring flowers are quite detrimental. Unlike some other species that are moving north with rising temperatures, bee populations are not able to move fast enough to keep up with rising temperatures.



Native Bees have not adapted quickly enough to changing climates


5. We can help! By planting native plants, reducing insecticide use and collecting data in our cities, every day folks like you and me can actually help the wild bee populations!


  • Create and support pollinator-friendly habitats by planting native perennials, shrubs and trees with a variety of colors and shapes; and most importantly, spring AND fall blooms! Leave plant litter on the ground and have undisturbed spaces with logs or branch piles.
  • Eliminate insecticide use in your yard.  Plant diverse native species that require fewer inputs and use only natural pest control methods.
  • When purchasing plants, ask whether the plants have been treated with neonicotinoids. If they say yes, or can’t tell you, don’t buy them.
  • Finally, citizen science has played a key role in locating remote/small populations of endangered species and identifying new species! We can contribute to on-going research on wild bees by collecting reporting sightings of bumble bees!


join the Great Canadian Bumble Bee Watch


Join LEAF as we take part in the Great Canadian Bumble Bee Count on Saturday June 4th at three of our public gardens: Artscape Wychwood Barns, Old Mill Subway Station and St. Clair Subway Station


 Beatrice Olivastri, Sheila Colla, Janet McKay


The Let It Bee Presentation was made possible by the support of our partners Ontario Power Generation and Friends of the Earth Canada.

Tooba Shakeel is LEAF’s Education and Outreach Coordinator.

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