Categories: ActivitiesCamping

Beyond Honey Bees: How Wild Bees Contribute to Your Outdoor Experiences

Although honey bees tend to get most of the love, North America is home to over 3,600 various bee species. You’ve likely come across a few that seemed to be flies or wasps, or maybe you simply didn’t notice them at all. But when it comes to enriched ecosystems and delightful wildlife encounters, bees—specifically native bees!—are worth a second look.

What’s the difference between honey bees and wild bees?

Though not native to North America, honey bees have become beloved as social honey producers and pollinators contributing to commercial agriculture since they were introduced in the 17th century. In contrast, native bees, also known as wild bees, have long called the US and Canada home. These more solitary creatures live in smaller colonies to pollinate very specific native plants, directly contributing to hyperlocal biodiversity.

In honor of World Bee Day, here are a few fun facts to round out your knowledge on native bees.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Erinn Hale at Olalla Flower Farm Glamping, Washington

1. Most wild bees are solitary

It’s rare for wild bees to live in colonies with thousands of sisters like honey bees do. Over 90% of native bees actually live on their own and do everything for themselves, from nest building to foraging and feeding their young.

Some solitary bees do share nesting sites, but it’s rare for them to be communal or share entrance holes. In these cases, each usually has its own side tunnels and cells.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Kristina Frost at Capay Valley Cache Creek, California

2. Most wild bees live in the ground

Around 30% to 40% of non-parasitic wild bees nest in cavities. Some chew holes in wood, like carpenter bees and some bumbles, while others, such as leaf cutter bees and mason bees, lay their eggs in hollow tubes. The rest, some 60% to 70%, are ground-nesting bees. They dig holes into dry, sandy soil, preferably on open hillsides, to create underground tunnels where they lay their eggs.

Next time you see a sunny hillside pockmarked with holes, look closely and you may see bee excavation in action!

Photo by Sylvia Dekker

3. Some wild bees are parasitic

Bees are industrious creatures. Some species put in earnest effort to dig or make their own nests and feed their brood, but others prefer to step in when that work is mostly finished. Cuckoo bees, for example, will crawl into a sweat bee’s nest and lay eggs near the food stores the sweat bee has collected for her own offspring.

So, while you can watch the sweat bees working hard excavating their holes in the dirt and bringing back pollen, also keep an eye out for other bees that seem to have nothing better to do than hover suspiciously near the entrances, waiting to reap the benefits.

Photo by Sylvia Dekker

4. Sorry—stingless wild bees are hard to come by

Unfortunately for those of us afraid of bees, stingless species only exist in tropical and subtropical areas of the world—not in North America. Luckily though, our wild bees are very chill and rarely sting, so you can watch them work with ease if you spot some on your next camping trip.

Photo by Josephine Amalie Paysen

5. Wild bees provide vital ecosystem services

Sure, honey bees are commercially used to pollinate many of our food crops, but some plants are better pollinated by wild bees. Many species, such as squash bees, are specialized for specific plants.

Wild bees pollinate many flowering plants in super remote areas, which ensures that native plants reproduce and that the resulting berries and seeds feed wildlife. Plus, wild bees fly even when it’s cool and wet out, and tend to work longer hours than honey bees do.

Even more useful, certain birds, spiders, and insects use wild bees as a direct food source. Migrating birds gobble pollinators for energy to keep flying, for example.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton

6. Many wild bees are in decline

The decline in honey bee populations continues to take the spotlight in the news, despite the fact that native bees are often even worse off. According to a report from the Xerces Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), some 28% of North America’s bumble bees are threatened, while 50% of leafcutter bees and 27% of mason bee species are considered “at risk.” Some of the reasons include disease, pesticides, and continued loss of food, habitat, and nesting sites.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Erinn Hale at Highwater Farm, Washington

7. Wild bees are essential to your outdoor experience

Wild bees often go unnoticed, despite the fact that they and their handiwork are everywhere in nature. The services they provide enrich the ecosystems we love to visit, ensuring all the beautiful and remote bloomers, from the smallest plants to the towering trees you camp under, reproduce and survive.

Photo by Stephen Ally

Without our wild, native bees, the biodiversity of both plants and animals, from heathers to grizzlies, would be noticeably less, and the resonant experiences we expect from a day spent in nature would be dulled.

Start planning your next camping trip

With all this newfound knowledge on native bees and the ways they help our native ecosystems thrive, now’s the time to get outside for the chance to spot them!

Fresh air, wild places and the life they contain—from the smallest wonder to the biggest detail—are the heartbeat of Sylvia Dekker’s pen, paintbrush, lens and life. Nature is her favourite place to wander and this extends to daily life where she is a beekeeper and freelance writer, with bylines in Explore Online, BC Outdoors Magazine and the American Bee Journal, among others. Connect and follow along with her escapades @syl.dekker on IG.

Recent Posts

Stargazing 101: How to View the Night Sky

Gazing up at a sky full of stars can create memories that stay with us for life. But with most…

2 days ago

A Guide to Colorado Wildflowers: Where and When to See Them

From the vast meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park to the alpine peaks of Crested Butte, wildflower season in Colorado…

7 days ago

A Guide to Arizona Wildflowers: Where and When to See Them

From the radiant yellow of Mexican gold poppies to the deep red blooms of the hedgehog cactus, Arizona wildflowers ignite…

7 days ago

The Best Long Weekend Camping Trips For Summer

It’s official: camping season is just around the corner. People across the country are celebrating Memorial Day weekend by pulling…

1 week ago

These Are the Top Trending RV Destinations for Summer 2024

Want to know where fellow RVers are camping this summer? We looked at Hipcamp search data to name the most…

2 weeks ago

This Marin County Farm Offers a Fresh Take on Back-to-Nature Food and Camping

Surrounded by grassy hills and a seasonal marsh, Estero San Antonio Wonderland is 800 acres of agro-ecological farm and idyllic…

3 weeks ago