By Elaine Sedgman, KFPC Guest Writer
I peer into a rose blossom to see whether there might be a hairy belly or a pollen pants bee foraging on the pollen. Ah! It’s a honeybee, a non-native bee to North America. In July, you might have seen other citizen scientists with clipboards peering into flowers in Riverside Park. They were all counting pollinators.
How does a person count tiny, flying insects? We are trained as citizen scientists to use a standardized North American protocol. We learn to recognize insects in certain pollinator guilds: honeybees, bumblebees, pollen pants bees, hairy belly bees, flies, wasps and others such as beetles, butterflies and perhaps, if lucky, a hummingbird. We only count those insects that are actually pollinating, pausing to collect pollen or nectar from flowers.
Reddish-brown honeybees are what most people think of when asked about bees. Or worse, they think of wasps, hornets and yellow jackets and painful stings. In fact, our native bees are colorful, diverse and rarely sting. We have over 500 bee species in British Columbia. Seventy percent of them nest in the ground in tunnels carefully excavated and prepared by each female. These bees tend to collect pollen on their legs. Hence the name “Pollen Pants Bee.” The remaining species are cavity nesters. They will nest in any sort of protected space such as a keyhole or a snail shell or under a shake roof. But they will also nest quite happily in a ready-made purchased bee-nesting box. These bees tend to collect pollen on their abdomen, hence the name “Hairy Belly Bee”.
Most bee species are solitary, meaning that the female does everything by herself: finding a nesting site, laying her eggs, foraging for food for her eggs and creating chambers to protect her eggs. Most bees fly only 2-4 weeks depending on species, weather and flowers. And they fly, at most, the length of a football field looking for food. Exceptions are bumblebees and honeybees and a few other semi-social bees.
Let’s return to Riverside Park. In July of 2017, citizen scientists counted pollinators in the containers and flower beds around Sandman Centre and all the way to the Community Gardens at the west end of the park. Within a time limit of 20 minutes, 269 pollinators were counted. But, what was interesting, of those 269, more than half (139) were counted in the Community Garden. It turns out that those beautiful geraniums and petunias that we use as bedding plants have very little to offer to pollinators. Pollinators need flowers that that have easily accessible pollen (provides protein) and nectar (provides carbohydrates). Geraniums and petunias have nutrition bred out of them – they only provide good looks. On the other hand, the Community Garden was packed with tasty and nutritious flowers: oregano, a flowering broccoli, strawberries, flowering onions, coriander, cosmos, sunflowers and borage.
Why count pollinators in Kamloops? You’ve probably heard that 1 in 3 bites of food we eat is courtesy of insect pollination. Ninety percent of the world’s wild plants depend on pollinators to reproduce. We hope that by doing these surveys, we gain a greater understanding and awareness of pollinator needs in our city. We also hope that this three-year study will create baseline observational data and knowledge of our green spaces that will help with future decision-making in our parks.
So let’s get started by planting more nectar and pollen rich flowers in our own gardens, as well our city parks.
To learn more about our native pollinators and how to support them, go to the city of Kamloops website and search Pollinators City of Kamloops.
Elaine Sedgman is a Master Gardener with the Thompson Shuswap chapter of the Master Gardeners Association of BC, growing.mgabc.org, as well as a vibrant member of the KFPC Network.
Find KFPC in the following ways: kamloops foodpolicycouncil.com, info@kamloopsfoodpoli cycouncil.com or 250-851-6111.