Bees are insects that belong to the Hymenoptera. Wasps and ants are also part of that insect order. Bees do not eat meat but eat nectar and pollen.
More than 20,000 species of bees are known worldwide, but the actual number is probably much higher.
At least 363 species of bees have been observed in the Netherlands (369 in Belgium). Of the currently occurring 331 species, more than half (181), are on the Red List. This means that these species are threatened to a greater or lesser extent in their survival.
Thinking of bees, you would think of honey. But most bees don’t make honey at all. Only a small number of social, colony forming bees make honey. The best known is the honeybee.
Honeybees are used commercially to fertilize horticultural crops so that fruit and seeds can develop and, of course, for the production of honey.
Honey bees can travel great distances. In good weather they cover up to five kilometers. The honeybee does not care very much with which plant it visits for the nectar and therefore has the ability to adapt.
All other 330 species of bees currently found in the Netherlands is wild bees. Most of these bees do not live in colonies but are solitary.
Many of these bees specialize in flowers of specific plants and are therefore highly dependent on that plant. This makes them vulnerable to changes.
Within our wild bees’ population about 74 species make their nests in soils. Other species use gaps in walls or hollow stems as a nesting place or chew a nest in rotten wood. There are also cuckoo bees that do not make a nest themselves but use the nest and the food supply of other bees to lay their eggs.
Bees in your garden
The bees you see in a garden are almost always wild bees. Some wild bees are almost impossible to recognize as a bee. The appearance of wild bees ranges from the small, shiny black bug to the big, hairy bumblebees. Their diet can also vary greatly. There are bee species that collect pollen from every flower they come across. Others are very picky and only like the pollen of a single flower family. As a result, the plants in your garden determine which bee species you can encounter in your garden.
Honeybee competitor of the wild bee
Wild bees are under threat for various reasons. This is partly because more and more honeybees are used by people. Often also at nature reserves. Honeybees and wild bees live on the same food, nectar and pollen, which is not available indefinitely. This makes the honeybee a competitor to the wild bees. Because honeybees are fed by their beekeeper in times of shortage, wild bees are more vulnerable. In areas where honeybees are abundant, you likely will find fewer wild bees.
Afraid of bees?
Bees are often confused with wasps, and some wild bees look like wasps to protect themselves.
But wild solitary bees will rarely sting you. They don’t have a colony to defend. The larger bumblebees never really sting. You can even gently pet them, but don’t tease them.
Help the wild bees in your garden
With many different flowering plants, shrubs and trees in your garden, you will offer the bees a varied menu. Also provide sufficient nesting space. A piece of sandy soil for the sand bee, leave a lot of leaf litter in winter, prune hollow stems late in the spring. This allows you to get more different bee species in your garden. And of course, a bee hotel can be helpful.