Where Pollinators Spend Their Winter

  • Posted on: 17 February 2018
  • By: msmolins

Where are our Maryland pollinators spending the winter?  Let's take a quick look at the overwintering habits of four different species of bees that are important pollinators for our food crops here in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.  Three of these pollinators are native to our area and the fourth has been brought here from Europe and Asia.  

Although these bee species are “bees,” their lifecycles are quite different and fascinating.  Let’s first look at the one bee we are pretty familiar with by site; the common bumble bee, Bombus spp. In the fall, male and female bumble bees are mating in preparation for winter.   Once mating is completed the males with die off and the female bumble bees start searching for a hole in the ground to hibernate for the winter.  She will come out of hibernation in the spring and look for a nest site to start a new colony.

For mason bees, Osmia spp. mating has already been completed. Males hatch from their tube nest first waiting for the females to hatch, when the mating is done females will collect pollen from nearby flowers, refill the tube nest with pollen, eggs and mud and all is completed by mid-June early July and the cycle starts again soon in March and early April. 

Squash bees, Peponapis pruinosa are solitary bees and nest underground.  Once the female is mated, she spends the summer months pollinating pumpkins, squash and water melon plants.  As she goes through the summer she burrows into the ground building chambers for each new squash bee.  She fills the chamber with pollen and lays an egg in the chamber where the egg hatches, the larva eats the pollen and grows, and pupa creates a cocoon and hatches the following summer.

Notice the solitary nature of the above species of bees: males mate and die, females either hibernate or lay eggs that will hatch in the spring or summer.  Honey bees, Apis mellifera L. however are social insects and live in a colony or a super organism.  To get through the winter they store 60 to 100 pounds of honey and pollen to eat throughout the winter until spring comes and the queen starts to lay eggs again.

There is so much more to learn and appreciate of these very interesting insects.  It shows also that you don’t have to keep honey bees in order to save pollinators and their habitat.  You could spend a life time learning about these hard working pollinators and never learn all there is to learn.  I’ve keeping honey bees nearly twenty years and am still learning something new every day!  To start your new adventure go to www.pollintor.org

Written by: Robert Borkowski, ’16 Institute of Applied Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Graduate