Monday, 9 April 2018

Bees are fussy creatures - By Connal Eardley

Bees are fussy creatures. They mostly only emerge from their cozy little homes when they need food for their offspring or for themselves, and when the weather is good. Therefore, if there are no flowers and it is windy or rainy, they hang out at home. They are cold-blooded animals so they don’t need food to maintain their body temperature. Therefore, bee collecting is weather dependent.

Wilgebosch on a good collecting day

Wilgebosch on a poor collecting day

Those bees that feed on flowers of only a few different plant species must synchronize their activity with flower availability. They only emerge when their food plants are available. Therefore, bee collecting also depends on those environmental factors that determine anthesis (the opening of flowers). Mounting evidence shows that, even though bee emergence and anthesis are synchronized, they use different cues. Consequently there is rising concern that climate change may cause some bees and plants to be out of sync with each other.    

Further, bee populations are dynamic. They rise and fall depending on factors like predation, parasitism, and nesting substrate. Therefore, collecting at any given place will differ between seasons and years. Nevertheless, there are usually a few diehards that survive, no matter what. They are often generalists that feed on many different plant species, have few specific nesting material requirements and are highly mobile. This enables them to recolonize areas quickly.

Hence, whatever bees one collects, there are always many more that are hiding away in their nests or that will recolonize from neighboring areas in a year or two.

The BioGaps kilometer square on Taaiboschfontein had few bees to offer, as did most of the surrounding area. The veld was dry and a gentle breeze descended the kloof. However, further afield was Karoo-bee Mecca. An old silted-up farm dam awash with flowers and bees – both in diversity and abundance, including some unexpected bees. Bees don’t fit nicely into boxes and successful collecting requires discovering bee-friendly sites. Because bees are highly mobile animals these sites sample a much larger area than immediately apparent.  


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