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The Nature of Things

Photo: Tim Stanley
(nativebeeology.com)


One of our intrepid reporters, Lucas Gordon, visits the solitary squash bee at his burrow in Dutchess County to learn more about this summer pollinator.

Q: Please introduce yourself.

A: Howdy there, my name is Joshua, a squash bee, known to some as Peponapis pruinosa. I’m one of the many squash bees who live on farms all across Dutchess County. My species gets our name from our close-knit relationship with cucurbits, a family of plants that includes squashes, pumpkins, gourds and melons. Though other bees, such as bumble bees and honeybees, feast on the nectar of a wide variety of flowers, squash bees like me are specialists who have evolved to be uniquely adapted in pollinating the flowers of the cucurbit family.

Q: Tell us more about the differences between you and a honeybee.

A: One of the biggest differences between us is our origins. Honeybees are actually a non-native species that comes from Europe, while squash bees count ourselves among the 4,000 species of bees that are native to North America. Furthermore, while you might imagine that most of us live in bustling hives like honeybees, in fact, less than ten percent of all the bee species in the world are social bees. The rest of us are solitary bees. It’s not that we’re loners that were kicked out of our hive; the key difference is that instead of having one queen, every female solitary bee is fertile and lives in a small nest that she constructs herself. Squash bees typically live in burrows that are conveniently located in the soils directly below the plants we gather pollen from. And boy am I thankful because I could never handle a commute.
Also, (I know you’re thinking about it, but don’t even ask!), we don’t make honey.

Q: Walk us through your daily routine.

A: There’s an old saying among us squash bees: “Early bee gets the pollen.” Since squash flowers tend to wilt by midafternoon, we have to arrive early to get a full day’s work in. In order to get to the flowers as early as possible, we even evolved to fly in the dark, an uncommon trait among bees. We work so hard in the morning that by the time the hot afternoon sun rolls around, we’re ready for a much-deserved nap. If you uncurl a wilted squash flower in the summer, more often than not, you’ll see a squash bee sleeping there. But don’t linger for too long, I need my beauty rest!

Q: I’ve heard bees are in trouble, how can I help?

A: The same way the fate of my species is intertwined with the fate of the squash plant, the fortunes of your species are entangled with mine as well. Did you know that pollinators like us are responsible for a third of the food humans eat? If we want to ensure the best future for both of our species, one of the biggest challenges we’ll have to overcome is reducingthe amount of insecticides used in farming. A group of insecticides called neonicotinoids tops the list of dangers to nativebees like me. Even if you’re just growing pumpkins or zucchini in a small garden behind your house, going organic and avoiding insecticides could mean the world to a little squash bee like me.

The Nature of Things by Lucas Gordon is a regular feature in our quarterly newsletter. This article appeared in our Summer 2020 issue.

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