Pollinators in the Garden: Don’t Squash the Bees!

Some bees, like honeybees, are promiscuous and pollen polyandrous: they forage on pretty much every type of flower from many different plant families.  But some bees have a more intimate and faithful relationship with their floral hosts: these bees, called “ogliolectic” bees, have evolved to gather pollen from a limited range of related plants, usually a single family or genus.

One morning last week at the garden, I happened to peer into the spaghetti squash blossoms and noticed these little guys, squash bees in the genus Peponapis:

Just chillin’.

This looks like a male squash bee – see the little yellow spot on his nose?

Here’s what The Xerces Society and Wikipedia have to say about squash bees:

–          They forage on plants in the Cucurbitaceae: pumpkins, squash, gourds, melons, and cucumbers.  We have lots of these at Wild Roots, so we’re lucky to have these specialist bees in the garden!

–          Female squash bees forage for pollen and nectar in squash blossoms in early morning.

–          Clusters of male squash bees are often found sleeping in squash flowers in the afternoon.  Lazy, lazy.

–          They’re ground nesters who tunnel into the soil to make their nests.

–          There are only 20 species and 2 genera of squash bees, and these bees are only found in the New World, across the natural range of Cucurbita plants.

–          They’re really good at what they do.  A study in 2000 by researchers Canto-Aguilar and Parra-Tabla found that both male and female squash bees deposit four times as much pollen into squash blossoms as honey bees and that they visit squash blossoms significantly more than honey bees, resulting in a more abundant squash crop!

Here’s to the little faithful pollinators who make dinner possible.

– Jackie


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