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The theme for the 2017 Ohio Wildlife Weekend is Ohio's Pollinators, and programming for the 16th annual event focused on the best known of these pollinators, bees.
Denise Ellsworth, entomologist with The Ohio State University who is based in Wooster but works all across the state, entranced an audience of about 60 at the Mohican School in the Out of Doors near Perrysville Friday evening in opening programming for Wildlife Weekend, which continued Saturday and Sunday.
She started off by explaining that bees by no means are the only pollinators, but are the best known and most important. Others range from hummingbirds to all sorts of other kinds of insects, including beetles, flies, moths and butterflies.
"In their search for their food, a combination of nectar from flowers and pollen, bees fly from plant to plant and in doing so, provide vital pollination services for virtually all kinds of vegetable plant life as they inadvertently carry pollen from one plant to another," she explained.
Though there are over 500 species of bees, including the endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, Ellsworth focused on a few species of bees well known in this part of Ohio. She passed out a color card with pictures of 16 of Ohio's most common bees, and two other insects with bee-like properties.
Best known are what she called social bees, bumble bees and honey bees, who live in large groups centered around the queen. Bumble bees can fly as far as six miles from their hives, while the smaller honey bees stay much closer. The queen is the matriarch of bee society, while her workers are all females, and the drones all males who do little except mate with the queen to create more bees. Queens may live through a winter and bear new bees the following spring, while the remaining bees rarely survive through a winter.
While the social bees are the best known, as much and possibly more pollination is provided by lesser known bees, the ground and cavity nesters, often common but little noticed. These include bees like yellow jackets, mining bees and sweat bees. Some of these nest in the ground in nests that look, Ellsworth said, "like little volcanos that you see in open areas in March or April." Others nest in whatever cavity they can find, some wrapping up in leaves, others in wood cavities and still others borrowing nests in wood.
"One bee, the carpenter bee, can actually cause damages to wooden structures," Ellsworth said. "They will borrow through wood on one side, and then cut deep channels to the wood interior. And their presence in the wood attracts woodpeckers, who can cause more damage. If you see an old bench with holes showing along with sawdust, don't sit on it. Not only is it infested by bees, but it may very well collapse."
She encouraged homeowners victimized by carpenter bees to do what they can to get rid of them, usually with a commercial wasp spray. They are easy to identify, she said. "They look like bumble bees, only their abdomen is shiny, while a bumble bee's is fuzzy. Get rid of them. Save your house."
Threats to bee population are usually caused by loss of habitat, particularly lack of flowers.
"If you want bees, plant lots of flowers," Ellsworth said. "And plant a variety, different colors, particularly late season bloomers, like asters and goldenrod, which can ensure a queen has enough nutrients to live through a winter."
She encouraged use of native plants, specifically mentioning pussy willows, mountain mint and purple coneflowers.
Other steps to attract bees include leaving long stemmed plants in the garden over winter, "creating a possible nest for cavity nesting bee species, leave a brush pile somewhere in your yard, and leave some rotted firewood out. It makes great bees nests."
She encouraged anyone with bee questions, or who has interesting bee photos, to share them with her through her website, beelab.osu.edu, or her email, firstname.lastname@example.org.