Solitary Bee Houses and Their Ecological Benefit
Updated: Feb 25
As spring appears on the horizon, pollinators begin to emerge and search for new shelter. What are they searching for after their long winter hibernation? A new place to build colonies and a place to return after scouring for food. Humans are aware of and concerned about the conservation and education surrounding many social bee species, such as honeybees and bumblebees; however, bees that do not live in social hives often go overlooked.
Unlike social bees, solitary bee species include individuals such as mason bees, miner bees, digger bees, carpenter and leafcutter species. These individual bees are actually up to two or three times as effective at pollination than the most well-known social bee species and many native species are also polylectic, meaning they are able to pollinate a wider range of plant species. They are also non-aggressive and rarely sting, making them safer around children and people with allergies. One of the biggest ways that solitary bee populations can be encouraged is by providing a variety of nearby native plants to ensure that the bees get the nectar and pollen they rely on for food. Yet another useful method for preserving and promoting these bees is by installing a solitary bee house.
Raulston Arboretum grounds here in Raleigh, the staff has created an “Air Bee & Bee” that serves as the Arboretum’s solitary bee house. Unveiled on the night of the Arboretum’s Moonlight in the Garden event, Arboretum Director Mark Weathington had this to say about the new bee structure: the “Air Bee & Bee has different sized holes to house a wide range of wild bees...it will serve as a discussion piece about the vital role of pollinators to help create and maintain a healthy environment.” The Arboretum’s bee house was built mostly by volunteers. A structure of any size similar to the Air Bee & Bee has the potential to be built by both professional and beginning gardeners alike.
Both Professor Amanda Powell and Dr. Janice Swab of the Biology Department have been advocating for a solitary bee house on Meredith’s campus recently, but its implementation may actually be possible with some creative thinking and further advocacy from both students and staff at Meredith.
Dr. Swab and Professor Powell are both very passionate about plant life, the environment and the intersectionality of those topics in relation to ecosystem conservation. This passion has led them to understand the importance of pollinators and the preservation of their local ecosystems, not just at Meredith, but also at N.C. State, where there is already a solitary bee house similar to the one at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum.
In the small town of Svalbard, Norway, there is a global seed vault. According to Dr. Swab, it is vital for these dormant seeds to exist and be protected in case anything catastrophic happens to the global biodiversity of plants or the crop industry, especially while the threat of climate change is so real and pertinent. Without pollinators, these foil-packaged seeds, quietly waiting for their moment in the sun, would never be able to grow outside their isolated metal vaults.
However, it doesn’t have to be so bleak for the future of plants and their pollinators this spring. These bee houses can be a wide variety of sizes and shapes and can be constructed with recycled materials like wood or PVC pipes. They can also be filled with any of the easily accessible organic material that solitary bees use to construct their nests.
Going forward, could Meredith soon have its own structure specifically designed for native solitary bee species? Dr. Swab and Professor Powell certainly believe so, but only time will tell.
By Emma Fry, News Editor