The buzz on bees

By: Sarah Hill, Contributing Writer

Buzzing, furry, yellow, striped, stinging – all words commonly attributed to bees. But according to wildlife biologist and photographer Sam Droege, there really is no “typical” bee.

“We tend to think of bees as one unit, but they have needs that are tied to biodiversity,” Droege said. “There’s a notion that any old flower will do, but it’s much more complicated than that.”

Droege, a Hyattsville native who visited Smith Hall Oct. 11 to discuss pollination and bee conservation, went on to highlight the complex relationship between bee and plant. Often, the species of bee has everything to do with what types of flowers it can obtain nutritious pollen from.

According to Droege, there are 4,000 species of bees in the U.S., and 430 of those reside in Maryland. An estimated 400 species have yet to be discovered, he said.

In addition, 50 percent of bees are highly specialized, meaning they must function in specific ways to sustain themselves.

The focus of Droege’s life’s work is to record as many “undiscovered” bees as possible, as the science world is behind the curve in identifying these winged creatures. In the seminar, he displayed high-quality photos of bees taken from a microscope, at one point showing a species of bee that is the size of a grain of rice with a tongue as long as its body, adapted to get pollen from a native flower in the Atacama Desert.

Aside from describing the intricate functions of bees, Droege explained ways in which society can modify regular practices, such as landscaping, in order to bolster declining bee populations.  

Maryland has been failing at this, with 61 percent of colony losses in Maryland beekeepers’ hives in 2015 alone. By eliminating traditional landscaping, such as regular lawn mowing, and creating organized yet aesthetically-pleasing yards suited for bee pollination, everyday people can form more harmonious relationships with their buzzing brethren.

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