You know bees as the cute little insects that fly around, pollinate flowers, and make honey. Or maybe you know them as the pests who fly around at risk of stinging you. But did you know truly how important bees are to our ecosystem? We did a deep dive on bees and how they help our environment, keep on reading to learn more! 

There are over 400 different species of bees in Ontario alone, and honey bees are actually relatively new to Ontario. Ontario is home to many native species of bees, including Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees, Leaf Cutter Bees, Sweat Bees and Mining Bees. You can learn more about each of them in this article by Ontario Parks.

Let's distinguish between Bees, Wasps and Hornets. 

Bee WaspHornet

 Pictured on left, Bee. In middle, Wasp. On right, Hornet.

Bees are fuzzy with yellow and black stripes. Two common types are honeybees and bumblebees but there are over 15,000 species of bees! Bees are beneficial to humans because they pollinate plants, helping to create food, flowers & more.

Wasps are hairless but also striped with yellow and black stripes. Wasps are about 1cm to 2.5 cm long. Hornets are hairless and have black and white rings. Hornets are larger than wasps. Wasps & hornets are beneficial to humans by eating other insects. 

All three of these insects will sting if they feel their nests or themselves are in danger. Bees die after they sting someone. Wasps and hornets do not die.

The life of a bee, wasp or hornet 

Each colony has one queen. The queen is the only member of the colony who can give birth and can give birth to anywhere between 1,000 and 30,000 offspring depending on her surroundings. 

Queen BeePictured: Queen Bee in Hive

These insects find holes and small burrows to set up nests. Ideally, nests are located near food sources like fruit, flowers, or nectar-producing plants. Pollen (powdery substance located at the centre of flowers) and nectar (a sugar rich liquid produced by plants) are bee's main sources of food. Other insects, food, or decaying fruit are more what wasps and hornets eat. 

Bees live only for around 6 weeks. Typically they rise and sleep with the sun. Bees forage and focus on different areas. Some bees specialize in getting water, some with pollen, etc. Some bees, like the honey bee, have tiny pockets or “pollen baskets” that they use to store pollen on their body as they go about their day. Once they have pollen and nectar collected, they stash it away in a honeycomb, which ferments into “bee bread”, which is a ball or pellet of field-gathered flower pollen packed by worker bees to be used as a primary food source for the hive. 

How do they help us?

Though there are many pollinators out there, bees are the largest type of pollinating insect as well as are the most important to crops. Pollination is the transfer of a male component of a plant to a female, which results in the development of a fruit, nut or seed. While partial pollination can occur without the work of a pollinating insect or animal, effective pollination increases the amount of produce, improves their quality and enhances plants’ resistance to pests.

Nearly one third of the foods we eat is related directly to the work of pollinators like bees. Some of your favourite foods, like: 

  • Field crops - cucumber, watermelon, tomato, pumpkin, squash
  • Orchard fruit - apples, peaches, cherries 
  • Berry crops - blueberries, cranberries, strawberries
  • Oilseed crops - canola, soybean, sunflower, alfalfa 
  • Nuts - cashews, macadamia 
  • And most importantly…… coffee and chocolate!

So you can see the wide variety of foods they help us become able to enjoy, as well as helping to give us beautiful flowers. Therefore, keeping the bee population safe is very important for the health of humans too! 

On the topic of hornets and wasps, these insects help keep the spider and caterpillar population at bay! 

What can we do to protect bees? 

Unfortunately, conservationists are noticing the bee population declining, and specific species of bees becoming endangered due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide poisoning. The bees are needing our help more than ever! Here are four easy tips on how you can help the bee population: 

  1. Plant Ontario Native Plants to ensure a reliable and varied food supply for native pollinators. They provide bees with their only food source (nectar and pollen) and are also great garden choices, because they’re adapted to local soil and weather conditions. This means, if you plant them in the right spot, they’ll thrive with no extra watering, fertilizers or chemicals. 
  2. Assemble or buy a Bee Hotel and a Bee Bath on your property. Bees and other beneficial insects all need fresh water to drink. But most can’t land in open water, as it puts them at risk of drowning or being caught by predators. A bee bath offers the perfect amount of water to quench their thirst safely. As for bee hotels, Honeybees and bumblebees live in social colonies, but most wild bee species are solitary. Solitary nesting bees use tunnels in the ground, hollowed out plant stems or tunnels in dead trees or fallen logs  to lay their eggs. Messy yards help bees! Leave patches of bare soil in your garden for ground-nesting bees. Leave plant stems standing through winter and keep dead trees or fallen logs.
  3. Consume local honey if you're the honey-eating type 🍯
  4. Volunteer with a local organization dedicated to helping pollinators and ecosystems thrive! (More on that below!).

Get involved locally! 

Three London Environmental Network members offer pollination and beekeeping resources: 

LOLA Bees (London Ontario Learning Apiary) is an urban beekeeping project in the Old East Village. Our mission is to practice natural beekeeping, develop community workshops and experiences, and approach beekeeping as an act of environmental stewardship.
Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

The London Urban Beekeepers Collective is dedicated to learning about bees and beekeeping, and to providing public education about bees and their role in the ecosystem as we involve ourselves in political advocacy on behalf of the bees. We are committed to promoting the flourishing of both honey bees and native bees in our city.
Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Pollinator Pathways Project aims to promote London as a pollinator sanctuary and help provide everyone with the resources and knowledge to create their own garden. Outside the glimmering lights of downtown London lies a hidden paradise for many sentient beings, which we often don't think about. A pollinator's pathway weaves through urban structures. To help their journey, we bring that hidden paradise closer to home.
Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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