Professor wants public to ‘Bee informed’ about pollinators
Dr. Joseph Wilson will present Pollinator Diversity and Conservation at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 12, at the Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive at Kimball Junction. Admission is $10 for the public and $5 for Swaner EcoCenter members. Registration is required. For information and to register, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.
Spring is here and Dr. Joseph Wilson is ready to talk about the bees.
Wilson, an expert on North American bee species, assistant professor of biology at Utah State University Tooele Campus, TEDx Utah State University presenter and author of “The Bees in Your Backyard,” will present Bee Informed: Pollinator Diversity and Conservation on Thursday, April 12, at the Swaner EcoCenter.
The presentation will cover the importance of bees in the Beehive State as pollinators.
Bees and other organisms are responsible for pollinating 75 percent of the United States’ flowering plants and crops, including fruits and vegetables, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wilson’s presentation will show there is more to the busy bees than meets the eye.
“Utah houses more than 1,000 different species of bees, but most people are just familiar with two — (the) honeybee and the bumblebee,” Wilson said. “I will talk about all the different kinds of bees and tell their stories so we can all be on the same page as far as recognizing and appreciating these insects.”
The main issue Wilson will target is bee conservation, and by that he means every species of bees.
“We hear a lot about bees disappearing, and how important it is to save the honeybee,” he said. “My thought is we need to get to know the other species of bees, because some of the steps we are taking to save the honeybee aren’t doing much for the wild bees.”
Many wild bees are better pollinators than the average honeybee, Wilson said.
“There is a group of bees called ‘Mason Bees’ that are blue and green, and one or two of these bees can do more than 100 honeybees in an apple orchard,” he explained.
Wild bees are also better at pollinating tomato plants.
“Honeybees don’t have the special skill to pollinate those flowers, because they have to vibrate at a certain frequency to extract the pollen,” he said. “Wild bees and bumblebees can vibrate at that frequency without losing control and flying away.”
Another North America native bee is the squash bee, an insect that only pollinates the flowers of zucchini, pumpkins and other gourds.
“They are very efficient at pollinating, and most of us can see these bees in the morning when the yellow zucchini flowers are open,” Wilson said. “They look like honeybees, but have slight differences. And they are solitary and live in holes in the ground by the squashes.”
Wilson is also duty-bound to talk about honeybees, and he said, it may surprise people to know that these insects aren’t native to North America.
“The honeybee was imported hundreds of years ago with the pilgrims, and when we think of honeybees, we think of the orange and black stripes, the big hive with queen and workers and, of course, honey,” Wilson said. “The other species in North America don’t make honey. They don’t live in hives and don’t have workers. And most of them don’t have orange and black stripes.”
The main concern that faces wild bees is an insufficient amount of pollen and nectar because of honeybee competition.
“One of the honeybee hives that you see in fields and on the sides of roads can house up to 50,000 honeybees in it.” Wilson said. “So one of the biggest impacts the honeybee has on the wild bees is competition.”
Early spring is the hardest time for wild bees.
“The wild bees need food, pollen and nectar just like the honeybee, but there aren’t a lot of flowers blooming, even though there may be some dandelions and a few other things,” Wilson said. “Here in Utah, we are pretty dry and don’t have huge fields of flowers, so honeybees will usually drain the flowers dry, so to speak.”
Wilson will also talk about two major misconceptions about bees.
One is that people think they hate bees because they mistake the benevolent bugs for wasps.
“Wasps, which are also yellow and black, fly around especially when you have a backyard barbecue,” Wilson said. “Wasps eat meat. That’s why they come around when you’re cooking meat. They are also a little more aggressive and sting more readily because they are predators.”
The second misconception comes from pop culture.
“Much of people’s ideas about bees come from TV shows or movies like Winnie the Pooh or Yogi Bear,” Wilson said. “People think all bees live in big colonies in those big paper-mache balls that hang from a branch and drip honey, and that bees will sting you and die and you should avoid them at all costs.”
Most bees in North America live by themselves in a hole in the ground or a hole in a tree, Wilson said.
“The paper-mache things are wasp nests, and all bees don’t make honey,” he said. “Yes, they can sting you multiple times, but they rarely do sting because it’s not worth their time.”
Wilson’s fascination with bees developed from his love of animals.
“As a two-year-old, I told my dad that I wanted to be a lion when I grew up,” he said. “Like most kids I liked dinosaurs, lions, tigers and bears, but there were no lions, tigers and bears in my backyard, but there were a lot of bugs. So I spent a lot of my time looking under rocks and looking at flowers. Then in college I realized how many kinds of bees there were.
“I realized that the stuff that interested in me in the lions and tigers and bears could also be found in the bee world,” he said. “I could see all the excitement, drama and intrigue of that in my backyard.”
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