Bee Aware

Stand for It

About a year ago, the doorbell rang.

The bell ringer was a college student working his summer job: door-to-door representative and salesman for a pest control company. I entertained his pitch about ant, wasp, and other insect mitigation. “Eco-friendly,” he said, “all natural.” He obviously had been coached and knew the official script. He continued to explain that, unlike other companies, this company does not spray pesticides up high or on eaves, “so there’s no dripping on flowers to hurt the honeybees.” Wow, this marketing seemed to reflect a business that knew it’s stuff! And yet…

Most native bee species (70%) are ground nesters. And no matter where a pesticide is applied or sprayed, where does it go? Into the ground.

I declined his employer’s services. I know green-washing when I see it/hear it; I know pesticides do not discriminate between wasps and bees; and let’s remember that botulism and poison ivy are also natural, and “all natural” does not equal “safe” whether it’s a ‘cide, food, or skincare product. 

Mostly black bee with fuzzy legs and head dips head into chokeberry blossom

While I don’t believe we should blast young people trying to pay for their education, I also don’t believe we should sit-by politely and accept the messages of companies who are counting on us to be science illiterate… and for college students to do their dirty work for them. I encourage you to be cautious, thoughtful, and push-back as is comfortable for you. Don’t stand for ignorance, and do stand for the bees, pollinators, and entire ecologies of species. It’s not just honeybees who are being harmed. 

And it’s not just adult fliers who are harmed by pesticides. Research by Dr. Richard Gill published in 2020 about baby bees’ brains indicates that when they are fed pesticide-contaminated food, their brains grow less. They develop to become adult bees with permanent and irreversible brain impairment. (Reference below and brief is here.)


Don’t Stand on It

In addition to reducing pesticides used in your local ecology, here are things you can do year-round to help bees: 

Bee has just ripped the tiny hairs (trichomes) from the upper surface of a grape leaf, and has rolled them under her body into a small white ball.
  • Do not stand on – or walk upon – garden soil. Bees who nest in the ground (most solitary bees!) have small nest entrances that are easy to miss and unintentionally squish or disrupt. Great images are provided by Xerces Society here
  • Do not swat at nor freak-out around bees. Bees want to go about their business (collecting pollen for babies, sipping nectar) and not be bothered. They have no interest in you. If you leave them be, they will leave you be. 
  •  Do not call every flying yellow and black insect “bee.” Yes, be that person who corrects people that wasps are not bees. Their behaviors are quite different. Yellow jackets and paper wasps are more likely to be up in your business while you are outdoors. (Do not swat at them either.) Wasps are predators in your garden, hunting for caterpillars to feed their babies. They have chewing mouthparts and are attracted to meat and sugary food like fruits. Bees, as you’ve learned this week, are attracted to flower pollen.
  • Do not follow your municipality’s timeline. If you have a yard and do annual Spring clean-up, you might feel pressured by eager neighbors or waste collectors to get everything out of the garden and onto the curb by early April. Removing leaves and old stems before the air has warmed is a death sentence for bees who have spent Winter in the ground below that insulating blanket of plant material.

Pollinator Week 2021 is about to wrap-up. Our curiosity about, gratitude toward, and protective efforts for pollinators continue all year. I hope you’ve learned something this week and will share with others. Keep growing!


Dylan B. Smith, Andres N. Arce, Ana Ramos Rodrigues, Philipp H. Bischoff, Daisy Burris, Farah Ahmed, Richard J. Gill. Insecticide exposure during brood or early-adult development reduces brain growth and impairs adult learning in bumblebeesProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2020; 287 (1922): 20192442 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.2442

2 comments

  1. Love this. I might have to get signs. Last year we collected others’ Xmas trees and scattered them along with leaves etc. over gardens and areas we wanted to leave as long as possible and to provide hiding places and sleeping places that just looked like mulch to the neighbors so that they would get off our backs about mowing. We use the logs others abandon after they cut down trees, ugh, as garden borders/insect nesting/secret composting vehicles. I think signs would look educational and professional. Hmm. On another note, any tips on home-starting a prairie?

    1. My prairie experience is limited to a 4×8 patch, but this is it’s 5th year, and I am loving it! The first year: framed the area and put cardboard and compost over it in March (you could do this at any time though). Added some ground that we removed from another part of yard for different project. Sowed with barley and Timothy grass seed. It was a hayfield the first year. In Fall, mowed it, threw wildflower seeds throughout. Threw more seeds in Spring. I think it was another year before anything that wasn’t grass sprouted. Year three, a few blossoms. I’ve added native flowering plants as friends share them. If you are doing a large-scale home prairie, there are probably better ways than I describe here. My tip: patience and trust in Nature 🙂

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