Bees are vital for urban ecosystem health.
Honey bees and other pollinators feed on the natural biodiversity of city environments. Honey bees enjoy visiting many different types of plants, and thrive in green urban environments.
In cities like Boston, honey bees find safe havens in community gardens and urban farms within the city. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Without community gardeners and urban farmers, honey bees would have access to less plant diversity. And, without honey bees, community gardens and urban farms would have less plant success.
Beyond plants, research has shown that having a diversity of green spaces in cities improves human health by:
- lowering temperatures
- cleaning the air, and
- boosting mental health.
Additionally, when urban agriculture thrives, more people eat local, healthy food, increasing the resilience of the Boston community.
What types of animals are pollinators?
Pollinators are more than just bees. They are every animal that drinks nectar or picks up pollen as they move from plant to plant. Pollinators include bees, birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, and small mammals.
What are honey bees?
Honey bees are a domesticated type of bee brought to the US as an agricultural resource. Honey bees are kept in bee hives and supported by beekeepers. Popular crops grown in Massachusetts like apples, berries, and cranberries rely on honey bees to survive.
What are native bees?
Not all bees are alike. In the United States alone, there are over 4,000 types of bees. Native bees differ largely in functionality, size, and other characteristics. Native bees sometimes only feed on one species, such as the blue sage bee, which only pollinates the blue sage plant. Others are adapted to certain environments, such as the perdita perpallida. This tan bee adapted to prairie environments where they nest in the sandy soils. Because there is such a high variety of native bees, they actually perform more ecosystem services than honeybees.
What are other native pollinators to Boston?
Types of native bees common to Massachusetts are bumblebees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, and mining bees. Bumblebees are social bees, building hives as a society of bees. But carpenter, sweat, and mining bees are all solitary bees that nest individually. Butterflies and moths are also pollinators. They enjoy feeding on native plants such as milkweed and columbine. Additionally, Massachusetts is home to ruby-throated hummingbirds, as well as some species of flies and beetles.
What species do pollinators like the most?
Pollinators are attracted to different plants depending on the anatomy of the flower and the insect. For example, bats cannot pollinate a delicate, small flower as well as a bee can. And a bee cannot pollinate a flower with a long stem as well as a hummingbird can. In general, the best plants for pollinators are American native perennial plants, annual flowers that have pollen, and herbs, shrubs, and trees. Native plants to Massachusetts that are attractive to bees include milkweed, New England aster, and bergamot.
What is honey bee hive life like?
There are three types of bees in a hive:
- a queen bee
- female worker bees, and
- male drone bees.
Queens direct the hive’s actions, laying eggs and managing bee activities. Worker bees have different roles. These includecollecting nectar and pollen, maintenance and cleaning, or protecting the hive. Drone bees solely exist to mate with the queen.
What is the pollination process like for honey bees?
Honey bees can pollinate up to 40 flowers per minute. They prefer to stick to a singular flower species per pollination trip. This helps bees collect more nectar and pollen over time. Bees perceive ultraviolet light, not visible light like humans. This helps them see sunlight better, even on cloudy days. The sun helps them tell time. Bees can travel up to five miles away from a hive for food. But, they normally stick within a two mile radius of the hive.
Beekeeping rules in Boston:
In Boston, beekeeping is only currently allowed in a select number of neighborhoods. This map lays out the current zoning for the keeping of honey bees. Currently, beekeepers are allowed to keep up to two hives in their backyards. Hives must be at least five feet away from property lines or be separated by a wall, fence, or other barrier from the property line. A new ordinance and zoning regulation change was proposed by City Council in October 2022. This may soon change the beekeeping rules in Boston. Read more about the ordinance.