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Are we seeing fewer bees this year?

While the green sweat bee catches the eye, there is another, small bee on the center of the flower as well.

The diversity and abundance of pollinators on the landscape can indicate healthy populations of these critical insects. When people don’t see bees on flowers, they often express concern. Does seeing fewer bees on flowers mean that there are fewer bees?

There are approximately 490 species of bees in Minnesota, and different factors can influence the populations of the various species in different ways.

Bee numbers differ from year to year

Bumble bee on anise hyssop

Honey bees are managed, so their numbers depend on how many colonies beekeepers have in the area. 

Wild bee populations can fluctuate from year to year depending on environmental factors. Bee numbers can depend on the weather or the flowers that were growing the year before.

Climate change can alter the types of plants available for both food and habitat. Populations can decrease based on disease outbreaks and the use of pesticides.

Causes can be localized, affecting one area or region and not another. Populations of wild bees can bounce back, but if the dip lasts more than 2 or 3 years it can be a real concern.

Due to the cold and wet spring in Minnesota, wild bees are at least a month behind in terms of phenology. Phenology describes the biological events that are influenced by seasons, like when bees emerge from their winter slumber and become active. Solitary bee populations appear to be catching up, but some of the bumble bees are behind and possibly not catching up across the board.

There are still spots where all the bees seem to be doing well. But observations by experts and results from surveys across the state suggest that at least bumble bees may be having a rougher than usual year. 

You can help bees and other pollinators

Adrenid bees are solitary bees that make their nests underground, so undisturbed areas of soil are important to preserving them.

Whether we are seeing fewer bees because of the drought last year, the cold, wet spring this year, or pathogen or pesticide exposure, we know that there are steps everyone can take to help bees and other pollinators. 

Check the University of Minnesota Bee Lab website for more information on actions to help bees. 

Authors: Katie Lee, apiculture Extension educator, and Elaine Evans, native bee Extension educator

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