The European Honey bee was introduced to the Americas in the 1600s. For hundreds of years their work was taken for granted, but at the population has boomed, from a whopping 2,302 European settlers in 1620 to the current population of 332,639,000, their contributions to agriculture have been invaluable. Native pollinators to North America include 4,000 species of native bees, many of which are now extinct. Other native pollinators also include wasps, butterflies, beetles, bats, hummingbirds, moths and flies. The wind itself is also a pollinator.

In the 1600s large populations of bees weren’t required for pollinating crops. They were used mainly for their honey as a sweet treat and to make honey mead. Honey mead itself is one of the oldest known alcoholic drinks in the world.

One significant difference regarding the hard work of the bees over the last 400 years is that in the 1600s, 1700s, etc., crops weren’t planted in the astronomical numbers that started in beginning in the 1800s. A growing population required a growing food supply. Crops were usually planted on small farms and the native pollinators mentioned above were more than capable of handling the work of pollinating the crops. There is a vast difference in the required number of insect laborers needed to pollinate a 1 – 10 acre farm and those needed to pollinate a 1200-acre farm.

Another significant difference is that 300 and 400 years ago a lot of the crops that were planted didn’t require pollination. Root vegetable crops were the most heavily cultivated crops in those years. Crops such as potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes are root vegetables propagated by tubers. One of the key crops of the United States and the world in general are soybeans, and they are self-pollinated. Rice, wheat, sorghum and maize are all wind-pollinated, as are all grasses.

But those tomato plants, squashes, eggplants, okra and other vegetables in your garden require pollination by the ever-working pollinators. Those are considered New World crops and they evolved alongside the native pollinators like squash bees, bumblebees and other native bees. Albert Einstein is often misquoted as saying, “If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” According to an article in Forbes, Michael Peacock, an ecologist with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology commented, “There’s absolutely no evidence that Einstein ever said that.”

With that being said, the work of the European complex yet simple Honey bee can’t be understated in today’s world of 7 billion people depending on billions of acres of crops to survive.

Jack Neff, an independent researcher who has a Ph.D in biology estimates that there are over 800 species of native bees in Texas alone. This might seem like a large number of bee species, but when you consider that there are 622 species of birds in Texas and an estimated 400 species and subspecies of butterfly, 800 species of bee doesn’t seem all that incredible.

Texas has several species of native bees that include American bees, Carpenter bees, Southern Plains bee, Melissodes Long-horned bee, bumblebees, Mason bees, Sweat bees and Leaf-butting bees.

The Mason Bees are named because they use mud and other “masonry” products to build their nests. They hang out in Texas from January through August and their range covers the entire United States and several provinces in Canada.

Sweat Bees, according to a Texas A&M article, are major pollinators of wildflowers and commercial crops, such as stone fruits and sunflowers. They are solitary bees that are attracted to the salt in human perspiration.

The native species of bees are each unique and resourceful in their own ways, naturally adapting to their environment. Bees are said to have been on earth for 135 millions years. Back before the bees, wind is widely believed to be the only pollinator.

The Xylocopa varipuncta is a species of Carpenter bee found out here in west Texas and all the way up to Northern California. These unique bees can fly at very high temperatures without overheating and at low temperatures without freezing. The Valley Carpenter bee can modify their foraging patterns and fly between different altitudes depending upon temperature, thus allowing them to adapt to very different environments.

Black Carpenter bees are the largest species of bee in the United States. They too are solitary bees that live in small nests without a strict social structure or division of labor. They do not live totally alone. Females live in small groups and they also tend to nest near other carpenter beads. Their name is derived from the fact that they like to dig tunnels in wood, particularly weathered and exposed wood. A single bee’s nest can be ten inches long and cause extensive cosmetic damage.

The Melissodes Long-Horned Bee, according to the Wild Texas Bees website, received their name because they have unusually long antennae. They are considered an irreplaceable pollinator of garden flowers, native wildflowers and sunflowers. These bees like to nest in the ground. They carve a hole in the earth and construct individual nests that contain brood cells that are lined with a wax-like material. Each cell holds one egg and a single pollen ball. The nests are sometimes built in groups under brush.

The information on native bees in Texas is extensive and there are many more species not mentioned here, such as the Striped Hairy Bell Bee (subspecies of the leafcutter and carders), Metallic Hairy Bee (Masons bee subspecies), Mining bees, Chimney Bee and Striped Abdomen bees that are oil-collecting bees along with many more that you can readily find information on.

The next time you see a bee buzzing about and visiting your wildflowers it might not be a European Honey bee and could be worth taking a closer look at. A butterfly net makes a handy tool for capturing bees without a high risk of injuring them but remember, Honey bees have a barbed stinger and that can ruin your day and theirs because when they sting you, the stinger gets pulled from their abdomen and they will die. Honey bees are the only bee species that dies after stinging you.

It doesn’t take long to identify them and the best and safest way is to take your camera and snap a close up of the bee as it works in your garden. Many will stop from time to time on a flower while they’re collecting pollen and this gives you an opportunity to snap a clear photo of them to help in identifying what species the bee is.

Texas A&M has tomes of information on native bees, as does the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Texas Parks & Wildlife.