Bees | St. Louis Public Radio

Bees

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

When  a native bee received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for the first time earlier this year, it drew an attention to a growing public concern.

Many  bee species in the United States have become threatened or have declined sharply in the last couple decades. Since native bees are crucial to pollinating crops, scientists are making a major push to keep track of them.

Researchers at Webster University and the Saint Louis Zoo are inviting residents to help the effort by leading a bee photo survey in Forest Park this Saturday. Images taken at the St. Louis Bee Blitz will help scientists better understand the abundance of various native species that live in the area.

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen

A buzzing bee may not sound like much to most people but to bee scientists, there’s a lot to learn from the noises bees make when they fly and pollinate flowers.

On Wednesday, researchers at Webster University, Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Columbia released a study in the journal PLOS One that concludes that recording bees can help track pollinator activity. That could provide scientists with data to aid conservation of species that have experienced falling populations.

Declines in pollinating species have alarmed scientists, environmentalists and policymakers, since many crops depend on native wild bees.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

An executive order from the Trump administration has frozen the process that, for the first time, would have given a bee species federal protection. 

The rusty-patched bumblebee would have been officially listed under the Endangered Species Act today. But, according to a notice from the Office of the Federal Register, the temporary freeze has delayed the effective date until March 21.

The rusty patched bumble bee pollinates a flower.
Christy Stewart | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For the first time, federal wildlife authorities this week have sought protection for a bee species under the Endangered Species Act.

The rusty patched bumblebee was once easy to find in the Midwest and eastern United States. Since the 1990s, its numbers have dropped by 87 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Like many wild native bee species in the country, the bee has declined due to pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change, which has affected flowers it depends on.

A metallic green sweat bee sits in a case among other species at Associate Professor Gerardo Camilo's Saint Louis University lab.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In a community garden in central St. Louis, Saint Louis University biologist Gerardo Camilo walked methodically, scanning the plants while holding a butterfly net. Then, he stopped and stared intently at a patch of impatiens. 

He was pursuing a bee that was weaving in between the stems of the flowers. In one fell swoop, he swung the net down and clutched the net with a fist to trap the bee inside. He examined his captive with a quizzical expression. 

"Wow! I have never seen this in my life," Camilo said. "What the hell are you?"

Camilo and other scientists have found that bee populations are abundant and very diverse in urban areas, compared to rural areas, a finding that could help save endangered bees, important pollinators.

Ed Spevak / Saint Louis Zoo

Monsanto will continue selling soybean seeds coated with pesticides that have been linked to honey bee deaths, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the seeds do not improve yields.

The seeds in question are treated with a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids, which are chemically similar to nicotine.

Most of Missouri's native bees are thriving

Oct 29, 2013
Coneflower bee, Andrena helianthiformis.
Mike Arduser | Missouri Department of Conservation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: If you visit one of Missouri’s native prairies when the coneflowers are blooming, you will see plenty of bees buzzing around them. You may not realize that some of these bees are a single species that collects pollen only from the pale purple coneflower and only on native prairie. This coneflower specialist flies for just a few weeks each year, collecting the pollen to feed its offspring until the coneflower blooms again.