Native Hawaiian bees were in isles first
Native Hawaiian bees pollinated plants here before honeybees were introduced in 1857. The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences has been working with students to kokua these rare and beneficial native insects.
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Native Hawaiian bees pollinated plants here before honeybees were introduced in 1857.
Jason Graham of the Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa has been working with students to kokua these rare and beneficial native insects.
The same issues that plague honeybees trouble our native bees, too. Systemic use of insecticides is one problem for bees and other beneficial pollinators — the “good” bugs on our planet. This can occur on farms and even in home gardens. Some people want to spray something or use chemicals without fully diagnosing what the problem is first. Some don’t read the label and use too much.
Chemicals are not all bad, but we need to be careful and akamai about how and when we use them. Without bees we will have no food down the line.
Honeybees are important as pollinators and producers of honey. We know less about our native bees. Some of them are super rare and live in high mountains and remote rainforests. They co-evolved with and pollinate native Hawaiian plants.
The most common native bee is still rare. It tends to be found in low coastal areas and visits, feeds on and pollinates mostly native coastal plants such as akoko, ilima, naupaka kahakai, nama and pohinahina. Interestingly, our native bees also pollinate tahinu, or beach heliotrope, a nice coastal tree introduced to Hawaii many years ago.
They are generally called yellow-faced bees. The males have yellow faces, and the females tend to have all-black faces. Scientifically they are known as Hylaeus anthracinus. They are about 25 percent smaller than honeybees.
They do have a stinger but rarely use it. Graham, who has handled hundreds of them, said he has been stung only once. It barely hurt for a moment, he said.
Unlike honeybees, which are social and support one another in hives, our native bees are solitary. They lay single eggs in the dead branches of shrubs, especially naupaka and tahinu.
Graham is concerned that some of the egg nests look sick and are maybe being invaded and eaten by ants. An alien pest in Hawaii, ants compete for food and attack and kill these bees and their vulnerable eggs. As we all know from dealing with ants in our homes and gardens, they are a serious pest.
Graham and his partners are using artificial nest blocks to help the bees stave off the ants. Graham and some akamai students at ‘Iolani School used a 3-D printer to make branchlike, aerated structures for the bees to lay eggs in. They are figuring out ways to keep the ants out. How’s that for a beneficial use of technology?
Lolo people making illegal bonfires on beaches and engaging in other reckless behavior can break off branches from coastal trees that may be hosting native bee eggs in them. Yikes!
So, what can we do to help nurture our native bees?
>> Learn about, observe, respect and help protect native plants and coastal habitats (rainforests, too!).
>> Volunteer to help restore our native coastal plants and sand dune habitats.
>> Don’t break branches off our coastal trees.
>> Grow native plants in our home gardens for native bees and honeybees.
Heidi Bornhorst is a sustainable landscape consultant specializing in native, xeric and edible gardens. Reach her at email@example.com.