May Bulletin

Counting species, soft landings, bee stings and our new bee guide!

Counting bees isn’t as easy as one, two, three

How many bees are in urban St. Louis? What appears as a simple question is actually more complicated once you realize what defines urban St. Louis, a species, and the word “are” are up for debate.

There is no one set definition of what constitutes urban land. Everyone would agree that downtown is urban and a cornfield is rural, but what about everything in between? Ecological studies often define urban based on the amount of impervious (e.g., asphalt, buildings) surface. But the cut-off point will always be arbitrary. The Camilo lab at SLU (for which Nina Fogel is a part), generally defines the “urban” area as within 170, if 170 connected all the way south and west to the river. The urbanized area (urban and suburban) we then define within the 270 Loop. This is imperfect (and may need to be adjusted given the increasing population of St. Charles) but it is what it is for now.

The definition of a species is also not set in stone. If you ask 10 taxonomists what a species is, you will get 10 answers. Additionally, with more genetic sequencing, species are constantly being joined, separated, and moved around the taxonomic tree. There are also new species of bees being discovered and described all the time.

Lastly, asking the question how many bees are in St. Louis is establishing a time frame of the present (versus have been found). If there was a species caught in the 1930’s but it hasn’t been seen since, should it be counted as presently in St. Louis? What about the 1990’s? Establishing a time frame is arbitrary but necessary.

So how many bees are in urbanized St. Louis? If you define urbanized as within 270 and the time period being ever, we have 209 species. Here is a checklist from 2017 with lots of information about how all the species are cataloged. However, if you’re a keen reader you’ll see that the paper says 198. That’s because since 2017 we’ve found more species! The most up to date list of bees in St. Louis can be found here.

Cemolobus impmoeae, a bee that hasn’t been in St. Louis since 1990

Soft landings (guest post by Margy Terpstra)

In our native plants garden, the goal has primarily been to provide for birds and document bird activity since they are an indicator species for environmental health. You might also say I’m addicted to watching them! I’ve been photographing the birds in my yard since 2013. Participating in Shutterbee in 2020 broadened my focus to also photograph native bees.

I recently learned about the term “soft landings” from Heather Holm. Soft landings are fallen leaves, native plants, and plant debris underneath native trees. Many caterpillars drop to the ground to complete their lifecycle and cannot survive (or will be killed by mowers) if there is only turf under the tree. Planting these intentional areas builds healthy soil, provides food for songbirds and pollinators, sequesters more carbon than turf grass and reduces time spent mowing.

What could be more beneficial and beautiful?

Surprising Truths about Stingers by Cheyenne Davis

As any Shutterbee participant can tell you, when a bee is foraging for nectar and pollen, they hardly know you are there. Many people fear bees because of their stings. There are plenty of misconceptions about bee stings. Bees are essentially herbivores. They sting as a form of defense, so it is usually when they are startled, like when they get stepped on, rather than a malicious act.

Even then, not all bees can string! The stinger is a modified egg-laying organ meaning males do not have a stinger. There are even species that lack functional stingers entirely, such as the sugarbag bee (Tetragonula cabonaria) or members of the Meliponini tribe (Stingless bees).

Bee stings cause pain because of the venom injected through the stinger. But the same venom has been used in medicinal treatments. The components of the venom include chemicals that can breakdown cells, increase blood flow, and even reduce inflammation. There is preliminary research looking into honeybee venom for treatment of rheumatism arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. The venom has even shown potential for treating prostate and ovarian cancer and HIV.

Of course, we still want to avoid getting stung in our day-to-day lives. But the next time someone is scared of a bee, share with them some of these cool facts. Knowledge is power, after all, and can help us all be a little more comfortable around these beautiful creatures.

Stingless bee, Trigona fulviventris by Kevin Guerra

New bee guide!

We just released a new addition of our visual bee guide to St. Louis. First and foremost, we wanted to thank so many of you for providing suggestions, letting us workshop parts of it during our bee identification courses, and providing your amazing photos for us to use.

The new guide features a glossary of anatomical terms, photographic decision trees to help you identify your bees, and then pages for each genus highlighting key features.

We hope this guide will be helpful to you! You are welcome to share it with your bee loving friends, even if they are not in Shutterbee. It will be generally useful in the Eastern United States (with the exception of bumblebees).  

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