The August sun finds me strolling the path along the Kanawha River. The hazy air ahead of me is full of tiny bodies that catch the light. They’ve gathered en masse to celebrate the the first of their favorite flower. The sweet anise scent draws them from entire forest. The bees themselves resemble little machines made of living emeralds. We typically call theses little guys sweat bees because they are attracted to the salt humans give off when we sweat but they seem to forgive us for the diminutive nomenclature and pollenate our plants anyway. Stone fruits like peaches, alfalfa and sunflowers are heavily visited by these solitary little flying gemstones. Even the goldenrod that they love can be useful to humans. Most of us are familiar with sting of a sweat bee but I’ve learned to be careful about what I attempt to swat when I feel that tickle on my skin. Sweat bees would really rather not sting unless it’s a last resort. When shown a little tolerance they soon leave on their own and if not a quick puff of air sends them on their way painlessly for both human and pollinator. Learning not to fear seems to be a secret to not being stung. Although some of these bees seem to go crazy for human sweat but that seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Overall they along with mason bees and carpenter bees were responsible for pollinating most of crops in North America prior to the arrival of the European Honeybee in 1622. In fact only the honeybees outnumber the sweat bees in North America. With the threat of colony collapse disorder the solitary bees are our best hope of maintaining viable agriculture. So when you see the tiny little bees swarming around a wildflower don’t think of them as pests but instead as a backup pollinator.
Of course with the arrival of the goldenrod we also reach a tick mark on the natural calendar. Late summer has arrived and soon the air will begin to crisp.
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