All About Bees

Bees are a hot topic in the news lately. People talk about how important they are, and also how we need to help them because their populations are decreasing.

But, what exactly is a bee?

A bee is an insect, meaning it has 3 body parts (the head, thorax, and abdomen) and 6 legs. Bees also have 4 wings.

Anatomy of a bee.

Bees are very important for food production and natural ecosystems in their role as pollinators. Pollinators move pollen from flower to flower which helps with plant reproduction. There are many types of insects that are pollinators, including flies, wasps, and butterflies, but this research is focusing on bees.

A bumblebee covered in pollen on an echinacea plant.

Did you know that 1 in 3 mouthfuls of food we eat depend on bees for production? Next time you eat an apple or a blueberry, or drink almond milk, thank a bee!

Bees help produce many of our favourite foods!

There are 20,000 types of bees in the world, and 800 are native here in Canada!

Some of our many North American bees (from here)

But none of these 800 native bee species in Canada makes honey. That’s right – the honey bee is not originally from here but is brought to Canada because it’s a good pollinator and easy to manage in its hives. Honey bees are also not the focus of our research.

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not native to North America, but they are frequently important and maintained as livestock because of their efficiency as pollinators and the production of honey.

We are interested in a portion of the 800 native bee species in Canada. Most of our native bees are solitary, meaning they do not live in hives or colonies. Instead, each female bee makes her own nest. Our native bees are classified by the way they build their nests. There are two main nest building strategies: those that lay their eggs above ground, and those that lay their eggs below ground.

The nest boxes that the Bees@Schools program uses are for above-ground nesting bees. These above-ground bees are called cavity-nesting bees, because they use hollow plant stems or holes in wood or brick to nest in. Our nest boxes mimic these natural nesting sites, which attracts the bees to a place where we can watch them and learn about them.

Bees@Schools nest box installed by Countryside Village PS, Mono ON

Many people also use nest boxes (often called bee hotels) as a way to help bee populations. While they may help to boost nesting sites, we must be careful that we keep the nest boxes clean if they are used for multiple years, and that there are lots of flowers around them for food. Otherwise, the nest may attract predators or viruses and do more harm than good.

An example of a homemade nest box. These may be fun projects for observation, but should be used with caution as a conservation tool!

The best way we can help bees is by making sure there is lots of natural food and nesting areas for them. This means that planting native, bee-friendly flowers and leaving our lawns a little bit messy can help our awesome wild bee species.

Bees LOVE many of the flowers we traditionally consider weeds. We can help bees by appreciating the food sources these flowers can provide!

Why don’t you and your family think about one way that you can help the bees in your neighbourhood. If you decide to put that plan in to action, I would love to see pictures of how you are helping the bees! Email me them at or tweet me @HandlerofBees!