Bees and Butterflies

Bees & Butterflies

Bee & Butterfly Topics

Bee Keeping 101

BEE KEEPING 101

So, you want to start beekeeping. Beekeeping is a rewarding experience that has some extra sweet benefits.  It has a relatively low bar to get started and children can participate as well.  There are several benefits to keeping a hive such as: honey, beeswax, and increased pollination for your garden and the natural flora.  It does require some basic equipment and knowledge to get started but just about anyone can do it. 

Level of Effort

During the Spring and Summer expect to check on your hives approximately every 2-4 weeks.  A new hive will start with a single box (brood box) and additional boxes are added as the hive grows.  You will need to check for diseases and pests (mites) to ensure the colony is healthy.  Don’t expect to harvest honey until the second year after the bee colony is well established.  

The Environment

Bees are the world’s best pollinators and can give a tremendous boost to gardens as well as to the surrounding flora. The common honey bee is from Europe and not native to New Mexico.  While honeybees do help pollinate natural flora; native bees are better adapted to the local flora.  If you are willing, consider researching how you can support native species.  Pesticides are particularly harmful to bees so be careful to avoid using them in your yard.

Bee pollinating flower

Getting Started

While honey bees are not aggressive compared to wasps and hornets, it is always best to check with your neighbors before starting a hive.  You will need a spot on your property that won’t be overly disturbed by pets and children.  If you don’t have a suitable spot, often owners of larger properties are open to bee colonies on their land with payment made in honey.  

Equipment

  • Hive: the most common style is Langstroth boxes. There are also flow hives that make it easier to extract the honey but are more expensive.
  • Hive Tool: similar to a crowbar to make it easy to remove the lid and pull out the honeycomb frames. 
  • Smoker: the smoke masks pheromone signals from the “guard bees” reducing the likelihood of exciting the bees and getting stung during inspections.
  • Protective Clothing: bee suit, gloves and veiled hat will protect you from getting stung.  Some beekeepers choose to forgo some or all protective clothing as they become more comfortable with their bees.
  • Honey extractor: the most common option is a centrifuge extractor; however, this is optional as owners of only a few hives can use the crush and strain method which requires no special equipment. 

Experts highly recommend starting with two hives, which will cost somewhere between $500 - $1,000 to get started.  

Starting your bee colony

Honey bees need honey to survive the winter, as such it is always best to start a new hive in the spring to allow the colony enough time to make sufficient food (honey) to survive the winter.  Most beginners buy a package of bees that include a queen.  It is possible to attract a swarm of bees from the wild but this requires a bit more knowledge and patience.  

Expanding Your Knowledge: 

There are many online classes that will prepare you for the wonderful world of beekeeping and it is recommended you find one before starting your hive to ensure success.  Below are a few additional sources with more information on the basics of beekeeping.  

 

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Bee pollinating flower 2

BEES AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Bees have declined in numbers and there is research to show that the decline is linked to climate change and drought effects on floral resources. According to The New York Times article Climate Change: It’s a Buzzkill for Bumblebees, Study Finds, the population of bumblebees declined by 46% in North America. The areas where temperatures spiked higher than the historical range saw the greatest decline in bumblebees. 

Bees are important to the environment because they are major pollinators. Pollination must occur for a plant to produce fruits, seeds, or young plants. Pollinators are organisms that facilitate plant reproduction by moving pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part of the same or another flower. Pollinators are responsible for helping over 90% of the world’s flowering plants reproduce (Ollerton et al. 2011) and are therefore critical to our food supply as well as to the health and resilience of ecosystems. Bees are the dominant pollinators in most ecosystems and nearly all bees are pollinators. The greatest abundance of wild bees is suspected to be in semi-desert, arid shrubland environments, especially within southwestern North America (Koh et al. 2016, Norris et al. 2018). There is mounting evidence of pollinator species declines all over the world (Zattara and Aizen 2021) and consequences in many agricultural areas could be significant (Gallai et al. 2009). Their decline should be of concern to us. We should try to do our part to protect bees. Understanding how climate change affects bees can allow people to find solutions to stop their decline. “In general, sites with less forest cover and greater warming (northern sites) lose more diversity, while sites with greatest forest cover and less warming (southern sites) retain diversity” (Hannah, Steele, Fung, Imbach, Flint, Flint, page. 69). 

But YOU can help! Plant species richness and abundance has been found to support increased bee and pollinator species diversity and abundance (Ebeling et al. 2008).By providing floral resources that are food for our native bees you can help offset the effects of climate change induced drought. Planting native drought tolerant plant species in your yard can make a big impact for our local bees! Some plant species that will benefit pollinators—most of which you can find at your local nurseries—include penstemons, primrose, Maximilian’s daisy, globemallow, coneflowers, spider milkweed, butterfly weed, bee balm, chocolate flower, Rocky Mountain bee plant, firewheel, apache plume, desert willow, and chamisa (Xerces Society 2020).

 

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Butterflies pollinating flower
Monarch Butterfly - Picture taken by Jenna Stanek

POLLINATOR HABITAT CREATION AND PROTECTION

Habitat creation and protection for Pollinators and Monarch Butterflies

Pollination must occur for a plant to produce fruits, seeds, or young plants. Pollinators are organisms that facilitate plant reproduction by moving pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part of the same or another flower. Pollinators are responsible for helping over 90% of the world’s flowering plants reproduce (Ollerton et al. 2011) and are therefore critical to our food supply as well as to the health and resilience of ecosystems. Animal pollinators include species of ants, bats, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies and bees. Bees are the dominant pollinators in most ecosystems and nearly all bees are pollinators. Over 500 species of bees have been reported from New Mexico (Cockerell 1906) with potentially many more bees species occurring, but they are either unnamed or understudied (Kazenel et al. 2020). There is mounting evidence of pollinator species declines all over the world (Zattara and Aizen 2021) and consequences in many agricultural areas could be significant (Gallai et al. 2009). Pollinator declines are attributed to loss of habitat, pesticide exposure, diseases, parasites, and effects of introduced species (Cameron et al. 2016, Wilcox et al. 2019). Invertebrate pollinators such as the monarch butterfly and a number of bumble bee species including the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), Morrison bumble bee (Bombus morrisoni), and American bumble bee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) are in decline (Cameron et al. 2011, Brower 2012, Koch et al. 2012, Pelton 2019) and have been documented in northern New Mexico. Planting and protecting areas with native flowers such as penstemons, primrose, coneflowers, mallows, milkweed, asters, sunflowers, groundsels, and apache plume will benefit our native pollinators.

Butterflies pollinating flower 2
Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) foraging on Horsetail Milkweed (Ascleipias subverticillata) Photo taken by Jenna Stanek

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterflies are an important pollinator and migrate from their wintering grounds along the coast of California and Mexico to their breeding grounds in North America and back again over three to five generations. What you may not know is that Monarch butterfly populations have declined by 85 percent in the last two decades and Monarchs are warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Monarch caterpillars need milkweed plants to grow and develop, and female Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed. Migrating Monarchs depend on early and late season flowering plants, such as native sunflowers, asters, and goldenrod, for nectar. Planting milkweed, early spring blooming nectar flowers, and late fall blooming nectar flowers are all great ways to help Monarchs and other pollinators.

Monarchs graph
North American Monarch butterfly population decline from 1995–2020 Data compiled from World Wildlife Fund and Xerces Society Figure created by Jenna Stanek

We can all make a difference in our world!

The good news is that many people are motivated to help pollinators, and these species can thrive in small pieces of good habitat. Everyone can help! Plant a flower garden with milkweed and native flowering plants right your own backyard or in your own schoolyard. If you can make some space for pollinators, your small habitat can act as a bridge to other habitats which will create a corridor or traveling path for Monarchs. Planting nectar flowers can connect nature preserves and local gardens and can help to create beneficial corridors for all pollinators. What will YOU do to help these species?

Plant Milkweed for Monarchs

Monarch Butterfly populations have declined by over 85% in the last two decades. Monarch caterpillars need milkweed plants to grow and develop, and female monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed. Please plant milkweed to support monarch populations. Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as milkweed provides nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees and butterflies. Most milkweed species require cold stratification prior to seed germination.

Four Locally Native Milkweed Species to Plant:

Horsetail Milkweed
Horsetail Milkweed (Asclepias subverticillata) – Grows commonly along roadsides. Full sun. Once well-established is drought tolerant. White flowers. Height 1-3 feet.
Showy Milkweed
Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) – Grows best in moist soil. Plant in full sun. Once well-established is drought tolerant. Purple/Pink flowers. Height 2-3 feet. Photo taken by Jenna Stanek.
Spider Milkweed
Spider Milkweed (Asclepias asperula) - Great for home gardens. Plant in well-drained soil with full sun. Height 1-2 ft. Very low water requirement. Once well established, heat and drought tolerant and deer resistant. Photo taken by Chuck Hatcok
Butterfly Weed
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – Beautiful addition to a home garden. Plant in well-drained soil. Plant in full sun. Height 2-3 ft. Once well established, butterfly weed becomes heat and drought tolerant and deer resistant. Photos taken by Jenna Stanek.

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BEES OF NEW MEXICO

Native bee on Phacelia integrifolia
Native bee on Phacelia integrifolia
Male long-horned bee on Cosmos bipinnatus
Male long-horned bee on
Cosmos bipinnatus
Ground nesting native bee on Gaillardia pinnatifida
Ground nesting native bee on
Gaillardia pinnatifida
Honeybee on Helianthus Peiolaris
Honeybee on Helianthus Peiolaris
Cuckoo bee
Cuckoo bee
Squash bee (Peponapsis sp.)
Squash bee (Peponapsis sp.)
Bumblebee
Bumblebee
Carpenter bee (Xyclocopa sp.). Note shiny abdomen
Carpenter bee (Xyclocopa sp.)
Note shiny abdomen
Honeybees drinking at drip-irrigation tape
Honeybees drinking at drip-irrigation
tape
Hylaeus sp. on Melampoidum Ieucanthum (Yellow face bee)
Hylaeus sp. on Melampoidum
Ieucanthum (Yellow face bee)
Female Megachild on Baccharis emoryi. Note the pale pollen collecting hairs (scopa) beneath the abdomen
Female Megachild on Baccharis
emoryi. Note the pale pollen
collecting hairs (scopa)
beneath the abdomen
Reference
NMSU Pocket Guide to the
Native Bees of New Mexico

 

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Monarch Butterfly Lifecycle

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