On a recent hike, some of our team members stumbled upon an intriguing sight: hundreds of holes in the ground on and around the Embudo Canyon Trail through Albuquerque’s Open Space at the base of the Sandia Mountains.
On their hike out through the canyon, all was quiet around these mysterious holes. But when they returned a couple of hours later, they were surprised and excited to see swarms of bees emerging from the hard ground.
Burrowing bees? We had never heard of such a thing! After a bit of research, we discovered that there are about 70 species of Anthophora bees (commonly called digger bees) in the US, according to New Mexico State University, and a large diversity of these long-tongued pollinators live in New Mexico.
As we dug a little deeper, we found that native bee species are plentiful in the Southwest. In fact, of the 4,000 native bee species estimated to live in the U.S. and Canada, up to one quarter are thought to be found in New Mexico alone, according to the Institute for Applied Ecology.
As it turns out, the stark and dry desert landscapes that appear so inhospitable to people and animals are actually a mecca for bees!
There are over 500 bee species reported in the Land of Enchantment, according to the New Mexico Native Bee Pollinator Project. And some interesting bees at that.
In 2011, Farm Progress reported that a team of scientists from the University of California, Riverside rediscovered the rarest species of bumblebee in the US (known as the “Cockerell’s bumblebee”), last seen in 1956, living in the White Mountains of south-central New Mexico.
According to Taos News, New Mexico is also home to the tiniest bee in North America, the Perdita minima, which can easily fit on the head of an average bee!
Why Bees Are So Important
Two out of every three bites of food that we eat are made possible by these busy little workers, who day and night pollinate fruits, vegetables, and even the alfalfa used to feed cattle, according to Tree New Mexico.
“Without bees, there would be no apples, apricots, peaches, pears, pomegranates, brazil nuts, mangos, papayas, jujubes, tomatoes, chiles, onions, cilantro (their goes salsa), cantaloupes, strawberries, coffee, watermelons, broad beans, avocados, sunflowers, almonds, cranberries, pumpkins, alfalfa, or canola oil,” Tree New Mexico writes.
Not to mention making honey!
But they also pollinate wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, according to the New Mexico Native Bee Pollinator Project. Could you imagine a springtime without the rustling of fresh green tree leaves, without the aroma and exploding colors of flowers in our gardens?
A life without flowers and trees would not only look dismal, it would take away the food for a great majority of animals in our ecosystems, including those that we depend on for food.
Simply put, without bees, there would be no food. Without food, life as we know it would cease to exist.
The Global Decline Of Bee Colonies
According to Environment New Mexico, since 2007 beekeepers report losing an average of 30 percent of all honeybee colonies each winter. This is twice the loss considered economically tolerable, according to CNN.
While native bees can often “fill in the gaps” in areas where honeybees are scarce, wild bee populations are also in decline, Science Magazine reports.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Honey Bee Colonies Survey from August 2018, New Mexico lost an average of 1,900 colonies from January to June 2018 alone.
This detrimental loss of bees is due in large part to the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, according to New Mexico State University.
According to Environment New Mexico, scientists have found several causes, “including global warming, habitat loss, parasites, and a class of bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids (or neonics).”
Efforts To Save Bee Populations in New Mexico
“There is increasing interest in growing flowering plants to help sustain our native bees, honeybees, and other beneficial insects,” New Mexico State University writes. According to their website, “NMSU and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s NM Plant Materials Center are collaborating in testing more than 200 species of (mostly native) plants for their survival, ease of cultivation, and ability to attract and sustain pollinators and other beneficial insects.”
Recognizing the long-term threats pesticides pose to bee populations, New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service is making a priority of integrated pest management (IPM), according to New Mexico Magazine.
KRQE reports on a 2021 initiative by the City of Albuquerque to become more bee-friendly. The $20,000 project, funded by the state, aims to help attract bees and other pollinators by planting flowers that will increase the bee population at local parks.
According to Santa Fe New Mexican, the Quality of Life Committee in Santa Fe endorsed a plan in March 2021 to accept a resolution designating the city as a Bee City USA affiliate, “which would codify the city’s devotion to promoting healthy habitats for bees, butterflies, beetles and other pollinators.”
The New Mexico Native Pollinator Project, which began in 2001, visits participating fruit orchards in northeastern New Mexico several times each spring to collect native bees foraging from blooming trees.
The Institute for Applied Ecology is working with bee scientist Olivia Carril, PhD on a project funded by the Bureau of Land Management to document bee populations in north-central New Mexico, according to the Institute.
Xerces Society expanded its pollinator conservation efforts in 2020 by adding a new regional position, the Southwest Pollinator Conservation Specialist, based in Santa Fe. The conservation group also partnered with the NMSU IPM program to host a 6-week webinar series, “Supporting Pollinators and Beneficial Insects in Backyards and Farms,” which can be viewed on Youtube.
What You Can Do To Help
The New Mexico Native Pollinator Projects says you can help support native bees by purchasing locally grown fruit. This keeps local bees in business!
Reach out to state leaders to urge them to take action on the rapid decline of bee populations. If you’re in New Mexico, send a message to the state legislature through Environment New Mexico.
Jill Brown of Mylandscapecoach.com has a very informative article about how you can plant a pollinator-friendly garden in New Mexico, which includes suggestions of bee-friendly plants and ways you can go chemical free for their protection.
Visit the Bee Conservancy’s website for 10 ways you can help save the bees.