This sounds like an interesting job. You may have heard that there are about 40,000 species of bees in the world. Most are solitary, some live loosely with familiar neighbours, and a very small number, like the honey bee, are truly social insects. OK, 40,000 in the world. But how many in my backyard? Well, a Saskatchewan scientist – Cory Sheffield – has been asking the same question. During the past year, Dr Sheffield has wandered around Saskatchewan, collecting bees.
At least 200 species live in Saskatchewan. I’m a bit surprised the number is so low. If the world has 40,000 species, and many of those occur in huge territories, then I thought the number would be closer to 1,000. Sheffield also thinks there are more than 200 species. Until now, there really hasn’t been an exhaustive Saskatchewan bee-type census. Back in Nova Scotia, doing graduate work, the scientist rediscovered a bee that was thought extinct for 60 years. Sheffield found two individuals of Macropis Cuckoo Bee (Really, I’m not making that name up.) in Nova Scotia, and he is now looking for it among the bees of Saskatchewan. This type of bee once covered the eastern states and Canada by the millions – from the Carolinas to the Dakotas and back along southern Manitoba, southern Ontario and Quebec, and out to Nova Scotia. The cause of the bug’s (temporary) extinction isn’t clear. Perhaps habitat loss; perhaps some pest or pesticide.
Dr Sheffield is also trying to match up flowers to the various bees being identified in Saskatchewan. He may catalog crop-by-crop, looking at the important pollinators for each field. The only agriculturally significant types of bees known now are the leaf cutter bee (important for alfalfa pollination) and the honey bee (important for almost everything). Undoubtedly, other bees are useful, but aren’t being commercially used to the same extent. It may be that some lucky field crop will be identified as teaming with some unusual pollinators that could be caged and shackled, then exploited by the millions, labouring to reduce the cost of strawberries or canola oil or some other goodies.