Toronto is home to over 360 species of bees!
Native bees and honey bees are threatened by:
- Habitat loss
- Invasive species
- Climate change
- Extreme weather
Learn more about native bees and honey bees and what you can do to help by exploring the sections below.
Native Bees vs. Honey Bees
Let’s start by exploring the differences between wild, native bees and European honey bees—and why it matters.
The buzz on native bees
- Native bees are the most specialized and efficient pollinators. It is through pollination that plants produce seeds, fruits, and new plants.
- Some species of native bees are in drastic decline.
- When native bees disappear, they disappear forever.
The buzz on honey bees
- Honey bees are a non-native species, introduced from Europe, used in agriculture to pollinate crops and managed, as livestock, by beekeepers to produce honey.
- Honey bees are dying in large numbers but they are not an endangered species.
- When a honey bee colony dies, more honey bees can be purchased and new colonies started.
|More than 360 species exist in Toronto, over 600 in Ontario, and over 800 across Canada
||A single monoculture species, Apis mellifera, is commonly farmed in Canada
|Once lost, they cannot be replaced
||When a colony dies, bees can be purchased to start a new colony
||Managed by humans
|Some species are endangered
||Social, live in colonies
|Nest in the ground or in cavities
||Live in hives
|Do not produce honey as they are dormant in winter
||Produce honey for overwintering
|Wide range of colours, including green, blue, red and purple
||Black and yellow
|Most species don’t sting
|Have evolutionary, dependent relationships with native plants
||Have no evolutionary, dependent relationships with native plants
Did you know?
The Rusty-patched bumblebee—one of the most common native bees in southern Ontario just 50 years ago—hasn’t been seen in the wild in Ontario since 2009.
Considering backyard bee keeping?
You’ve heard about the pollinator crisis, you’ve heard that bees are in trouble, you’ve heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, and you want to do something to help. Interest in backyard beekeeping is growing, but is it the right thing to do?
Keeping honey bees doesn’t help to save wild bees, much like keeping backyard hens doesn’t save wild birds.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Keeping European honey bees in your backyard does nothing to help native bees and may actually harm them.
- Research suggests that honey bees may be a factor in the decline of some species of native bees; they can outcompete native bees for nectar and pollen, spread diseases and parasites, and negatively affect the reproductive health of native bees.
- Backyard beekeeping is a highly specialized hobby that requires time, skill, careful attention, and mentorship. If not done properly, it can have negative—and even dire—consequences for Ontario’s beekeeping industry, small-scale hobbyists, and wild, native bees.
- The Ontario Bees Act requires all beekeepers to register their hives with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It also requires all hives to be at least 30 metres from a property line, which prohibits most Toronto homeowners from keeping honey bees in their backyards.
A single honey bee hive can contain 50,000 honey bees, which can consume the amount of pollen needed to feed about 110,000 offspring of a single native bee.
What is the best way to help native pollinators?
The easiest and most effective way to help native pollinators is to plant native plants. By planting native plants, you will be providing much-needed habitat that native bees need to survive.
Native plants provide pollen and nectar which they need to feed themselves and their larvae, as well as places to nest and overwinter. You can create pollinator habitat in your yard, on your balcony, at your condo or apartment building, at your office, school, faith centre, community garden—everywhere!
Tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden
- Plant native: Choose native plants, trees and shrubs rich in pollen and nectar. Locally grown and pesticide free are best.
- Provide continuous bloom: Pollinators need a continuous source of pollen and nectar so select a variety of plants that will bloom from spring to fall.
- Mass plantings: Planting multiples of the same plant together in large groupings makes it easier for pollinators to find and collect pollen.
- Plant single bloom varieties: The petals of double or triple bloom varieties can block access to pollen and nectar.
- Prune and deadhead: Remove dead flower heads to encourage new growth and a longer flowering season.
- Plant host plants: Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants. Monarch butterflies, for example, will only lay their eggs on milkweed, the sole food source for their larva.
- Bare ground: Many native bees build nests in soil, so leave some bare patches and limit your use of mulch.
- Provide water: A birdbath or shallow dish of water with half submerged rocks will help bees and butterflies quench their thirst.
- Provide sun: Butterflies like to bask in the sun, so place a few flat rocks in sunny, sheltered locations.
- Leave dead stems: Some bees hibernate and lay eggs in hollow stems. If you do cut, leave the bottom 8 inches in place and bundle the cut stems and place them in your garden. Bundles of sticks and stems that are put out for yard waste collection too early in spring will often contain overwintering bees. In the spring, wait until temperatures are consistently above 10o Celsius before cleaning up your garden.
- Keep your dead wood: Large branches and decaying logs can be kept in a sunny spot to provide much-needed overwintering habitat for bees and other wildlife.
- Minimize manicuring: A perfectly manicured lawn is a food desert for pollinators. Natural gardens and lawns offer the most benefits for pollinators in terms of food and nesting spots.
- Reduce mowing: To avoid disturbing ground-nesting bees, mow your lawn less often and set the blade at the highest level possible.
- Leave the leaves: Leave the leaves where they fall or rake them into your garden to provide overwintering habitat for butterflies.
- Avoid tilling: Keep large patches of land unmown and untilled to provide secure and undisturbed nesting sites for ground-nesting bees.
- Keep it natural: Converting a lawn or garden to concrete, gravel, mulch or artificial turf reduces valuable food and nesting sites.
- Prevent the spread of invasive plants: Monitor your property for invasive plants and remove them when detected. The invasive dog-strangling vine has a negative impact on Monarchs – female butterflies mistakenly lay their eggs on it since it’s in the milkweed family, instead of native milkweeds, causing their larvae to starve.
- Avoid pesticides: Avoid plants/seeds treated with systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids. And don’t spray pesticides. Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw bans the cosmetic use of pesticides.
Wild About Bees flyer – Download this information in a printable pdf.
Meet Toronto’s Official Bee