On bees, butterflies and backyards

Bees get a bad rap. Here are these great gals buzzing along, pollinating flowers and helping flowers turn into yummy things to eat. What do most people do? Scream. Run. Swat. Grab bug spray, hair spray or anything that looks like it could be lethal to the bee.

What is amazing to me is how few people are actually stung by bees. I’ve had kids see a bee and run, screaming and shouting. Some adults do the same thing. When asked if they have ever been stung, many say either no or not in years.

Being scared of bees seems to be part of that whole “living in the future” problem that many of us have, including me. It’s not the fear of what IS happening, but a dread of what COULD happen. It could sting. It could hurt. It could be awful. Many people don’t notice what IS happening. Most bees are far more interested in flowers over people.

Frankly, people are boring to bees until they do something to threaten the bee. Even then, it depends on the kind of bee it is. There are over 400 species of bee in New York State alone, and most are solitary bees that are pretty mellow. I’ve seen kids sit, lay down and step on native bees and their homes without getting stung.

Why care? It’s National Pollinator week from June 17 through June 23!

The United States Senate decreed this week honor pollinators and all the important work they do. Work? Pollinators work? Yep! Pollinators are an essential part of the web of life. Their part is to move pollen from flower to flower so those flowers can make seeds, often surrounded by yummy fruits.

That banana you had at breakfast was most likely pollinated by a bat. The tomato at lunch would have been best pollinated by a bumblebee, which are perfect for shaking the pollen out of the flower. One bite in three is produced by pollinators and most fruits and vegetables would not exist without them.

It’s weird to think that you could plant the best garden in the world, but without pollinators it might not produce anything. The pea flowers that have started bursting in my yard will not turn into peas without a pollinator. A watermelon flower without a bee visiting it will wither on the vine. Flowers need to be pollinated, whether it is by bat, bird bee, butterfly or wind.

Some of people’s favorite pollinators are butterflies. These colorful insects are easy to attract to the yard with a butterfly garden. In fact, Audubon is offering a workshop on butterfly gardening to celebrate pollinators on June 26 at 7 p.m. The workshop will cost $14, $10 for Friends of the Nature Center. The class will go into not only how to attract butterflies, but how to plant “host plants” for butterflies to lay eggs on. Many butterflies only lay their eggs on certain plants. If you want to see more butterflies at the butterfly garden, it helps to give their babies some food.

Sometimes, the land I live on does not seem like mine. I know the butterflies that lay their eggs in the butterfly garden claim that section of yard for themselves. The toad under the rocks by the steps certainly thinks that place is his. The hornets have laid claim to the eaves above the back porch. Robins, Mourning Doves and cardinals have claimed the hemlocks lining the backyard for their nests.

It seems like I share my world with all the animals around me, from pollinators to birds to toads. I have worked hard to turn my yard into part of the local habitat. Of course, you cannot escape nature. Whether you want it to or not, your yard is going to be used by the local wildlife. My yard just has parts to improve the habitat.

There are flowers blooming from April through October in the yard for the benefit of local bees and butterflies. Some are in gardens, some in the grass. There are dedicated homes for toads, snakes, birds, bees and more.

Audubon will be holding a S.H.A.R.E. workshop (Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment) on June 20 at 7 p.m. to demonstrate ways people can make their yards more friendly to pollinators and other animals. The class costs $14 or $10 for Friends of the Nature Center.

Jeff Tome is senior naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary located at 1600 Riverside Road, Jamestown, NY, located just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn until dusk and the center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. More information can be found by calling (716) 569-2345 or at jamestownaudubon.org.