Maybe we’re biased, but we think all bees are pretty darn cute.
Pollen-covered honey bees anyone? Teeny-tiny sweat bees? Round, floofy bumblebees? But there’s a new bee on the block that may just take top honors in the bee cuteness contest—actually, it’s a bee with a longer history in North America than the honey bee: the squash bee.
Native to the Americas, the squash bee is an oligolege, also known as a “pollen specialist,” which means, in ecological terms, that the species shows a marked preference for the pollen of a specific family of plants. In this case, that means (perhaps obviously) squashes—the plant genus Cucurbita! Summer squash (like zucchini or pattypan), winter squash (think butternut or pumpkin), and many types of gourds are entirely reliant on these native bees for pollination.
Although pollen specialization is sometimes referred to as a “preference,” the truth is that squash bees actually don’t visit any other plants. In fact, they don’t even visit plants closely related to gourds, such as cucumbers or melons. Squash bees and plants in the Cucurbita family are an excellent example of what’s known as a symbiotic relationship, which is when two dissimilar biological organisms—in this case, a plant and an insect—ensure the other’s survival.
By all appearances, squash bees evolved specifically to pollinate squashes. The pollen granules of squash plants are particularly large, and squash bees have scopa (the pollen-carrying hairs on bees’ legs) especially suited to collecting these larger bits of pollen. Scientists have actually tested the pollination capability of squash bees and honey bees on squash plants and determined conclusively that squash bees are—unsurprisingly—more effective at pollinating squash plants.
All of this explains why squash bees are so cool, but why do we say they’re also the cutest? Squash bees are active in the cool morning hours—some of them even before dawn—and by noon, you can find them asleep in your squash blooms. That’s right—they sleep right there in the squash flowers! Too adorable.
Incidentally, squash bees are also considered an at-risk pollinator species, and scientists believe it may be partly due to pesticide use.
As always, we recommend drastically reducing or, if possible, entirely eliminating your use of pesticides in your own garden. If you must use pesticides, keep them away from the squash blossoms. Unlike other plants, which may have times of day when they are not visited by pollinators, squashes are both a food source and a snooze spot for these sweet little bees.