KANAB, Kane County — After it was founded, Utah was nicknamed “The Beehive State” because Utahns related the industry and perseverance of the early pioneer settlers to a beehive, according to the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts. But a recent study shows that Utah is also home to many species of bees, making the name even more appropriate.
Utah is home to about 900 native bee species, according to the Utah State University Extension website. One out of every four bee species in North America is found in Utah, and of those species, many are located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, according to a new Utah State University study.
“(Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) was established partly because of the biological diversity,” USU biology professor Joseph Wilson said. “They knew that the area had a lot of different flowering plants, for example. They knew it was a diverse area, and they wanted to know more about the bee populations down there because there were no studies about that yet.”
When Wilson was an undergraduate in 2000, he participated in a study examining bee species in the national monument. The study took four years to complete and resulted in finding over 660 different species of bees in the protected national monument.
“Forty-nine of those (species) are new undescribed species that are new to science,” Wilson said. “There were about 150 ‘morphospecies.’ This means they look like regular species, but there’s something slightly different about them.”
Wilson mentioned that one of the reasons that Utah has such a diverse bee population is because bees are attracted to deserts.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, in particular, has a lot of flowering plants like aspen and pine trees, and Wilson said that the diversity of soil types in Utah also attracts many species of bees.
“Bees are arguably one of the most important animals in the world,” he said. “The reason I think that is that 80 percent of flowering plants rely on pollination from other organisms like bees.”
As mentioned, Utah is home to nearly 25 percent of all bee species found in North America, making the state the most diverse in bee species, according to Utah State University.
Wilson said the preservation of bees is crucial to the world ecosystem because bees top the food chain.
“The bees pollinate the flowering plants that feed the herbivores that feed the carnivores and so on and so forth,” he said.
In an effort to preserve bee species, some of which were declared endangered in 2017, Utah State University Extension has started a project that encourages people across Utah to grow gardens and plants that support native bees. Plants like sunflowers, mint and sage are part of the list of garden items that help bees. The full list can be found here.