Attention all home squash or pumpkin growers! University of Guelph botanist and entomologist Professor Peter Kevan wants you to look carefully in your garden for the hoary squash bee. It is covered in fine silver-grey hairs that make it appear as if coated in frost, and it feeds only on the nectar and pollen of squash and pumpkin blossoms. Kevan says the bee (like squash, native to the Americas) is likely responsible for pollinating most of southern Ontario's squash and pumpkins. Females make nests at the bottom of a pencil-thin hole in the ground, coming out to sip nectar and gather pollen exclusively from squash and pumpkin blossoms early in the morning until about 11 a.m. Males sleep in the blossoms the rest of the day. Home gardeners can encourage this "nice-looking, gentle" bee — slightly smaller than a honeybee — by cultivating squash and by not digging nearby soil too deeply in fall, which might destroy overwintering larvae, he says.
In Canada, the bee is found mostly in southern Ontario; Kevan thinks the hoary squash bee's territory extends only as far north as Collingwood and Ottawa; it should be present in southern Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, too, but no samples have ever been collected there. If you've seen this bee, Kevan would like to hear from you or receive a "sample." Here's how: "Go into the garden in the afternoon after the blossoms have closed; open the flowers and see if there are any bees inside. The male hoary squash bee is the only one you'd find asleep in the flowers in the afternoon. Pick the flower, bee and all, and put in an old film canister. Put the canister in the freezer to kill the bee. Then write the date the specimen was collected, your name and location." Send it to Kevan, and he'll put it in his collection, with your name on it.