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The Buzz about Bees

An alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, on an alfalfa flower. This bee is widely used for pollination by alfalfa seed growers.

An alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, on an alfalfa flower. This bee is widely used for pollination by alfalfa seed growers.

There’s a lot of buzz right now about honey bees—their health and their future.

The good news, where honey bees are concerned, is that there is good news.  Just last month, the results of the annual winter bee loss survey were released, and losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent for the past winter—a significant drop from the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-13.

But the really good news is that when it comes to pollination, honey bees aren’t the only game in town.

Consider the bumble bee, B. occidentalis, an important pollinator that’s mostly been used to pollinate greenhouse plants like peppers and tomatoes.

However, anecdotal evidence over the past 10 to 15 years has suggested that several bumble bee species are disappearing. That’s why scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have been looking for new pollinators that can rise to the task of greenhouse pollination.

Bumble bees are known as “generalist foragers,” which means they don’t have a narrow preference for which types of plants they pollinate.  But the commercial companies that used to rear B. occidentalis for greenhouse pollination stopped in the late 1990s because of disease problems.

As a possible alternative, ARS scientists have studied a pretty, orange-striped bee called B. huntii, also a generalist suitable for greenhouse pollination. Because it’s native to the American West, it could be a suitable replacement for B. occidentalis.

There’s no lack of colorful lingo in the bee world.  Consider the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, an ace pollinator of cherries. In a 4-year experiment by ARS scientists at a commercial cherry orchard in Utah, production was more than twice as high when blue orchard bees were used in place of honey bees. What’s more, blue orchard bees will stay on the job despite weather that sends other bees buzzing back to the hive.

There’s also the alfalfa leafcutting bee, a superb pollinator of that important crop, and squash bees, proficient pollinators of pumpkin and its cucurbit relatives.

But the “best name” prize has to go to the mustached mud bee, so called for the pheremone-soaked mustache it uses to woo females in the spring. ARS scientists have probed its potential as a pollinator for cranberry bogs.

As you can see, there’s a lot to “bee” excited about in the world of pollinators!

A mustached mud bee, Anthophora abrupta.

A mustached mud bee, Anthophora abrupta.

3 Responses to “The Buzz about Bees”

  1. karen young says:

    Surely you and USDA are not justifying the extinction of bumblebees!! by failing to acknowledge the killer neonicotinoids which need IMMEDIATE MORATORIUM in this USA ! Our tax dollars dont pay your wages to facilitate killing off our native bumblebees!! We are supposed to be Stewards of this USA land and animals! Sincerely, Karen Young

  2. wm says:

    I am glad to read of the bee’s sucess. I personally am a want to be a bee farmer

  3. mark paskvan says:

    you must be smoking something.last summer we lost 8 out of 10 hives.summer i said.the final 2 didnt make it of northern ohio winter.that a 100% loss.we have commercial farms on all side of us.even when asked that dont give the required 24 hour notice so we can tent.caught the good farmer pulling limbs of our 120 year old oak tree because it cast shade on his beans.he paid for that after the cops and the lawyer went after him.the farmers put pellet fertilzer on frozen ground in december of 2013….it rained, all that fertilizer went right into lake erie where we have an algae bloom.please dont piss on my shoe and tell me its raining.

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