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Bugs in the News 2003

...From the pages of Agricultural Research magazine

Blue Orchard Bee—A Champion Cherry Pollinator


Like cherries? Here's good news from ARS scientists in Utah: The blue orchard bee, or Osmia lignaria, continues to rank as an ace pollinator of this delectable summer crop. That's important. If pollen isn't ferried to cherry blossoms by insect pollinators such as this nimble bee, the flowers won't form the sweet, plump fruit that cherry aficionados love.

New information about the gentle bee's superb pollination skills comes from investigations by entomologist William P. Kemp of the ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and colleague Jordi Bosch, formerly at the Logan laboratory and now with the Department of Biology at Utah State University.

In a 4-year experiment at a commercial cherry orchard in northern Utah, Kemp and Bosch compared cherry harvests before they brought in blue orchard bees—and then after. "Production was more than twice as high when blue orchard bees were used in place of honey bees," Bosch reports.

Blue orchard bees typically stay on the job despite weather that sends other bees buzzing back to their snug hives. That may help explain why the cherry orchard that the blue orchard bees pollinated produced harvestable yields even in the years when bad weather robbed most cherry growers in the region of their crop.

The researchers also found that blue orchard bee populations continued to increase throughout the study.

Kemp and Bosch encourage beekeepers and orchardists to use this hard-working bee to augment the efforts of the domesticated honey bee, Apis mellifera. Many colonies of this familiar honey bee have been devastated in recent years by mites, beetles, and aggressive Africanized honey bees.

The scientists have authored a new, 96-page handbook that's packed with helpful tips on how to use the blue orchard bee to proficiently pollinate not only cherries, but also almond, apple, apricot, and pear trees. Based on nearly three decades of lab, greenhouse, and orchard studies by ARS experts based at Logan, the book makes an excellent reference for growers, professional beekeepers, hobbyists, and home gardeners. How To Manage the Blue Orchard Bee as an Orchard Pollinator is available from the University of Vermont, Burlington, (802) 656-0484.—By Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

William P. Kemp is with the USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory, 5310 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322; phone (435) 797-2525, fax (435) 797-0461.

"Blue Orchard Bee—A Champion Cherry Pollinator" was published in the January 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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