Category Archives: Osmia

New Documentary: The Solitary Bees

A still of mating mason bees from the documentary The Solitary Bees

A still of mating mason bees from the documentary The Solitary Bees

Team Candiru has just released a new documentary online, a poetic and beautifully shot masterpiece about The Solitary Bees. It’s a short movie, only around 17 minutes, free to view online, and well worth the time.

It features bees found in the United Kingdom, but at least one of them (Anthidium manicatum, the woolcarder bee) has made its way here to the States as well. In addition to capturing amazing footage of solitary bees, it also includes a lot of great information.

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Pollinate Your Plate Part 2: A Filling Lunch

Lunch food with and without ingredients that benefit from animal pollination.

Lunch food with and without ingredients that benefit from animal pollination.

What do cheese, butter, milk, and ice cream all have in common?

If you answered that they all require bee pollination for mass production, you are correct!

Although it may not be intuitive, the dairy industry relies on the production of alfalfa to feed dairy cows. This alfalfa is grown from seed, which can only be produced via bee pollination of alfalfa flowers:

alfalfa production

Due to alfalfa’s unique pollination mechanism, honey bees are not the best pollinators of alfalfa. For this reason, several other species of bees are managed commercially for alfalfa pollination, such as the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) and the alkali bee (Nomia melanderi). These bees are particularly dear to me since I study alfalfa pollination, so I am sure I will be writing more about them in the future.

a female alkali bee and the entrance to her nest Photo by James Cane of the USDA-ARS.

a female alkali bee and the entrance to her nest Photo by James Cane of the USDA-ARS.

Putting Peppers and Tomatoes on your Pizza: The Humble Bumblebee

The interior of a commercial bumblebee colony.

The interior of a commercial bumblebee colony.

As I mentioned in a previous post, tomatoes and peppers also have unique requirements for pollination. When grown outside, the wind can naturally shake loose some pollen from the tomato or pepper flower, but in the greenhouse where there is no wind, domesticated bumble bee colonies are used to pollinate these crops.

An Osmia a day keeps the doctor away:
applesWhen we talked about breakfast, I mentioned that a solitary bee called the Blue Orchard Bee can help pollinate almonds. Orchard bees, as their name suggests, also visit a variety of fruit trees, such as apples. Even though we don’t grow apple trees from seed, in order for apple fruits to develop the flower must be cross pollinated with another apple or crabapple variety. In the Eastern U.S., some researchers are experiencing with using orchard bees to commercially pollinate apples.

Thanks for reading this week’s post! Please come back next week to learn more about how pollinators bring color to our plates.

Pollinate Your Plate Part 1: A Nutritious Breakfast

Pollinator Plate Title

Over the next few blog posts, I will share with you a series of posters I created demonstrating what meals might look like if we eliminated all foods that benefit from animal pollination. I’d like to use these posts as an opportunity to explore this topic in greater depth than could be accomplished in the original posters.

The first poster, “A Nutritious Breakfast,” depicts which items of the most important meal come from animal pollinated crops:

The Most Important Meal

The Most Important Meal

While the reasoning behind some of differences between the two meals are obvious (such as the lack of honey holding together those delicious clusters of oats), others are a little more cryptic.

The Bees and the Berries

The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (<i>Habropoda laboriosa</i>) is a native, solitary ground nesting bee. It is a much more efficient blueberry pollinator than the European honey bee. On smaller farms, wild populations of this bee alone can pollinate the entire blueberry crop.

The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa)

Most berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, benefit greatly from bee visitation. One scientific paper estimated that the efforts of a single Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa) resulted in a yield of about $20 worth of blueberries (Cane et al. 1997). I would imagine that, twenty years later, these pollinator services would be worth even more.

Amazing Almonds
By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAlmonds are another crop dependent on bee visitation. They are one of the main agricultural exports of California (the top almond producer in the world). The Almond Board of California estimated that this crop generates $11 billion/year and 104,000 jobs for the California economy. If you drive through the San Joaquin Valley in late January, you will be surrounded by a sea of white and pink almond flowers- 900,000 acres, to be more exact. At a rate of two colonies per acre, the almond industry is a major driver of the high demand for honey bee hives nationwide.

Osmia lignaria, photo by Kathy Keatley-Garvey.

Osmia lignaria, photo by Kathy Keatley-Garvey.

Blue Orchard Bees, or BOBs, (Osmia lignaria) are alternative pollinators of almonds. So named because of their metallic blue hue, BOBs are desirable almond visitors because they fly at cooler temperatures than many other bees (almond blooms in January or February). In addition, the presence of BOBs can cause honey bees to behave differently, which results in greater fruit yield than just BOBs or honey bees could achieve alone (Brittain et al. 2013). These solitary cavity nesting bees are also sometimes called “mason bees” because they collect mud to build the walls of their nests.
Cross section of a BOB nest

Cross section of a BOB nest

Pollinators and Nutrition
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that without animal-pollinated foods, your breakfast wouldn’t be as delicious. Believe it or not, your breakfast would be less nutritious as well.

Crops that benefit from animal pollination are responsible for 90% of the world’s supply of Vitamin C, and the antioxidants vitamin A flickrβ-cryptoxanthin and β-tocopherol. In addition, the majority of Vitamin A, plant-based lipids, calcium, fluoride, and a large portion of folic acid comes from animal-pollinated crops (Eilers et al. 2011).

Animal pollinators do more than just increase the quantity of nutritious crops. In some cases they increase the nutritional quality of the food as well. For example, in addition to being a good source of vitamin E, almonds are considered a health food because of their high levels of oleic acid. Bee pollination not only increases total almond yield, but also the ratio of oleic acid to linoleic acid in the resulting fruit (Brittain et al. 2014).

To summarize: Without pollinators your breakfast would be less colorful, less delicious, and less nutritious.

But wait! It’s more complex than that…

If we used our magic wand to remove all pollinator contributions from the produce section, some bins might remain the same, while others (such as avocados) would disappear. But most bins would just get smaller.

If we used our magic wand to remove all pollinator contributions from the produce section, some bins might remain the same, while others (such as avocados) would disappear. But most bins would just get smaller.

In these posters I categorized ingredients as either benefiting from animal pollination, or pollinator independent. But in reality there is much more of a gray area in between these two categories. Some foods, such as oats, don’t need pollinators at all. Other foods, such as honey, could not exist without bees. Most plant-based foods exist somewhere on a spectrum between oats and honey. Coffee yields are greatly increased by pollinator visitation, but coffee wouldn’t disappear completely without animal pollination (Klein et al. 2002).

The degree to which bee visits increase citrus fruit yield depends on the variety.

The degree to which bee visits increase citrus fruit yield depends on the variety.

To make things even more complicated, the level to which a particular crop is dependent on animal pollination often depends on which variety being considered. Most oranges used for juice do not need animal pollination, while other citrus varieties, particularly mandarin oranges, do benefit from bee visitation (Sanford 2015). We don’t know a lot about how much citrus benefits from pollinators in large part because orange blossom honey is so desirable that beekeepers will pay citrus growers to put hives in their groves.

Okay, hopefully the length and detail of information in this post haven’t discouraged you from reading this blog altogether! Up next is lunch: an apple, a chocolate chip cookie, and a slice of sausage and pepper pizza. You may have noticed that in the “without pollinators” photo, our granola is looking particularly dry. Stay tuned for an explanation!

Flower Children: The Colorful Nests of Osmia

Photo by Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

Photo by Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

Bee larvae never have to share a room. The mother crafts for each of her children a nursery room, called a “cell.” Some species build these cells out of mud, others out of leaves. But perhaps the most beautiful nurseries are built by some species of the genus Osmia, which construct cells out of a paper-thin layer of mud encased in colorful flower petals (pictured above).

In the charmingly written article “Busy Bees Use Flower Petals for Nest Wallpaper,” NPR writer Kathleen Masterson interviews bee nest expert Jerome Rozen on the artistic habits of these solitary bees in an article complete with gorgeous photos taken by none other than Dr. Rozen himself. I highly recommend it to bee enthusiasts and romantic dreamers alike.