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Fuzzy-Faced Bees Take To Cranberry Bogs / September 24, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Mustached mud bee

Fuzzy-Faced Bees Take To Cranberry Bogs

By Jill Lee
September 24, 1998

One difference between the mustached mud bee and the familiar honey bee relates to perfume, facial hair and sex. To woo females of the species, the male mud bee grows a mustache soaked in plant sap and the bee's own sex attractant.

But scientists' interest in the mud bee centers on its apparent knack for pollinating cranberries. This bee may someday offer cranberry growers an inexpensive alternative to the honey bee, according to entomologist Suzanne Batra at the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md.

Wet, cold cranberry bogs would not seem like fun places for any bee. But mustached mud bees are pollinating pros under pressure. In rainy, windy weather, they tend to be more active than honey bees. Mud bees (Anthophora abrupta) don't build honeycombs or make honey--except to feed their young. They dig nests in dry clay in the ground or, when raised by beekeepers, in tiny manmade "adobe huts."

Mustached mud bees from Maryland form a research colony at a cranberry bog in New Jersey. University of Delaware entomologist Harold Bechmann established the colony with Batra's help.

Despite fierce winds, flat lands and lack of trees, the transplanted mud bees have expanded their colonies and gathered more cranberry pollen each year than in the previous year. Batra collected some of the bees from a Baltimore chicken coop. Bechmann obtained the rest from an Elkton, Md., home built in 1735, when clay was used as mortar.

In addition to their pollinating expertise, mud bees have lower maintenance costs than honey bees, which keepers must feed and maintain in hives during the winter.

A story about mud bees appears in the September Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep98/poll0998.htm

ARS is the principal scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Suzanne Batra, ARS Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, MD 20705-2350, phone (301) 504-8384, fax (301) 504-8736.

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