Creating Homes that Please America's Wild
Bees By Marcia
Wood April 4, 2008
Just like people who are looking for a perfect place to live, some
female bees search for the ideal place to build their nests.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist
L. Pitts-Singer is discovering more about the "nesting cues" that influence
wild bees' house-hunting decisions. It's information that may help entice more
of the hardworking pollinators to take up residence in new, ready-to-occupy
nesting structures that growers and beekeepers provide.
Some bees like living in snug, dark recesses called "nesting
cavities." These range from deep holes drilled into wooden boards, to bundles
of cardboard tubes or hollow reeds. Growers and beekeepers place bee housing in
orchards and fields where they need the bees to live and work.
Wild bees augment the work of the European honey bee, currently
plagued by a puzzling problem known as colony collapse disorder. That's
according to Pitts-Singer, with the
Pollinating Insect Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit in
Scientists already know that female blue orchard bees (Osmia
lignaria) and certain other wild bees prefer to nest in cavities that other
females of their species once occupied. That's problematical because old nests
may be contaminated with disease-causing spores.
To find out what's making old nests alluring, Pitts-Singer is
investigating components from the old homes, including old pollen, leaves, mud,
and a fluid bees apply to cavity walls.
In one test, Pitts-Singer and colleagues used glass tubes to
approximate drilled nesting holes, then collected the now-dry fluid that bees
had left on walls. The scientists are using sophisticated laboratory
instruments to glean some of the first-ever information about the chemical
composition of the fluid.
Perhaps secreted by bees to differentiate one home from another, the
fluid may also add to the overall appeal of a previously occupied nesting site.
If that's the case, Pitts-Singer's investigations might lead to using synthetic
versions of the fluid to make tomorrow's new nesting structures more inviting.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.