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Pensylvania Fruit News

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Contrary to our usual idea that "bees• live in hives, with queens, workers, and drones, most bees cannot be hived, are not social, don't store honey, and rarely sting. The introduced, European honey bee is a highly specialized exception, rather than a representative "bee". There are about 3,500 species of bees in North America, and over 20,000 bee species worldwide. Most species of bees (Apoidea) are active as adults for only a few weeks annually. The rest of the year, they live in their nests as larvae, pupae and dormant adults. Their active periods coincide with the times during which their preferred floral hosts bloom. Thus, during the course of every growing season, a series of different bee species appears and vanishes seasonally. About 85 percent of all bees are solitary. This means that every female bee mates, makes a nest with about 10 brood cells, stocks each cell with a nectar and pollen mixture as food for her larvae, lays an egg in each, and dies before her young emerge. Although individual bees are solitary, nesting females may make their nests close together, forming aggregations that can include millions of nests and bees. Most species of bees dig nests and cells underground, and waterproof their brood cells with secretions from abdominal glands, including polyesters. Others make cells of mud, neatly-cut bits of leaves, resin, plant hairs, wood dust, or silk secreted from thoracic glands. They are placed in hollows in reeds, bamboo, logs, pithy stems, softwood structures, dry adobe, and other materials (Batra, 1984). Species of gregarious solitary bees that will nest in vast aggregations, are naturally active at the time that a crop blooms, favor this crop's flowers, and can reproduce on a diet of nectar and pollen from the crop, are ideal candidates for management as pollinators, to augment our rapidly declining honey bees, on which we have become dependent. Beekeepers and growers are becoming enthusiastic about using solitary bees, which are resistant to parasites and diseases of honey bees, are gentle, easy to manage, and cannot breed with Africanized bees. Although the versatile honey bee is a satisfactory pollinator for many crops, other bee species can be used in orchards. Selected solitary bees are easy to keep, because they are far gentler than honey bees or bumble bees, and their period of adult activity coincides with bloom. After the flowers have been pollinated, the adult bees die, and manageable species of bees (as dormant brood) can be put away into storage, until the next year's pollination season, when the next generation of adult bees emerges. This contrasts with the social honey bees, which need more attention because they must feed from flowers and honey stores, in order to stay warm and active year-around.

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