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I left outside a piece of wax few weeks ago and each day I saw lots of bees "eating" it. Why do they do this when they can create new wax? (it seems a really hard work considering how little was taken in the course of few weeks).
It's unclear how costly wax production really is, here are a few resources with some guestimates and studies:
But doubtless wax is costly to make. So it seems totally reasonable that your bees are actually collecting wax. But my guess, if they were doing this in October, is they drawn by the smell and were poking around for something besides wax per se, like sugar or pollen bits in the wax.
I just saw honey bees buzzing around a compost pile on a warm day in January, focusing on orange peels and used coffee grounds. They would masticate both grounds and peels with their mandibles, but to my eyes weren't actually collecting anything (they didn't bring it to their mouths with their tongues nor pack anything on their corbiciculae). I suspect they will pick at lots of things when there's not a strong pollen or nectar flow, maybe for medicinal reasons or the like, or perhaps more "for something to do."
A worker bee is any female (eusocial) bee that lacks the full reproductive capacity of the colony's queen bee under most circumstances, this is correlated to an increase in certain non-reproductive activities relative to a queen. While worker bees occur in all eusocial bee species, the term is rarely used (outside of scientific literature) for any bees other than honey bees.
Honey bee workers gather pollen into the pollen baskets on their back legs and carry it back to the hive where it is used as food for the developing brood. Pollen carried on their bodies may be carried to another flower where a small portion can rub off onto the pistil, resulting in cross pollination. A significant amount of the world's food supply, particularly fruit, depends greatly on crop pollination by honey bees.  Nectar is sucked up through the proboscis, mixed with enzymes in the stomach, and carried back to the hive, where it is stored in wax cells and evaporated into honey.
Plastic-eating bugs? It’s a great story – but there’s a sting in the tail
‘You’d need an awful lot of wax moth caterpillars to make a significant dent on the plastic waste problem. The UK alone discards almost 2m tonnes of the stuff every year.’ Photograph: Federica Bertocchini/Paolo Bombe/PA
‘You’d need an awful lot of wax moth caterpillars to make a significant dent on the plastic waste problem. The UK alone discards almost 2m tonnes of the stuff every year.’ Photograph: Federica Bertocchini/Paolo Bombe/PA
Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 17.10 GMT
C aterpillars that can munch up plastic bags have just been identified, fuelling excited speculation that this could one day eliminate global pollution from plastic waste. The chance discovery, initially made by a scientist and amateur beekeeper whose plastic bag had been eaten through by the moth caterpillars, was reported this week by researchers at Cambridge University and the Spanish National Research Council.
How thoughtful of nature to provide bugs that eat our rubbish. Is this the end of landfill, turtles with plastic-congested stomachs, and trees adorned with tattered ribbons of shopping bags?
Well, it’s never that simple, is it? Attempts to commandeer nature to do our dirty work never seem to turn out as hoped, whether these take the form of planting trees to soak up carbon dioxide, or introducing invasive species for pest control, or using microorganisms to clean up oil spills. Remember the Australian cane toad debacle? The toads were introduced in the 1930s to control crop pests but instead gorged themselves on other local wildlife and spread across the country.
These creatures, the larvae of the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella), can devour polyethylene, which along with the closely related polypropylene is the main type of plastic found in waste. But you’d need an awful lot of them to make a significant dent on the plastic waste problem. The UK alone discards almost 2m tonnes of this stuff every year. At the rate of consumption reported by the researchers – one worm gets through about two milligrams of plastic a day – you’d need billions of caterpillars eating constantly all year round to deal with that.
Quite aside from how and where you’d farm all these bugs, there’s something about them that news reports have failed to mention. Wax moths, which are found throughout the world, are so-called because they eat wax. Specifically, they love to eat the wax from which bees make their honeycombs – and so they can devastate bee colonies. The two common species of wax moth, of which Galleria mellonella is one, are thought to cause more than £4m worth of damage annually in the United States alone.
‘With bee populations already under severe stress, we might want to think twice about breeding one of their common airborne enemies in huge numbers.’ Photograph: Peter Komka/EPA
With bee populations already under severe stress from pesticides, habitat loss and predators, we might want to think twice about breeding one of their common airborne enemies in huge numbers – even if the intention was to somehow keep them in plastics-processing centres. The idea that if bees disappear then humankind will follow four years later, popularly misattributed to Albert Einstein, might be a touch hyperbolic. But without their pollinating assistance, crop cultivation would be in deep trouble.
Polyethylene sits around in the environment because its molecules are so hard to break down. Ordinary soil microorganisms don’t have the resources for it. These plastics are built up from the hydrocarbon molecules in oil, and ideally we’d turn them back into oil after we had used them, regenerating a valuable substance rather than sacrificing it as waste. Chemists have been working long and hard to do that, using special catalysts to induce the chemical reactions. But it’s tough, and only very recently have they started to see progress. It’s precisely because wax is chemically similar to polyethylene that the wax moth caterpillars can biodegrade it.
Bee Biology and Behavior
Honey bees are one of the few insects that have a social structure, a caste, which consists of a single reproductive queen (only egg layer in the colony), numerous drones (males) depending on time of year, and a small number to about 60,000 worker bees or non-reproductive female bees. Honey bees undergo complete metamorphosis (holometabolism) and develop through four life stages, egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Several thousand worker bees cooperate in nest building, food collection, and brood rearing. Each honey bee in the worker caste has an age-related task to perform, which begins inside the hive (house bee) and eventually moves to foraging outside the hive. The immature forms of the bee are called the brood, and they are fed and cared for by the worker bee caste.
Like any good home, a honey bee hive needs to be maintained in order to produce a healthy and productive brood. Construction and maintenance of honey bee hives is conducted by the worker bee caste. Young adult honey bees convert excess food energy in their bodies to wax production rather than fat production. Wax glands are located on the underside of the abdominal segments, and the bees will use their legs to scrape off the produced wax and use it in honey comb production. Worker bees collect propolis from tree buds and use it like caulking to seal cracks and leaks around the hive. During hot summer days, the colony temperature must be reduced or the wax will melt and the bees will suffer, so they collect water and spread it on the interior of the nest and fan their wings, thereby causing evaporative cooling. As adult bees age, they perform the following tasks in this order: clean cells (house bees), circulate air with their wings, feed larvae, practice flying, receive pollen and nectar from foragers, guard hive entrance and eventually, they will move out of the hive and forage.
As the level of pollen, nectar and water sources change in the environment, the activity and maintenance of the hive changes in response. The changing conditions in the hive are enhanced in cold winter environments, and they are not as pronounced in tropical and sub-tropical environments.
SPRING: During spring when the days are longer and sources of pollen and nectar appear and increase, they stimulate egg laying by the queen and brood rearing. As such, the colony population increases, the worker force increases, and the number of foragers increase. Surplus collection of pollen and nectar are then stored to maintain brood rearing.
SUMMER: Day length in the summer is the longest and bees can then forage for extended periods, again collecting additional stores of pollen and nectar. However, in arid southern California, a reduced supply of nectar and pollen is available in the natural environment. The colony reaches peak population in the early summer.
FALL: Hive populations diminish in the fall in response to a reduction in the amount of nectar and pollen collected and reduced brood rearing. Additionally, the proportion of old bees in the colony decreases and is dependent on the age, health and fecundity of the queen.
WINTER: Whenever it&rsquos cold, the bees will cluster around the eggs, larvae, and pupae and keep them warm through heat generated by the bees. Under subtropical, tropical, and mild winter conditions, egg laying and brood rearing are usually not affected.
During early winter, the queen increases drone production by laying unfertilized eggs. This is in preparation of colony swarming. Workers are also likely to prepare to rear a new queen. A few early stage larvae are fed a special food called royal jelly and their cells are enlarged to accommodate the larger queen. Eventually, the original queen will leave the hive and a large number of worker bees will accompany her in search of a new hive location. After flying around in the air for several minutes, they will typically cluster on the limb of a tree or similar object, but they won&rsquot stay there long. They will be gone the next day in search of a good place to start a new hive. Swarming generally occurs in the Central, Southern, and Western States from March to June, although it can occur at almost any time from April to October.
The remaining bees continue to work as normal with the exception of the care of the new queen larvae. When a new queen emerges from her cell, she searches for rival queens and destroys the cells. If a rival has emerged from its cell, the two queens will fight until one has eliminated the other. There can be only one queen. When the new queen is about a week old, she will mate with one or more drones outside the colony in the air. Within 3 or 4 days the mated queen begins egg laying.
How Bees Make Wax – Understanding the Science Behind Beeswax
Honey bees live in self-manufactured, waxy combs that make up an entire hive. These hives serve as homes and repositories for their food supply (honey, nectar, and pollen) and eggs laid by their queen to produce the next generation of bees. The answer of how bees make wax was once a mystery until science unlocked the mechanics behind the process, revealing an alchemical transformation. This beneficial beeswax is used by bees, other animals, and humans as a food source, a financial tool, and in households and businesses around the world.
What Is Beeswax?
Beeswax is a complex substance bees secrete to manufacture and repair combs. These waxy combs are a series of interlocking hexagonal shaped tubes composed of fatty acids, hydrocarbons, and proteins. The easiest way to explain beeswax is by saying that it's a secretion produced by worker bees.
When new beeswax is developed, it's yellow in color. The reason for that is due to the presence of pollen. Then over time, it gets darker and becomes golden yellow. It will turn brown after contact with bees and propolis.
Beeswax remains solid throughout a wide temperature range. It becomes brittle when the temperature drops below 18 degrees Celsius and has a melting point at 64.5 degrees Celsius. That means that the honeycomb can withstand temperature fluctuations from one season to the other. That's important so that the honey bee colony can survive in the heat and the cold.
Why Do Bees Make Wax?
This is one of the aspects that beekeepers first learn. The production of wax is crucial to the vitality of a beehive. Many people assume that bees collect some type of material to build their nests, but they actually produce them!
How Bees Make Beeswax?
The process of how bees make wax is complex and depends on many factors. In a bee colony, there are three types of bees: the queen, the worker, and the drone. The queen mates and lays eggs. Drones are male bees whose sole function is to breed with the queen.
Finally, worker bees are sterile females who do everything, including taking care of and feeding the young, the queen, and the drones producing wax to create and maintain the hive cleaning the hive gathering nectar and pollen making honey and guarding the nest against enemies. Only young worker bees have wax glands. The oldest worker bees and the queen bee do not have wax glands.
Honeybees develop a special wax-producing gland in their abdomen when they are between 12 and 20 days old. This gland converts sugar into a waxy substance from the sugar and also deposits substance flakes on the abdomen.
Do All Bees Make Wax?
No, not all bees produce wax! Only worker bees do. Worker bees are female and are the only ones that have wax glands.
The best wax producer are young adults, around 14 to 18 days old. But, older workers are able to produce wax when it's needed.
Factors Necessary for Wax Production
The first step in how bees make wax can only begin when there is an adequate supply of honey in the bees’ colony. Worker bees must consume pollen during the first 5 to 6 days of their life because it contains a high amount of protein needed for the development of fat cells. Pollen is mixed with honey to create “bee bread” that worker bees feed the developing larvae.
Wax Gland Producing Stage
Then at about a week old, the emerging worker bee develops a unique wax-producing gland inside her abdomen. As the secretory activity increases in this wax gland, the cell walls become tall and slender and have large intercellular spaces. The wax glands are most productive in worker bees approximately 12 to 18 days old.
Nectar Gathering and Honey Conversion Stage
The third step in how bees make wax involves older worker bees leaving the hive to forage and collect nectar from flowers. Nectar is essentially just a sugary fluid flowers produce to entice bees to pollinate their species. The bees store the nectar in a special honey stomach different from their food stomach. Once the worker bee fills this sac, she flies back to the hive.
This foraging bee delivers the nectar to another worker bee through a mouth-to-mouth exchange process. During this process, the moisture content of the nectar is reduced from 70% to 20%. This changes the nectar into honey. Sometimes nectar is stored in the honeycomb cells before being passed mouth-to-mouth because the warm temperature inside the hive causes water content in the nectar to evaporate.
The Production of Wax
The fourth step in how bees make wax requires young worker bees engaged in secreting wax to engorge themselves with honey. The wax gland, an organ located on the underside of the last four segments of their body, converts the sugar content of honey into tiny flakes or scales. The worker bees discharge these wax flakes through eight tiny slits from their underbelly. Other worker bees collect the discharged wax flakes, chew it until it becomes soft and malleable, and then mold it to construct new combs, repair existing combs, and cap the openings of cells.
Temperature Necessary to Work Wax
The right temperature in the hive is crucial in how bees make wax. It must be maintained at a steady temperature in order to manipulate wax and allow it to be at the right consistency for construction. This temperature is between 93 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit year round. This allows bees to work the wax easily.
If the temperature gets too high, the wax becomes too soft and will not hold its shape. If the temperature reaches 149 degrees Fahrenheit or more, the wax will melt. If the temperature gets too cold, the wax becomes brittle and breaks.
The End Cycle of Wax Production
After producing wax for several days, the worker bees’ wax glands begin to degenerate. By the time the worker bee becomes a field bee and is ready to leave the hive, the wax glands have totally degenerated. At this point, the worker bee is about 21 days of age. However, the emergence of the next generation of bees takes over and continues the function of producing wax.
This multilayered, time-consuming process is how bees make wax. It is estimated that bees must consume approximately 6 to 8 pounds of honey to manufacture just 1 pound of wax. A beehive contains about 10,000 to 60,000 bees. The greater the number of bees, the more effective the hive is at producing honey, and the more wax it can manufacture for the hive to grow and care for the bees.
How is Beeswax Used?
Beeswax is used by bees, humans, and other creatures in many ways.
How Bees Use Beeswax
Bees use the wax they produce to protect themselves against water loss and in the construction of combs and their overall hive.
How Humans Use Beeswax
For thousands of years, humans have used beeswax for a variety of purposes including body care products, food consumption, household uses, industrial manufacturing and many more.
Benefits to the Skin
In the cosmetic industry, beeswax is used as a non-toxic, natural protectant, hydrating, and thickening ingredient. It thickens creams and make-up, making them more spreadable and easier to use on the skin. Unlike petroleum-based products, beeswax does not suffocate the skin’s pores, allowing them to breathe and preventing clogged pores and acnes.
Many Workers, Several Drones, and One Queen Bee
A honey bee colony is a highly organized society made up of three kinds of adult bees – workers, drones, and a single queen – each with specific roles. Worker bees are sexually undeveloped females and under normal hive conditions don’t lay eggs. As suggested by their name, worker bees are the hive’s laborers, performing all the tasks needed to maintain and protect the colony and rear the young bees. Despite being the smallest physically, they are by far the largest in number, making up nearly all the bees in a colony. A worker bee’s life span ranges from six weeks in the busy summer to four to nine months during the winter.
Drones are male bees that are on standby for mating with a virgin queen, should the need arise. For the drones, death instantly follows mating. They number from a few to several thousand and are usually present only during late spring and summer.
As the lone sexually developed female in the colony, the queen’s only function is to lay eggs. She mates only once with several drones and remains fertile for life. The queen can live for several years, with an average productive life span of two to three years. When she dies or her productivity declines, worker bees raise a new queen.
Honey Bee Biology
A colony of honey bees comprises a cluster of several to 60,000 workers (sexually immature females), a queen (a sexually developed female), and, depending on the colony population and season of year, a few to several hundred drones (sexually developed males). A colony normally has only one queen, whose sole function is egg laying. The bees cluster loosely over several wax combs, the cells of which are used to store honey (carbohydrate food) and pollen (protein food) and to rear young bees to replace old adults.
The activities of a colony vary with the seasons. The period from September to December might be considered the beginning of a new year for a colony of honey bees. The condition of the colony at this time of year greatly affects its prosperity for the next year.
1 Research entomologist, Science and Education Administration, Carl Hayden Center for Bee Research, Tuscon, Ariz. 85719.
In the fall a reduction in the amounts of nectar and pollen coming into the hive causes reduced brood rearing and diminishing population. Depending on the age and egg-laying condition of the queen, the proportion of old bees in the colony decreases. The young bees survive the winter, while the old ones gradually die. Propolis collected from the buds of trees is used to seal all cracks in the hive and reduce the size of the entrance to keep out cold air.
When nectar in the field becomes scarce, the workers drag the drones out of the hive and do not let them return, causing them to starve to death. Eliminating drones reduces the consumption of winter honey stores. When the temperature drops to 57° F, the bees begin to form a tight cluster. Within this cluster the brood (consisting of eggs, larvae, and pupae) is kept warm-about 93° F – with heat generated by the bees. The egg laying of the queen bee tapers off and may stop completely during October or November, even if pollen is stored in the combs. During cold winters, the colony is put to its severest test of endurance. Under subtropical, tropical, and mild winter conditions, egg laying and brood rearing usually never stop.
As temperatures drop, the bees draw closer together to conserve heat. The outer layer of bees is tightly compressed, insulating the bees within the cluster. As the temperature rises and falls, the cluster expands and contracts. The bees within the cluster have access to the food stores. During warm periods, the cluster shifts its position to cover new areas of comb containing honey. An extremely prolonged cold spell can prohibit cluster movement, and the bees may starve to death only inches away from honey.
The queen stays within the cluster and moves with it as it shifts position. Colonies that are well supplied with honey and pollen in the fall will begin to stimulatively feed the queen, and she begins egg laying during late December or early January-even in northern areas of the United States. This new brood aids in replacing the bees that have died during the winter. The extent of early brood rearing is determined by pollen stores gathered during the previous fall. In colonies with a lack of pollen, brood rearing is delayed until fresh pollen is collected from spring flowers, and these colonies usually emerge from winter with reduced populations. The colony population during the winter usually decreases because old bees continue to die however, colonies with plenty of young bees produced during the fall and an ample supply of pollen and honey for winter usually have a strong population in the spring.
During early spring, the lengthening days and new sources of pollen and nectar stimulate brood rearing. The bees also gather water to regulate temperature and to liquefy thick or granulated honey in the preparation of brood food. Drones will be absent or scarce at this time of the year.
Later in the spring, the population of the colony expands rapidly and the proportion of young bees increases. As the population increases, the field-worker force also increases. Field bees may collect nectar and pollen in greater amounts than are needed to maintain brood rearing, and surpluses of honey or pollen may accumulate).
As the days lengthen and the temperature continues to increase, the cluster expands further and drones are produced. With an increase in brood rearing and the accompanymg increase in adult bees, the nest area of the colony becomes crowded. More bees are evident at the entrance of the nest. A telltale sign of overcrowding is to see the bees crawl out and hang in a cluster around the en trance on a warm afternoon.
Combined with crowded conditions, the queen also increases drone egg laying in preparing for the natural division of the colony by swarming. In addition to rearing workers and drones, the bees also prepare to rear a new queen. A few larvae that would normally develop into worker bees are fed a special gland food called royal jelly, their cells are reconstructed to accommodate the larger queen, and her rate of development is speeded up. The number of queen cells produced varies with races and strains of bees as well as individual colonies.
Regardless of its crowded condition, the colony will try to expand by building new combs if food and room are available. These new combs are generally used for the storage of honey, whereas the older combs are used for pollen storage and brood rearing.
When the first virgin queen is almost ready to emerge, and before the main nectar flow, the colony will swarm during the warmer hours of the day. The old queen and about half of the bees will rush en masse out the entrance. After flying around in the air for several minutes, they will cluster on the limb of a tree or similar object. This cluster usually remains for an hour or so, depending on the time taken to find a new home by scouting bees. When a location is found, the cluster breaks up and flies to it. On reaching the new location, combs are quickly constructed, brood rearing starts, and nectar and pollen are gathered. Swarming generally occurs in the Central, Southern, and Western States from March to June, although it can occur at almost any time from April to October.
After the swarm departs, the remaining bees in the parent colony continue their field work of collecting nectar, pollen, propolis, and water. They also care for the eggs, larvae, and food, guard the entrance, and build combs. Emerging drones are nurtured so that there will be a male population for mating the virgin queen. When she emerges from her cell, she eats honey, grooms herself for a short time, and then proceeds to look for rival queens within the colony. Mortal combat eliminates all queens except one. When the survivor is about a week old, she flies out to mate with one or more drones in the air. The drones die after mating, but the mated queen returns to the nest as the new queen mother. Nurse bees care for her, whereas prior to mating she was ignored. Within 3 or 4 days the mated queen begins egg laying.
During hot summer days, the colony temperature must be held down to about 93° F. The bees do this by gathering water and spreading it on the interior of the nest, thereby causing it to evaporate within the cluster by its exposure to air circulation.
During the early summer, the colony reaches its peak population and concentrates on the collection of nectar and pollen and the storage of honey for the coming winter. After reproduction, all colony activity is geared toward winter survival. Summer is the time for storage of surplus food supplies. The daylight period is then longest, permitting maximum foraging, although rain or drought may reduce flight and the supply of nectar and pollen available in flowers. It is during the summer that stores are accumulated for winter. If enough honey is stored, then the beekeeper can remove a portion and still leave ample for colony survival.
Benefits of Beeswax
Beeswax is edible and used in some food products as a thickener and as packaging, such as for the wax around cheese. It's also a valuable ingredient in cosmetics, candles and industrial products due to its hydrophobic properties. Some medications use beeswax as a thickener, binder or drug carrier.
Beeswax has antimicrobial properties against a number of bacteria and fungi. The Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine published research in September 2016 reporting that beeswax can heal inflammation, burns and bruises when applied topically.
When ingested, beeswax may be effective in fighting the specific bacteria of Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger. Beeswax works in conjunction with honey to effectively inhibit growth of these bacteria, making honeycomb — the combination of honey and beeswax — an especially potent health product.
When you've sucked out all the honey and other components in the honeycomb, the wax may even be chewed as a gum.
Hi, I'm Paul
I have fallen in love with beekeeping a few years ago. And I think it is about time we acknowledge how amazing bees are and how important they are for us.
My goal is to show you that beekeeping is not that complicated, that you can also learn to do it, fall in love with it and help our planet while doing it.
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Why are bees eating the wax? - Biology
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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Pollinating Insect-Biology, Management, Systematics Research: Logan, UT
In recent years, the blue orchard bee (BOB) has become established as an alternative orchard pollinator in North America. With a strong preference for fruit trees, BOBs are highly efficient pollinators in fact, just 250-300 females will pollinate an entire acre of apples or cherries. BOBs forage and pollinate under cloudy skies and at lower temperatures than most other bees. They are easy to manage and rarely sting.
Cherries being harvested from an orchard pollinated by blue orchard bees.
How To Distinguish Blue Orchard Bee Nests From Those Of Other Wild Bees
The blue orchard bee (BOB), Osmia lignaria, is increasingly sought by people who are commercially trap-nesting wild bees in the western USA. Dozens of other native bees, including other Osmia species, may be inadvertently obtained, particularly if the nest tubes are left out during the summer. Timely pick-up by late spring will avoid many of these unwanted species, especially prevalent summer bees such as Megachile.
When recovering blocks/reeds/tubes from the field, initially all one sees are the end caps of the nests, which for some species may be recessed. With practice and a hand lens, the probable identity of the nest can be learned from the nature of the cap itself, or certainly what the occupant is not, based on the material(s) constituting the cap and its surface texture. Most species of cavity-nesting Osmia make closures from leaf pulp (mastic), including the earliest spring nester, Osmia ribifloris .
It is ultimately important to sort by-catch from BOB, both for quality control and also to avoid shipping other species out of their native ranges The by-catch should be returned to the wild, but several hundred yards from where nest blocks will be placed the following year.
Below is a visual guide to some of the common or more recognizable nest caps one is likely to encounter when trap-nesting BOBs, particularly in northern Utah.
A printable PDF version of this Nest Plug information is available.
These bees do have their own pests and diseases, however, nest materials and management techniques are available to deter or remove many of these from the bees nesting in an orchard.
Examples of pests include:
The adult checkered flower beetle (Trichodes ornatus) is very colorful, and females lay their eggs in bee nests. The larvae prey on the developing bee brood, and eat the pollen provisions. The larvae have a somewhat worm-like appearance and a red color.
Blister beetles (Tricrania stansburyi) lay their eggs in flowers, and when the eggs hatch, the new larvae wait for a bee to come and visit, then hop a ride to the bee's nest. In this way, the beetle larvae finds its way into a sealed nest cell, where it kills the bee egg and feeds on the pollen provision. Only one blister beetle develops in one bee cell.
Flour beetles (Tribolium spp.) lay their eggs in the nests, and the larvae feed on the pollen provisions. They typically do not harm the bees directly.
Carpet beetles, such as this larva, commonly scavenge in bee nests. Carpet beetles belong to the Family Dermestidae.
- Some wasps are parasites of the developing bee larvae. Typically the tiny female wasp enters the nest through cracks and crevices, then locates a developing bee larvae and lays her eggs. Infested cells can be identified by a large number of very small larvae in a cell, rather than the typical single large larva per cell of the blue orchard bee. Assuring that the backs of the nest cavities are sealed tightly, such that the wasps cannot enter through the back of the straw, will help reduce parasite infestations. Some of the parasites include the Chalcidae wasps:
And the beautiful metallic green Chrysididae wasp, Chrysura
- Other parasites lay their eggs in the nests, and are called "cleptoparasites." Cleptoparasites kill the immature blue orchard bee and eat all their food. Sometimes other solitary bees can be cleptoparasites, too.
Sapyga are cleptoparasitic wasps of the blue orchard bee.
Stelis is a bee that is a cleptoparasite. It is also called the cuckoo bee. Its looks are similar to the blue orchard bee, but it is smaller, and the fecal pellets are long and curly, allowing one to identify it in the nest.
- Pollen mites, also called hairy fingered mites (Chaetodactylus krombeini) can also be cleptoparasites. Heavy infestations can starve out the developing brood. The mites cannot move between the mud partitions in a nest, unless the partition is damaged during when the nests are moved.
Pollen mites infesting a blue orchard bee cell.
- Chalkbrood. Very little is known about the diseases of blue orchard bees, but the most common disease is chalkbrood, caused by fungi in the genus Ascosphaera. The biology of chalkbrood in the blue orchard bee is very similar to chalkbrood in the alfalfa leafcutting bee.
Using Blue Orchard Bees on Almonds:
The cost of renting honey bee hives for almond pollination service was about $50 per hive in 2003, but in 2009, the cost had increased to about $150-170 per hive. Between 2003 and 2005, the hive rental costs increased three-fold. This increase was due to a shortage of bees caused, on one hand, by declines in honey bee colonies due to varroa mites and colony disorder, and on the other hand, to rapid increases in almond acreage. The price of honey bee colonies is expected to level off at current prices as the markets come into balance.
California's 2005 almond acreage was estimated at 680,000 acres, a 6 percent increase from 2004's acreage of 640,000. Bearing acreage is forecasted to be over 800,000 by 2012 (USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service). Almond growers typically use 2-3 colonies per acre, and at this rate, they require about 65% of all the honey bee colonies currently on record in the U.S.!
Blue Orchard bees are a good supplement or alternative to honey bees for almond pollinations. They are becoming commercially available for almond producers, although currently on a smaller scale than honey bees. Our laboratory has been working on developing blue orchard bee pollination systems for 20 years.
Using Blue Orchard Bees on other orchard crops:
While the cost of honey bee hives for other orchard crops is not as high as for almond, blue orchard bees are still a good supplement and help diversify the pollinator pool for these crops as well.
A good fit -
- Almond, cherry, pear, and apple trees bloom early, often during bad weather BOBs forage in cool weather,
Management of the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB) is quite different than for honey bees. BOBs have one generation per year and each female has her own nest.
For IDEAL pollination with Blue Orchard Bees
- Provide appropriate Fall-to-Spring temperaturesfor synchronous, early emergence of healthy females
- Provide appropriate nesting materialsattractive to female BOBs
- Provide appropriate shelters
Additional measures ideal for all pollinators
- During bloom, spray pesticides in eveningor at night (when bees are not flying) with clean tanks and non-toxic fungicides
- Extend bloom(bee forage), use these bees in orchards with several almond varieties, other tree fruits and/or early-blooming annual cover crops
The commercially available bees (still in cocoons) need to be adults for 30 days before cooling (Fall). Then at least 180 days at or below 45 o F (Winter) in order to emerge 1-7 days after warming (72-78 o F)(Spring).
Nest material should: have holes about 5/16" in diameter (ideally, 19/64") be about 6" long be 3/4" apart (although, if hole entrances are offset, they can be closer) be plugged at the back to seal against light and parasites be thick enough to block light and parasitism by wasps should be lightweight and economical (although avoid plastic, it leads to mold) placed close to release site. For more information on building a nesting board, view our instructions.
Shelters should: be open face Southeast provide protection from direct mid-day sunlight be protected from rain provide some morning solar warming in areas where temperatures are marginal for bloom and flight ideally be spaced at 1 per acre be large enough to provide 2-4 holes per female released ideally be placed within orchard (in years of limited flight time, shorter flight distance restricts pollination to nearby trees) be small enough to be out of the way of spray rigs.
Further information on using BOBs can be found in our 2001 publication "How to manage the blue orchard bee as an orchard pollinator." This book is currently out of print, but available in pdf format.