Plan ‘Bee’: As Honeybee Populations Dwindle, Other Species Could Come To The Rescue

Honey bees have been having a hard time around the world for the past few years due to the mysterious colony collapse disorder, pesticides, and loss of habitat. Not to mention their workload. In Oslo, they’er building a bee superhighway while here in the US, there’s a federal task force looking into ways we can protect the pollinators that keep our agriculture buzzing along. But new research is showing that our situation might not be quite as untenable as we think…there are backup bees waiting in the wings.

NPR reports that while honeybees are the workhorses of the bee pollination/agricultural complex, with hives trucked around the country to pollinate different crops, they’ve got relatives that could work even harder — if they are only given the chance.

Researchers at Penn State University are finding that farmers might not need to rent out honeybees for the season. Squash bees exist in the wild and are great at pollinating crops like pumpkins during their short life span. A genus of bees called osmia works quickly in orchards, especially one variety called the Japanese Orchard Bee.

“The honeybee is a little bit lazy,” Dave Biddinger told NPR. “It will only maybe visit one or two flowers per minute. An osmia will do up to 15 flowers per minute. … We’ve seen with osmia that they can carry up to 100 times more pollen than what a honeybee can.”

Scientists are still studying the bees, but diversifying the types of pollinators that we rely on could help make agriculture more resilient, able to bounce back more quickly if the busy honeybee were to collapse.

And hey, if the backups don’t work, there’s always the robots.