Fuzzy-Faced Bees Take To Cranberry BogsBy
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
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
A story about mud bees appears in the September Agricultural Research
magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:
ARS is the principal scientific agency of the U.S. Department of
Scientific contact: Suzanne Batra, ARS Bee Research Laboratory,
Beltsville, MD 20705-2350, phone (301) 504-8384, fax (301) 504-8736.