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for Almond-Pollinating Bees
By Alfredo Flores
March 13, 2003
A new, improved honey bee diet
developed by Agricultural Research
Service scientists could provide bees with an early spring jump start as
they prepare to pollinate the annual $1-billion California almond crop.
Each year, California almond growers rely on tens of thousands of
out-of-state bee colonies that are trucked into the state to pollinate almonds.
But during winter in many parts of the United States, honey bees are in a
near-hibernating state, because of the cold temperatures and the lack of pollen
and nectar, their main sources of food.
To stimulate colonies and prepare them for almond pollination, beekeepers
now use patties made of corn syrup, soy flour and brewer's yeast. But placement
of the patties is labor intensive and costly, and bees consuming them
eventually stop producing worker jelly, a substance vital for feeding the
developing bees, called brood.
Entomologist Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, a specialist in honey bee research,
and Allen C. Cohen, a pioneer in developing artificial diets for insects,
worked with California orchardists last year to develop an improved honey bee
diet. DeGrandi-Hoffman leads research at ARS'
Carl Hayden Bee Research Center
in Tucson, Ariz., while Cohen recently retired from ARS'
Control and Mass-Rearing Research Unit in Mississippi State, Miss.
The two scientists developed a recipe for an artificial diet that would give
honey bees the whole package of nutrients that they need in an easy-to-feed
liquid. The recipe took five months to complete and went through nearly 80
formulations before the right mix was found. It combines the sweetness of
nectar and the nutritional punch of pollen in a formula that the domesticated
honey bee, Apis mellifera, readily digests and enjoys. Nectar is rich in
carbohydrates, and pollen is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and
fats--all essential for bees' development and survival. A machine already used
by beekeepers could easily pump the bee food into the hives.
Read more about this research in the
March issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.