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Managed Bees as Crop Pollinators

There are five managed bees in New York

Honey bee

The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most widely used managed bee worldwide. Between 3000-4000 beekeepers maintain over 80,000 colonies in the state. Commercial migratory beekeepers transport their hives across the US to pollinate almonds in California, apples and pumpkins in Pennsylvania, blueberries and cranberries in Maine, citrus in Florida, and cucumbers and blueberries in New Jersey [6]. Providing pollination services is a growing business and contributes a significant portion of income to beekeepers in addition to profits from honey and other hive products.

Honey bees are generalist pollinators that visit apples, pears, sweet cherries, apricots, cucumbers, melons, cucurbits, green beans, field tomatoes, peppers, peaches, berries, alfalfa, and oilseed crops.

Bumble bee

The common eastern bumble bee, Bombus impatiens, is a major contributor to greenhouse pollination in the Northeast. Bumble bees’ mid-sized colonies (up to a few hundred individuals) and foraging ranges (about 300 m) allow them to live and feed in greenhouses. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees can buzz-pollinate to release firmly held pollen from certain plants, such as tomatoes, and are very valuable for that regard. Bumble bees, both wild and managed, pollinate a variety of crops including peppers, cucumbers, melons, cucurbits, orchard fruits, berries, oilseeds, and cover crops.

Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee

The alfalfa leafcutter bee, Megachile rotundata, is a non-native species that was introduced to North American in the 1930s to increase pollination of alfalfa. They create tubular nests in flower stems and rotting wood and adapt well to manmade trap nests, allowing them to be 'managed' to some degree. In addition to alfalfa, these bees have also been documented to pollinate blueberry and clover.

Mason Bees

Two species of mason bees are managed in New York. The blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, is native and is a striking blue color. The Japanese orchard bee, Osmia cornifrons, is non-native and was recently introduced to assist in orchard pollination. Like the Alfalfa Leafcutter bee, both of these mason bees can be managed to an extent by placing trap nests containing purchased pupae in orchards to assist with pollination.   


6. vanEngelsdorp, D., et al., Idiopathic brood disease syndrome and queen events as precursors of colony mortality in migratory beekeeping operations in the eastern United States. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 2013. 108: p. 225-233.