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Defending the Professional Honor of Male Bees

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  • Peter Bernhardt
    Dear Colleagues: The recent messages indicate it looks like a number of us will be interviewed during pollinator week. May I make a suggestion? Now is the
    Message 1 of 8 , Jun 17, 2010
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      Dear Colleagues:

      The recent messages indicate it looks like a number of us will be interviewed during pollinator week.  May I make a suggestion?  Now is the time to "steer the interview" (when possible) to dispell one of the most unfortunate half truths about bees.  We must, when possible, correct the public's belief that male bees do not pollinate flowers.

      It may surprise you to know that many people share this belief as they've been taught something about honeybees.  They don't know how many bee species there are in the world and believe that the life-cycle of the male honeybee is indicative of bees in general.  

      If you have the opportunity please tell your audience or the media that there are over 20,000 bee species on this planet and different bees do different things.  While male bees don't, as a rule, collect pollen to feed to their sisters or offspring most male bees feed themselves at sometime in their lives and that means they visit flowers.  Consequently, male bees often pollinate flowers.  In Australia, male and female colletid bees pollinate snotty gobble (Persoonia) bushes (Bernhardt & Weston, 1996).   I believe Jim Cane has some data on male megachilids pollinating blueberry and/or cranberry flowers the tropical Americas.  I have data I'm working up on rare male andrenids pollinating wild strawberries in Oregon.  We all know that male euglossines are essential to the pollination of many tropical American orchids and they visit the flowers to collect perfumes instead of nectar.

      I have just returned from two works of fieldwork at a Kansas prairie.  We worked on one of the midwest's threatened wildflowers, Mead's milkweed (Asclepias meadii).  Guess what?  About half of the bees caught on this flower and carrying pollinia were males of Anthophora abrupta.  In turn, green milkweed (A. viridis) bloomed at the same time and more than half of its pollinia carriers were males of the common carpenter (Xylocopa virginica).  Don't believe me, believe Mike Arduser who identified them.

      I'm sure many of you have published research with the same positive information on our boys.  I certainly communicate this to my students taking Pollination Biology (Bl 420) at St. Louis U.  One of the most effective ways of making certain no one ever forgets this information is to relate it in a passionate and angry manner.  Be a drama queen and chew the carpet.  I start by saying, " Basing the behavior of all male bees on honeybee drones is like basing the careers of all Americans on Hollywod celebrities. After offering information on male bees pollinating the plants mentioned above I conclude he lecture with the line, "So I don't want to hear anything more about lazy, weak, male bees!...(pause), you bitches!  This always brings down the house if performed with exquisite timing.  If we all did it it would become an effective running gag serving us as an educational tool.  

      Sincerely, Peter Bernhardt   
    • Sam Droege
      Peter: This is an interesting thought. I would add this question. Are perhaps males more effective pollinators in some circumstances since they retain the
      Message 2 of 8 , Jun 19, 2010
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        Peter:

        This is an interesting thought.  I would add this question.  Are perhaps males more effective pollinators in some circumstances since they retain the hairs of the females but would be less active in moving the pollen to the scopa and mixing it with nectar?  Thus untidy males (this trait has been retained throughout the entire animal lineage).... may be beneficial to pollination.

        sam

                                                       
        Sam Droege  sdroege@...                      
        w 301-497-5840 h 301-390-7759 fax 301-497-5624
        USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
        BARC-EAST, BLDG 308, RM 124 10300 Balt. Ave., Beltsville, MD  20705
        Http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov


        Where my kin dwell - there I wander.
        The Red Rock House - there I wander.


           Navaho chant
          From "Songs of the Dawn Boy"



        Everybody wake up!  Open your eyes!  Stand up!
        Be children of the light - strong, swift, and sure-of-foot
        Hurry, clouds, from the four quarters of the universe.
        All hearts be glad!


               - From a Pueblo song

        Voice that makes the country beautiful,
        Voice above, voice of thunder.
        Voice that makes the country beautiful,
        Voice below, voice of grasshopper,
        Down among the flowering plants.  


             - Navaho Chant



        From:Peter Bernhardt <bernhap2@...>
        To:Pollinator@..., Bee United <beemonitoring@yahoogroups.com>, Jennifer Tsang <jt@...>, stephenbuchmann <stephenbuchmann@...>, Mike Arduser <Michael.Arduser@...>
        Date:06/17/2010 04:30 PM
        Subject:[beemonitoring] Defending the Professional Honor of Male Bees
        Sent by:beemonitoring@yahoogroups.com





         

        Dear Colleagues:

        The recent messages indicate it looks like a number of us will be interviewed during pollinator week.  May I make a suggestion?  Now is the time to "steer the interview" (when possible) to dispell one of the most unfortunate half truths about bees.  We must, when possible, correct the public's belief that male bees do not pollinate flowers.

        It may surprise you to know that many people share this belief as they've been taught something about honeybees.  They don't know how many bee species there are in the world and believe that the life-cycle of the male honeybee is indicative of bees in general.  

        If you have the opportunity please tell your audience or the media that there are over 20,000 bee species on this planet and different bees do different things.  While male bees don't, as a rule, collect pollen to feed to their sisters or offspring most male bees feed themselves at sometime in their lives and that means they visit flowers.  Consequently, male bees often pollinate flowers.  In Australia, male and female colletid bees pollinate snotty gobble (Persoonia) bushes (Bernhardt & Weston, 1996).   I believe Jim Cane has some data on male megachilids pollinating blueberry and/or cranberry flowers the tropical Americas.  I have data I'm working up on rare male andrenids pollinating wild strawberries in Oregon.  We all know that male euglossines are essential to the pollination of many tropical American orchids and they visit the flowers to collect perfumes instead of nectar.

        I have just returned from two works of fieldwork at a Kansas prairie.  We worked on one of the midwest's threatened wildflowers, Mead's milkweed (Asclepias meadii).  Guess what?  About half of the bees caught on this flower and carrying pollinia were males of Anthophora abrupta.  In turn, green milkweed (A. viridis) bloomed at the same time and more than half of its pollinia carriers were males of the common carpenter (Xylocopa virginica).  Don't believe me, believe Mike Arduser who identified them.

        I'm sure many of you have published research with the same positive information on our boys.  I certainly communicate this to my students taking Pollination Biology (Bl 420) at St. Louis U.  One of the most effective ways of making certain no one ever forgets this information is to relate it in a passionate and angry manner.  Be a drama queen and chew the carpet.  I start by saying, " Basing the behavior of all male bees on honeybee drones is like basing the careers of all Americans on Hollywod celebrities. After offering information on male bees pollinating the plants mentioned above I conclude he lecture with the line, "So I don't want to hear anything more about lazy, weak, male bees!...(pause), you bitches!  This always brings down the house if performed with exquisite timing.  If we all did it it would become an effective running gag serving us as an educational tool.  

        Sincerely, Peter Bernhardt   



      • Dave Green
        My impression was just the opposite. Males stopping to take an occasional sip of nectar for energy, would not make near as much contact with the pollen as the
        Message 3 of 8 , Jun 20, 2010
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          My impression was just the opposite. Males stopping to take an occasional sip of nectar for energy, would not make near as much contact with the pollen as the females who are not only driven to gather pollen for their brood, but who actually move in such a manner as to maximize pollen gathering. Who hasn't seen a megachilid female "doggy paddle" through the stamens?

          By the same token, honeybees who are deliberately gathering pollen are much more effective pollinators than those who are gathering nectar, and only incidently contact the pollen. A honeybee who is deliberately gathering pollen modifies her behavior so as to maximize contact with the stamens, and since her time in each flower will be much more brief, likely will visit more total flowers.

          This is an important item in managing honeybees for pollination service, where one strives to maximize the amount of open brood (which requires pollen), as opposed to frames of sealed brood, nectar or honey. This impels the workers to seek out pollen sources, thereby increasing efficiency.

          Dave Green
          Retired pollination contractor
           
           
          ----- Original Message -----
           
          This is an interesting thought.  I would add this question.  Are perhaps males more effective pollinators in some circumstances since they retain the hairs of the females but would be less active in moving the pollen to the scopa and mixing it with nectar?  Thus untidy males (this trait has been retained throughout the entire animal lineage).... may be beneficial to pollination.

        • Richardson, Leif
          Hello, I have been interested in this topic too. A few other thoughts. Male bumblebees do not sonicate Vaccinium, Rosa, Cassia, Geum, Solanum, etc. They remove
          Message 4 of 8 , Jun 21, 2010
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            Hello,
            I have been interested in this topic too. A few other thoughts. Male bumblebees do not sonicate Vaccinium, Rosa, Cassia, Geum, Solanum, etc. They remove far less pollen from these plants than buzzing females (if they visit them at all), but on the other hand, any pollen they pick up incidentally is not going back to the colony, and may end up on the stigmas of another flower. It would be interesting to know how males and workers compare in pollination of something they both like to forage on—goldenrods and asters for instance.

            I’m also curious about the effect of male bee territoriality on pollination… do aggressive male Anthidium keep pollinating flower visitors away from the plants they patrol?

            Leif



            Leif Richardson
            Ecologist
            Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
            5 Perry Street, Suite 40
            Barre, VT 05641
            (802) 476-0128
            (802) 279-5320 (c)

            www.vtfishandwildlife.com/wildlife_nongame.cfm
          • Vincent Tepedino
            It seems to me that this is a far more complicated question than we presently have the data to resolve and that we ought to be up front about it. I believe
            Message 5 of 8 , Jun 24, 2010
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              It seems to me that this is a far more complicated question than we presently have the data to resolve and that we ought to be up front about it. I believe that male bees, in general, certainly accomplish some pollinations, but I doubt that one male is equivalent to one female. Why? Because, while the males of many species patrol flowers, they do not VISIT nearly as many flowers per unit time as do females, at least not when I'm watching them. So, if you want to equate males and females, pollination-wise, then you have to make the argument that males make up for fewer flower contacts per unit time by spending a lot more total time patrolling, and occasionally visiting, flowers. While that may be true, I doubt it translates to more total flower visits over a day.

              As others have pointed out, females probably pick up more pollen per flower visit than do males, and are therefore more likely to have something to transfer. On the other hand, females are also far more likely to make many within-plant visits and to transfer pollen within plants; conversely, a far greater proportion of male visits are likely to be to different genets; so males may make a disproportionate number of cross-pollinating visits. This might be especially important for self-incompatible plant species. Males may also contribute to female cross-pollination effectiveness by forcing them to move more frequently between plants by harassing them when on the flowers.

              And then there's the question of how much of the pollen that's picked up by males actually stays on the body as they zip around from plant to plant. Conversely, females may be more likely to groom pollen off many contact areas, but then many males land on rocks, twigs, etc., where they also seem to be grooming. I know of no data that compares pollen on randomly captured male and female bodies.

              Anyway, it seems to me that the safest thing to say, until the data are at hand, is that males undoubtedly make some contribution to pollination, but at present it's unclear how much that contribution might be. I'd guess the importance of males as pollinators has a wide range and is greatly dependent on what plant group we might be considering.

              By the way, I think Jim Cane was trying to put together some lit data on this and he may have something more definite to say when he returns.

              Vince

              Vincent J. Tepedino
              USDA ARS (retired)
              Bee Biology & Systematics Lab
              Dept of Biology
              Utah State University
              Logan UT 84322-5310

              vince.tepedino@...
              435-797-2559
              435-797-0461 (FAX)

              -----Original Message-----
              From: beemonitoring@yahoogroups.com [mailto:beemonitoring@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Richardson, Leif
              Sent: Monday, June 21, 2010 6:33 AM
              To: beemonitoring@yahoogroups.com
              Subject: Re: [beemonitoring] Defending the Professional Honor of Male Bees

              Hello,
              I have been interested in this topic too. A few other thoughts. Male bumblebees do not sonicate Vaccinium, Rosa, Cassia, Geum, Solanum, etc. They remove far less pollen from these plants than buzzing females (if they visit them at all), but on the other hand, any pollen they pick up incidentally is not going back to the colony, and may end up on the stigmas of another flower. It would be interesting to know how males and workers compare in pollination of something they both like to forage on-goldenrods and asters for instance.

              I'm also curious about the effect of male bee territoriality on pollination... do aggressive male Anthidium keep pollinating flower visitors away from the plants they patrol?

              Leif



              Leif Richardson
              Ecologist
              Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
              5 Perry Street, Suite 40
              Barre, VT 05641
              (802) 476-0128
              (802) 279-5320 (c)

              www.vtfishandwildlife.com/wildlife_nongame.cfm

              ------------------------------------

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            • Doug Yanega
              ... We could probably be safe in saying that the situations in which males might be *superior* to females are rare, even allowing for specialized cases such as
              Message 6 of 8 , Jun 24, 2010
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                Vince Tepedino wrote:

                >Anyway, it seems to me that the safest thing to say, until the data
                >are at hand, is that males undoubtedly make some contribution to
                >pollination, but at present it's unclear how much that contribution
                >might be. I'd guess the importance of males as pollinators has a
                >wide range and is greatly dependent on what plant group we might be
                >considering.

                We could probably be safe in saying that the situations in which
                males might be *superior* to females are rare, even allowing for
                specialized cases such as orchids and other flowers using
                pseudo-copulation. And just as certainly as we can state that certain
                bee taxa are going to be better pollen vectors than others (e.g.,
                Hylaeines are about as bad as they get), we can state that
                differential within-taxon dimorphism is also going to mean more of a
                discrepancy between males and females in some taxa than in others,
                and never in the males' favor. All in all, I wouldn't be confident
                with any overall estimate of male bee pollination contribution more
                ambitious than "minor with rare exceptions", and can't imagine that
                we'd ever gather data sufficient to do much more than quantify just
                how minor.

                Peace,
                --

                Doug Yanega Dept. of Entomology Entomology Research Museum
                Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314 skype: dyanega
                phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
                http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
                "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
                is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
              • Peter Bernhardt
                Dear Vince and Doug: This is interesting but the whole point of my original message was that it s time for us to help the public understand that the honeybee
                Message 7 of 8 , Jun 25, 2010
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                  Dear Vince and Doug:

                  This is interesting but the whole point of my original message was that it's time for us to help the public understand that the honeybee drone's life is rather "atypical" when one considers the biology of over 20,000 bee species.  Unfortunately, the honeybee's "glamorous and bizarre" cycle is the only one the general public knows... vaguely.  We can change their impressions with hard facts and some humor.

                  1) Fact, male bees of many species are commonly found taking nectar and other resources (see 3) from flowers.  Honeybee drones are not paying members of the much larger flower-visiting club.

                  2) Fact, many flowers fail to offer edible pollen.  Bees don't go to most orchids, milkweeds and a wide number of flowers with long, tubular floral throats (see Goldblatt's work on pollination of African Iridaceae) for pollen.  Pollen "collection" by bees at such flowers is passive so males may be just as efficient as females.  In fact, Drs Meier, Arduser and I are now in the position to compare and contrast milkweed pollinaria loads attached to legs of male vs. female Anthophora abrupta and Xylocopa virginica.  We stumbled onto this and I want to expand the collection of data over the following two years.

                  3) Fact, male bees don't always visit flowers looking for edible rewards.  Yes, we know males camp out at flowers to hunt incoming females but also consider the perfume flowers of Neotropical orchids, aroids and at least one nightshade tree pollinated by male euglossines exclusively,  Also, consider the male bees that pollinate orchids that look like female bees (Ophrys) or the flower offers the males a place to sleep at night (Serapias and "black" Iris spp. in section Oncocyclus).  Isn't it interesting that no one has found an orchid yet pollinated by male honeybees within the natural distribution of A. mellifera?

                  4)  Fact, male bees probably carry less granular pollen than females but is that so important?
                       a) What if the flower's ovary contains only one ovule?  One viable grain on the stigma works as well as a dozen.  Please note that Dr. Weston and I counted pollen loads of male bees on Australian persoonias.  Most males carried less than 100 grains but consider the many flowers pollinated by flies the same size.  It would be good to do a pollen count of male bees and syrphids at the same plant species.  

                  Peter

                       



                  On Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 6:22 PM, Doug Yanega <dyanega@...> wrote:
                   

                  Vince Tepedino wrote:

                  >Anyway, it seems to me that the safest thing to say, until the data
                  >are at hand, is that males undoubtedly make some contribution to
                  >pollination, but at present it's unclear how much that contribution
                  >might be. I'd guess the importance of males as pollinators has a
                  >wide range and is greatly dependent on what plant group we might be
                  >considering.

                  We could probably be safe in saying that the situations in which
                  males might be *superior* to females are rare, even allowing for
                  specialized cases such as orchids and other flowers using
                  pseudo-copulation. And just as certainly as we can state that certain
                  bee taxa are going to be better pollen vectors than others (e.g.,
                  Hylaeines are about as bad as they get), we can state that
                  differential within-taxon dimorphism is also going to mean more of a
                  discrepancy between males and females in some taxa than in others,
                  and never in the males' favor. All in all, I wouldn't be confident
                  with any overall estimate of male bee pollination contribution more
                  ambitious than "minor with rare exceptions", and can't imagine that
                  we'd ever gather data sufficient to do much more than quantify just
                  how minor.

                  Peace,
                  --

                  Doug Yanega Dept. of Entomology Entomology Research Museum
                  Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314 skype: dyanega
                  phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
                  http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
                  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
                  is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82


                • Cane, Jim
                  Folks- I can add some to the discussion, although Vince covered the factors admirably. From my own data and an unpublished literature survey, males are
                  Message 8 of 8 , Jun 28, 2010
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                    Folks- I can add some to the discussion, although Vince covered the factors admirably.  From my own data and an unpublished literature survey, males are inferior to females in their pollination efficacies at individual flowers, but they do deliver are some substantial fraction of it.  Thus, for instance, male Megachile rotundata and Nomia melanderi are about 2/3 as likely to trip an alfalfa flower as a conspecific female ( I can send the reprint pdf).  Contrast that with a honey bee, which is about 4%, as I recollect.  Having stated that, of course, exceptions will be found.  I am working out the energetics of flight for male Nomia to estimate their daily nectar needs, and so visits to alfalfa flowers for nectar.  It appears that they contribute no more than 10% to the full yield of cultivated alfalfa (but then that is close to the grower’s profit margin), mostly because they only need nectar to fuel their flight, as Vince points out, so they don’t visit that many flowers in a day.  Blair Sampson and I have a paper in revision that shows that male Peponapis can contribute substantially to fruit production at Cucurbita, but then, that is where they hunt for females as well as forage.  The whole topic warrants more study.  And then there are no doubt indirect effects, like male bee attentions driving females to other individual plants (or on alfalfa, it seems, to entirely different more distant fields!).  It is nothing to proud of, but it is a straw to grasp at least!

                     

                    Yours,

                     

                    jim

                     

                    ===============================

                    James H. Cane

                    USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab

                    Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322 USA

                    tel: 435-797-3879   FAX: 435-797-0461

                    email: Jim.Cane@... 

                    http://www.ars.usda.gov/npa/logan/beelab

                    http://www.biology.usu.edu/people/facultyinfo.asp?username=jcane

                    Gardening for Native Bees: http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/plants-pollinators09.pdf

                     

                    "The obscure takes time to see,

                    but the obvious takes longer"
                    Edward R. Murrow

                     

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